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Review: ‘Astra Lost in Space,’ vols. 1-5

Astra 5 large

Astra Lost in Space, vols. 1-5
By Kenta Shinohara
Viz (Shonen Jump)
Rated T, for teens

This space opera, complete in five volumes, is an amiable, teen-friendly story about nine young people stranded in space in a broken-down spacecraft. The first three volumes are taken up with inter-group dynamics, but the revelations start coming fast and hard in the fourth volume, and the series ends in a very different place from where it began.

Beware: Major spoilers ahead!

Astra 1Like so many manga, this one starts with a school trip gone awry. In this case, it’s a group of eight students, and one 10-year-old girl, who are heading off to “Planet Camp” a traditional school activity in the year 2063, in which a group of students are deposited on the planet McPa for five days and left unsupervised—the teachers literally drop them off and leave.

The students have barely landed when they are swallowed up by a giant globe and spat out into space. By happy coincidence, there’s an abandoned spaceship nearby, and they all manage to get to it and get on board, although there’s a bit of a nail-biter when one student’s space-suit thrusters malfunction.

Once they are all safe, the students take stock, and their individual personalities start to appear. This is a curiously balanced group, with a wide range of talents and flaws, sometimes in interesting combinations. Aries Spring, for instance, a ditzy girl who can barely speak coherently, turns out to have a photographic memory. Kanata Hojishima, who is a bit of a buffoon, becomes the leader of the group and turns out to be incredibly strong and brave. Ominously, it quickly becomes clear that one of the group has sabotaged the spacecraft—but which one? Although that raises serious issues of trust, the students decide not to track down the saboteur but just agree to coexist to increase their chances of getting home safely.

Astra 2That’s not a given: The spaceship is in disrepair, and there’s not enough food or water to get them all the way home, so the students decide to hopscotch across space from one potentially habitable planet to another. At each stop, they spend a few days collecting supplies for the next leg of the trip. There’s invariably some sort of peril as well. This section of the book is a fun read, as the planets and their flora and fauna are incredibly varied, and each one presents a different challenge.

As the spaceship nears their home, though, everything starts to unravel. The students figure out what they all have in common: All but Aries have poor relationships with their parents. And that turns out to be because they are clones, designed as a second body for the wealthy, who would avoid death by exporting their brain into the new body. The parent can’t form a loving bond with a child who was only born to be an organ donor.

Astra 3The plot gets even darker, in a cartoonish sort of way, when the students realize that the giant globe that sucked them up was not some freak of nature—it was part of an elaborate plan to kill them all (including the killer’s confederate, who was content to commit suicide) to avoid getting caught in the country’s crackdown on illegal cloning.

As their spaceship nears their home, the students—including the assassin’s accomplice—decide to expose the whole conspiracy by refusing to land until those responsible are under arrest.

But wait! There’s more!

During their game of interplanetary hopscotch, the students picked up a tenth passenger: A Russian astronaut from a much earlier mission, who has been in suspended animation for some time. As the spaceship nears the home planet, she realizes that it’s not Earth. When she asks the students, who are all obviously human, they reply “What’s Earth?” Their planet was called Astra, and they had never heard of Earth.

Astra 4Slowly, the cosmonaut pieces together what happened: She was part of an exploratory mission to find a new home for the human race because the Earth was about to be destroyed by an asteroid. Sometime while she was in suspended animation, they succeeded. To transport all the people on Earth to a distant planet, the rulers used a portable wormhole, which sucks in matter and spews it out somewhere else. Once the earthlings were relocated, though, the government decided the wormholes had to be made a secret, and people were told to just forget about them. The government also wanted everyone to feel like they had always been on Astra, so they deliberately blurred the events of history, and they re-set the year 2063 to the year 1963. This required some fudging and vagueness on the part of the older Astrans, but apparently they were up for it and nobody ever slipped.

When the ship and its intrepid crew do finally land on their home turf, the teens become instant celebrities. They parlay this into various careers and causes, including getting the government to commit to telling the truth about Astra and its history. Which, in the most amazing twist in a series of amazing twists, it did. All ends well.

Astra 5Astra Lost in Space is a good space adventure with plenty of interesting personalities, including one character who comes out halfway through as intersex. The students clearly care about each other, despite some rivalries, and as the spotlight falls on each one, the others discuss their problems and offer reassurance. The art is clear and easy to follow, making it a good choice for newcomers to manga. There’s a bit of semi-nudity, and the girls’ spacesuits tend to accentuate their curves (as is evident from the covers), but there’s no more fanservice in this story than in any other shonen manga. The technology sometimes seems like magic (helmets appear and disappear as needed, without mussing anyone’s hair, and at one point the students snap together two halves of two different spaceships without any apparent difficulty), but the characters often take creative approaches to the problems they face. Overall, this is a great, readable manga, and since it’s complete in five volumes, it has the advantage—unlike outer space—of being finite.

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Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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