From the Pile: Twin Spica vol. 1

May 12th, 2010

From the Pile is a regular feature in which we profile something at random from our large pile of yet-to-be-reviewed anime and manga. Believe us, we’ve been in this game for several years now and have had only limited space in the print edition to share all our thoughts, so there’s quite a bit of catch-up work to do on our backlog. So without further ado …

Today’s profile: Twin Spica vol. 1
Publisher: Vertical
Suggested age rating: N/A

Back in November 2008, I gave Vertical’s release of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack what I consider my highest praise — a push for readers to BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW. I really do adore the doctor’s methods, and I still believe in the series’ appeal to this day.

Since then, there have been a few other series that I’d put in that category — Yotsuba&! and anything by Naoki Urasawa are the first that come to mind. Having read as many manga as I have, any series to earn that sort of respect from me had better be really, really good, having the ability to blow me away on first reading, grabbing my attention from the first page and not letting go until I’ve read the book in one sitting.

I’m now happy to add Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica to that list as well. See, when I went on my part-vacation retreat/part Kawaii Kon coverage binge a few weekends ago, I took six single volumes of manga with me to the hotel, the (in retrospect foolish) idea in my mind that I could catch up on some reviews in my down time. The only one I managed to plow through was, of course, Twin Spica.

Reading the first volume reminded me of the experience one has with a really fun roller coaster: First you’re waiting in line seeing just how awesome the ride looks, then you strap in to one of the cars, and then you lurch forward and head up, up, up, eagerly anticipating that point at the top of the hill where you plunge into those thrilling twists and turns. In the case of Twin Spica, we’re only at the point where the cars are heading uphill — we’re just starting to meet the main players and their likely motivations for what’s to come — but man, it looks like there are some fun times ahead.

We learn in the beginning that Japan’s space program is in recovery mode 15 years after its first domestically built and manned rocket crashed soon after launch, killing civilians in a nearby town. Our hero is 14-year-old Asumi Kamogawa, whose mom was one of the victims in that accident and who dreams of one day soaring among the stars. She also has a mascot character, Mr. Lion, whom only she can see, who follows her around and provides tidbits of wisdom. Asumi’s managed to make it into the second phase of testing for Tokyo Space School, a phase that poses an intriguing challenge: Examinees are placed in groups of three in different rooms, closed off from the rest of the world for a week and told to work together to complete an assignment. Asumi’s placed with Kei Oumi, a rather friendly girl with glasses, and Shizuka Ukita, who seems rather distant; there’s also a group of boys — one of them one of Asumi’s childhood acquaintances — who Yaginuma’s also following. At this early stage, I have a feeling these two groups will cross paths sometime down the line.

It just won’t happen in this volume. When I reached the middle of the book and a bottom-of-the-page proclamation, “Continued in Twin Spica vol. 2,” my heart sank. You have to  understand that the last time I dusted off this “From the Pile” feature … umm … from the pile, it was back in March with my look at Shirley. Even though Twin Spica at least had the promise that its story would continue in another volume on another day, it still seemed to me at that point like this volume was on the verge of veering off into Shirley territory — filling out the book with unrelated filler stories that were nice in their own way if not for the fact that, dagnabbit, I wanted to read more from the main story.

I needn’t have worried. Thankfully, Twin Spica is no Shirley. Its short side stories, prequels written by Yaginuma before Media Factory picked up Twin Spica as a regular series, go a long way toward fleshing out some of the concepts touched upon in the series. “2015: Fireworks” delves into the origins of Mr. Lion, while “Asumi,” depicting Asumi’s final meeting with her mom, had me in tears by the end of it and really solidified the book’s value for me.

With all of the bad news swirling around the industry in recent days — Go! Comi vanishing, layoffs at Viz, the Yen Plus anthology ending print publication — sometimes we, as manga fans, just need to get back into reading manga and seeing stories that remind us just why we love manga so much in the first place. Twin Spica is definitely one of those stories. And I’m looking forward to seeing more.

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