Twin Spica volume 7

New, expanded review

By Kou Yaginuma (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-12-4

The yearning, imagination and anticipation of space travel is paramount to this inspirational manga series from Kou Yaginuma, who first captured the hearts and minds of the public with his poignant short story 2015 Nen no Uchiage Hanabi (2015: Fireworks, published in Gekkan Comics Flapper, June 2000).

Following its unprecedented success, he expanded and enhanced the subject, themes and characters into a major epic combining hard science and humanist fiction with lyrical mysticism and traditional tales of school-days and growing up.

2024AD: teenaged Asumi Kamogawa has always dreamed of going into space. From her earliest moments the lonely child gazed up at the stars with her imaginary friend Mr. Lion, especially at the twinkling glow of Virgo and the alluring binary star Spica.

An isolated, serious child, she lived with her father, a common labourer who had once worked for the consortium which built the rockets for Japan’s Space Program.

When Asumi was a year old, the first Japanese launch ended in utter catastrophe after rocket-ship Shishigō (“The Lion”), exploded on its maiden flight: crashing to earth on the city of Yuigahama. Hundreds were killed and many more injured, including Asumi’s mother.

Maimed and comatose, the matron took years to die. The shock crushed her grieving husband and utterly traumatised infant Asumi.

In response to the disaster Japan set up an astronautics and space sciences training facility. After years of determined struggle, Asumi was accepted by the Tokyo National Space School. Slowly making friends like Shinnosuke Fuchuya (who used to bully her as child in Yuigahama), boisterous Kei Oumi, chilly and distant Marika Ukita and spooky, ultra-cool Shu Suzuki, Asumi daily moved closer to her unshakable dream of going to the stars.

Against all odds – she is small, looks weak and is very poor – Asumi endures. She still talks with Mr. Lion, who is apparently the ghost of an astronaut who died on the Shishigō

Individual episodes are divided into “Missions” all slowly forming a vast tapestry explaining the undisclosed interconnectedness of all the characters and volume seven comprises numbers 30-38, as well as a brace of enchanting autobiographical vignettes from the author’s own teenage years.

‘Mission: 30’ begins with Asumi and her classmates enjoying their seaside vacation in the largely restored resort town of Yuigahama – even Ukita. Nevertheless the still-quite-formal living enigma is plagued by feelings that she has been here before. These phantom memories increasingly draw her to a secluded shrine dedicated to the disaster.

As previously seen in a sequence of flashbacks, she has an ancient and inexplicable connection to a boy who grew up to be Mr. Lion…

Long ago in Yuigahama, a lad obsessed with rockets met a frail, sickly rich girl stuck in isolation in a big house. Her name was Marika Ukita and they became friends despite her condition and the constant interventions of her furious father.

She was beguiled by the boy’s tales of space flight and the history of exploration. In return she shared the only joyous moment in her tragic life, when her over-protective dad took her to see a play called Beauty and the Beast

During the big annual Fireworks Festival the boy made a lion-mask of the Beast to wear, but she never came. He had to break into the mansion to show her. She was very sick but wanted to dance with him…

Later the dying daughter had quietly rebelled when told she was being packed off to a Swiss sanatorium. She slipped out of the house when no-one was watching and vanished. The boy knew where she had gone and rushed off to save her…

‘Mission: 31’ finds Marika succumbing to her inner torment and wandering off to find the isolated commemoration monument. When she becomes dangerously lost and her mysterious medical malady overwhelms her, Asumi, moved by her own memory-ghosts, tracks her down just in time…

As they wait together to be found in ‘Mission: 32’, deep bonds are forged and Marika at last reveals that she is not a real person but “just a copy” of a sick and lonely girl who died long ago…

We are afforded a glimpse into events prior to and following the crash of the Shishigō and it becomes clear that both girls are afflicted with the same unquenchable need to escape Earth…

Asumi’s father Tomoro Kamogawa is no fan of the space program, having lost his wife, his engineering job and his pride to the race for space. In the wake of the catastrophe, despite being a grieving widower himself, he was assigned by his heartless bosses at the corporation who built the ship to lead the reparations committee.

