By Dustin Cabeal
Typically, in manga, when a group of kids is thrown together, they usually become chums. It takes a volume, but it’s so commonplace that it stands out when that doesn’t happen. Even with some of the groundwork being laid out in the first volume, our group of teens lost in space aren’t the best of friends. There’s some that get alone better than others, and two of them still haven’t integrated into the group at all.
Then there’s the mystery of who in the group is the saboteur? Something that seemed like it would play out over time with only Kanata, Zack, and Funicia knowing about it. Instead, this volume dives into the reveal as Kanata tells the crew. It plays out differently in that everyone proclaiming their innocence, but then also begging the real person to stop it and step forward. No one does, but it makes everyone a bit uneasy. The brilliance of Kenta Shinohara’s writing is that he then spends the entire volume forcing the kids to rebuild their trust in one another.
On their way to their next planet, they run into more than a few problems, one of which sends them on a crash course with the planet. The entire group must work together to survive, which they do; this also eases some of the fear within the group about who may have been trying to kill them… though I have my doubts about someone in the group.
The new planet they find isn’t nearly as friendly as the last one. They can’t find any water even though the scans say there is water. They end up finding some creatures that are helpful and pay them back when they show kindness towards them. The creatures lead them to some plants that store water which starts to help them. Eventually, though, they discover that the plant life is the dominant lifeform on this planet. The final sequence is wonderful. It develops several of the characters and solidifies Kanata as the leader yet again. It’s his willingness to do anything for his crew that makes him stand out and be a solid leader when they need it.
The writing is phenomenal on this series. Not only in the banter and back and forth enjoyable, but all of the characters are touched upon. The two that weren’t were done so intentionally for the sake of the story. Ulger remains undeveloped, but there have been elements added to this time around. That and he comes up with part of the plan that saved all their lives, so it’s an interesting growth course for Ulger.
The sci-fi element continues to feel fresh. Having a planet that wasn’t completely barren, but it wasn’t friendly because it wasn’t a planet for mammals to dominate, brought forth a lot of interesting perspectives. Shinohara wrote the story into a corner that way, but then brilliantly wrote himself out of it. The level of thought that’s gone into both planets has been great because each planet's ecosystem has made sense. It’s not like they’re on a lava planet with lava people and you’re like, what’s the point of that? The planet and system have a logic that seems grounded in science. I’m obviously not a scientist, so I don’t know for sure, but it seems grounded.
The artwork continues to be some of my favorite in recent memory. The clean linework is dynamic and powerful. It’s a great style for a sci-fi adventure. There’s a lot of intensity to the character’s faces, which depicts the drama and urgency of the moments. The scene in which they’re all working together to live was thrilling and had me leaning closer and closer to the book with every turn of the page. There is the smallest amount of fan service, and I have a hard time calling it that since it serves the story and character development between Zach and Quitterie, but I’m sure that’s what it would be considered by 90% of people reading it. It was a hilarious scene though and made me appreciate how consistent Zach’s character is being kept. Otherwise, the art keeps everyone in their suits for the bulk of the time and that’s pretty cool. It’s a good change of pace from other books in which people get their clothes beat up or burned. They don’t have that luxury, but hey, maybe that’ll play into the story later.
Astra: Lost in Space continues to set itself apart from other manga. Its sci-fi adventure murder mystery elements are different than most manga, but the solid character development is where the real charm comes from. You will find yourself rooting so hard for these kids to get home. There might be some romance by the end, but for now, it’s just been incredible to read an adventure story that’s about the adventure and not how many women tag along. If you’ve been missing good sci-fi, then you’ve been blessed in 2018 and can count Astra as a part of that sci-fi blessing.
Astra: Lost in Space vol. 2