Twin Spica volume 11


By Kou Yaginuma (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-33-9

Kou Yaginuma first captured the hearts and minds of star-struck generation with poignant short story 2015 Nen no Uchiage Hanabi (2015: Fireworks, published in Gekkan Comics Flapper, June 2000), before expanding the subject and themes into a major manga epic combining hard science and humanist fiction with lyrical mysticism and traditional tales of school-days and growing up.

Diminutive teenager Asumi Kamogawa always dreamed of going into space. From her earliest moments the solitary child gazed up at the heavens with imaginary friend Mr. Lion, especially gripped by the twinkling glow of Virgo and alluring binary star Spica.

An isolated, serious girl, 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 one year old (just a few years from right now) the first Japanese manned launch ended in catastrophe after rocket-ship Shishigō (“The Lion”) exploded during its maiden flight: crashing to earth on the coastal 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 their infant daughter.

In response to the disaster, Japan set up an astronautics and space-sciences training facility where, after years of determined struggle, Asumi was accepted by the Tokyo National Space School. Slowly making friends like Shinnosuke Fuchuya (a classmate who had picked on her since their pre-school days back in Yuigahama), boisterous Kei Oumi, chilly, distant Marika Ukita and ultra-cool Shu Suzuki, Asumi inexorably moved closer to her unshakable dream of going to the stars.

Against all odds – she is small, shy, retiring, seems weak and is very poor – Asumi endures and always succeeds. She still talks with Mr. Lion, who is probably the ghost of an astronaut from the Shishigō

Individual instalments in these compelling monochrome volumes are presented as “Missions”; methodically combining into an overarching mosaic detailing the subtle interconnectedness of generations of characters, all linked by the call of distant stars.

Volume 11 includes Missions 65-75, plus a brace of enchanting autobiographical vignettes from the author’s own stargazing teenage years in his Another Spica occasional series, and the story resumes with the hopeful, ebullient dynamic shattered forever…

The gang had always bickered and competed – as friends do – but when Shu was selected to go to America to train for an actual space-shot everybody was delighted for him. Now they must come to terms with the news that he is dead…

Mission: 65 details Shu’s too-brief time at the Space Development Consortium Space Center where intense training triggers a long-incubating hidden disease into a debilitating flare-up. When the doctors contact his estranged father – a political heavyweight in the Japanese government – a flashback reveals a link to another member of the ardent group of astronaut students…

When his little sister Sakura visits Suzuki in hospital, his final inspirational words are of the friends he made by following his own dreams…

Possibly the most moving section of the entire extended epic, Mission: 66 focuses on Shu’s memorial service and how his passing affects the rest of the gang of individualistic oddballs before things lurch back to the quest for space in Mission: 67.

Hurled again into the exhausting drudgery of classes and physical training, the kids bury themselves in effort as they process the fact that the best of them is gone, barely reacting to the news of Suzuki’s replacement on the proposed American space-shot. They are also unaware that Asauri News journalist Ichimura is getting closer to corroborating his suspicions: Marika is not a normal human and her “father” – publicity-shy life-sciences mogul Senri Ukita – has accomplished something at once astonishing and ethically shady following the death of his first daughter years ago…

Mission: 67 finds the driven reporter meeting with even-more obsessed freelancer Yamaji who claims to have proof that Marika is a clone, an unethical secret copy of Senri’s dead daughter…

At that very moment the subjects of their furtive enquiries are also meeting. Like Shu, Marika has fallen out with her controlling father, but he has requested a meeting to discuss the strange fact that her friend died of the same genetic malady which afflicts her and killed her… predecessor…

His arguments to dissuade her from her dream of the stars only make Marika more determined to succeed…

Mission: 69 finds the kids gamely pushing in as their third year of study, acutely aware that only a few will be allowed to start the fourth, whilst in the background Ichimura and Yamaji squabble. They may both want the truth, but it’s increasingly clear that it’s for vastly different reasons…