Guilt-wracked and bereaved, the devastated widower had to visit and apologize to each and every survivor and victim’s family. He raised his daughter alone, working two and often three menial jobs at a time for over a decade…

Now with ‘Mission: 33’ the truth over those terrible events starts to unfold. His old engineering colleague Takahito Sano is now one of Asumi’s professors at the Space School and when they meet again, their men’s previous history and relationship is examined and reviewed for the first time in years…

As five young astronaut trainees further bond in an atmosphere of unravelling secrets and far too many persistent ghosts and memories, a potential cause of the crash is mooted. The years leading to the construction of the Lion are revealed to be littered with political in-fighting, unscrupulous double-dealing, thwarted ambitions and corporate cost-cutting.

Moreover both Sano and Kamogawa were extremely attached to the woman who became Asumi’s mother…

The second half of this book concentrates on the students’ return to school and their next semester of training. In ‘Mission: 34’ Asumi’s relationship with orphan student (and apparent anti-space program activist) Kiriu seems to be developing into more than mere friendship.

He volunteers at a hospice and is trying to learn the harmonica so that he can play to an old woman with dementia. He so very much reminds Asumi of her school friend Shimazu who died from cancer after the Yuigahama disaster…

Diffidently bonding, Kiriu tells her of a Sunday concert he’s playing a week hence and she promises to be there…

Elsewhere, the clone Ukita recalls how she began severing ties to the controlling dad who spent a fortune and broke the law to make her, and realises that her true home is with Asumi and her star-bound fellows…

‘Mission: 35’ focuses on school where the latest tests of strength, ingenuity and fortitude find the class divided into teams and transported to a decommissioned prison. Their task: to break free within seven days. Worried Asumi surprisingly convinces the teachers to drive them back to the city early if they all finish the task before Sunday…

The test continues in ‘Mission: 36’ as the jailed students face isolation and a seemingly insurmountable problem whilst back in the city a boy with a harmonica tries not to fixate on whether a certain girl will stand him up.

In his cell Fuchiya is also thinking about her: why he can never say what he wants to her and why he can’t see Mr. Lion…

In their shared dungeon Asumi, Kei and Marika are finally working together and have conceived an escape plan in ‘Mission: 37’. Not long after they are joined on the outside by Shi and Fucchy.

However in ‘Mission: 38’, even with things working her way there’s a snag in Asumi’s return to Tokyo and her date. Surprisingly, grouchy, unpredictable Fuchuya steps in to help the girl he spends so much time studiously annoying and ignoring…

Even with his brusque assistance she’s too late for the concert, but arriving despondent at the park she finds Kiriu waiting…

Even with her all her dreams coming true, however, Asumi is still sad. Despite appearances, the new boy is no Shimazu, whom she misses so very, very much…

To Be Continued…

The main event suspended, this moving tome then concludes with two more ‘Another Spica’ featurettes which find author Yaginuma in autobiographical mode again. Harking back to his ambition-free teens, the first reveals how a crappy job in refreshment retail afforded him time one Christmas to recall that special girl in school he tried to grow taller for, after which the summer drudgery of the job leads to memories of first dates, first drives and first loves…

These powerfully evocative tales originally appeared in 2004 as Futatsu no Supika 7 & 8 in Seinen manga magazine Gekkan Comic Flapper, aimed at male readers aged 18-30, but this ongoing, unfolding saga is perfect for any older kid with stars in their eyes…

Twin Spica filled 16 Japanese volumes from September 2001 to August 2009, tracing the trajectories of Asumi and friends from callow students to accomplished astronauts and has spawned both anime and live action TV series.

This compulsively addictive serial has everything: plenty of hard science to back up the savvy extrapolation, an ever-more engaging cast, enduring mystery, tender moments, isolation, teen angst and true friendships; all wrapped up in a joyous coming-of-age drama with supernatural overtones and masses of sheer sentiment.

Utterly defining the siren call of the Starry Reaches for a new generation (and the older ones too) Twin Spica is quite simply too good to miss…

These books are printed in the Japanese right to left, back to front format.
© 2011 by Kou Yaginuma. Translation © 2011 Vertical, Inc.