And in one quiet moment, the grieving gang gather and Marika shares all she knows about her own condition and how it corresponds to what killed Shu…

That night on a rooftop, sad, confused Asumi discusses the events with Mr. Lion as she prepares for the term’s last push. Her entire future depends on the efforts of the next few weeks…

In Mission: 70 Ichimura heads for Yuigahama to visit the family shrine of the Ukitas and, while pondering the ethics of his big story, dreams of the days when he and the other kids talked of going into space. He almost misses Senri’s annual visit to his daughter’s grave but his perseverance is rewarded by an off-the-cuff interview where he challenges the wealthy man’s arrogance in playing with nature and asks the crucial questions “why and for what purpose?”

With answers of a sort, Ichimura then meets Yamaji and makes a deal…

Mission: 71 finds Asumi, Kei, Marika and Fuchuya with the rest of the class heading out to a remote island for another terrifying burst of survival training, but when they arrive the assembled students learn this test is a comprehensive recapitulation of everything they covered in the last three years: a sudden death, make-or-break evaluation, not of knowledge, aptitude or endurance, but spirit…

The arduous ordeal and deep soul-searching continues in Mission: 72 with the latest wrinkle being the cutting of sleep rations to 2 hours per night and news that already some of the class have failed and gone home. Asumi is stoic as ever, fiery Kei uses her anger to push on and Marika is her implacable, impassive self, but in their moments of sleep-time the girls find comfort and solidarity sharing their dreams and aspirations again and realise with relief that they are true friends at last…

After one last punishing push the survivors are congratulated and get on a bus for home, but the tests are not over yet…

Mission: 73 finds Asumi abandoned in the wilderness with a nothing but an envelope of instructions and a punishing time limit to reach her destination. The packet says stop for nothing, not even other students in distress, and the route is punctuated with alarm buttons for quitters to signal for help and admit failure…

As Asumi doggedly storms on she is unaware that nearly-beaten Fuchuya is behind her, drawing strength from her example, but when the diminutive dreamer sees Kei passed out she doesn’t hesitate for a second. Even Fucchy’s screaming that she’ll be disqualified can’t stop her helping a friend…

Mission: 74 continues the impossible race with Asumi running on her own until she encounters the equally distraught Marika. Convinced they have both failed, they proceed on together…

The epic adventure pauses with Mission: 75 as the despondent class gather back at the Academy and Fuchuya – upset that his newly-discovered colour blindness will wash him out of the program if nothing else does – remembers his youth at the fireworks factory in Yuigahama.

When the official announcement comes that the island tests were deliberately impossible to pass and nobody should consider themselves out of the running until announcements come in January, the astounded kids separate for the holidays. However as they head home exhausted, cruel fate again intervenes as the train carrying one of our stars is buried in a landslip…

To Be Continued…

Rounding off this volume are two more wistfully autobiographical ‘Another Spica’ episodes, culled from author Yaginuma’s lovelorn youth. The first finds him recalling and graphically eulogizing a teacher who died too young but changed his life-path, whilst the second shares the unsuspected stresses of living and working in isolation and how inspiration to carry on can come from absolutely anywhere…

These magically moving marvels originally appeared in 2007-2008 as Futatsu no Supika 13 and 14 in the Seinen manga magazine Gekkan Comics Flapper, targeting male readers aged 18-30, but this ongoing, unfolding beguiling saga is perfect for any older kid with stars in their eyes…

Twin Spica ran from September 2001-August 2009: sixteen volumes tracing the trajectories of Asumi and friends from callow students to trained astronauts, and the series has spawned both anime and live action TV series.

This delightful saga has everything: plenty of hard science to back up the informed extrapolation, an engaging cast, mystery and frustrated passion, alienation, angst and true friendships; all welded seamlessly into a joyous coming-of-age drama with supernatural overtones, raucous humour and masses of sheer sentiment.

These books are printed in the Japanese right to left, back to front format.
© 2012 by Kou Yaginuma. Translation © 2012 Vertical, Inc. All rights reserved.