Kenta Shinohara’s space odyssey continues in Astra Lost in Space‘s second volume, wherein our young crew overcomes meteor storms, air leaks, drowning, poisonous mushrooms, and — gasp! — even each other! As we learned from the first volume’s nail-biting cliffhanger, the prospect of a traitor sabotaging their journey is high, and Captain Kanata must weigh the option of either informing the other kids or simply believing in his newfound family. Unfortunately, an unmasked conspiracy doesn’t leave him with any choice, and as the group struggles with the knowledge of an attempted murderer lurking among them, one shy crew member must finally emerge from her shell…
As we discussed with the first volume, Astra Lost in Space wasn’t perfect in its character balance, but its success in presenting an engaging cast made us easily forgive any missteps. Of course, this isn’t to dismiss its successes in said balance: specifically, Ulgar and Yun-Hua’s distance from the crew. Their relative silence was an enticing clue towards their future roles, but as of this volume, there is a distinct difference between the two: whereas Ulgar deliberately distances himself, Yun-Hua Lu’s inferiority complex impedes her desire to be useful. Unlike Aries’s photographic memory or Charce’s knowledge of biology, she possesses no apparent talent, and her clumsiness and bad luck obstruct any attempt at interaction or assistance.
We find out the reasons for this and more as Yun-Hua’s potentially fatal mid-volume choice leads to disaster striking the crew; while I’ll leave her backstory and true talent for the reader to discover, it shouldn’t be a surprise that her final-hour epiphany is key to saving the day. Said talent is one not typically associated with “saving ” — and in the case of Yun-Hua, bad parenting had smothered her public embracing of it — but while Kanata assures it’s enough for her to simply help around, she won’t settle for that, and resorts to what only she can do. It may not be what ultimately saves our heroes, but the power of her soothing gift is enough to give her credit.
To continue dancing along spoiler territory, Shinohara’s clean style and expertise in drawing cute girls is imperative here. Yun-Hua was already absolutely beautiful, and so the full-page/double-page spreads are appropriately designed to capture her grace and symbolic awakening. When contrasted with Kanata’s outdoor struggle, it’s hitherto the story’s most gripping moment, topping off the volume in Yun-Hua’s embracing her talent with a literal transformation (and that’s not even mentioning her curves; indeed, anyone bothered by manga’s penchant for teenage sexualization will undoubtedly be irritated by Quitterie’s shower scene. Sadly, such fanservice is the breaks these days).
In our visit to Planet Shummoor, we also come to recognize Shinohara’s creativity lies within his world-building concepts as opposed to his artistry. True, other than the affectionate Gloopies, there’s nothing visually distinct within Shummoor’s wilderness, but thanks to some clear research on Shinohara’s end, it’s how the planets function that captivate us. Thanks to an unexpected species emerging as the planet’s dominant species, the crew is thrust into a compelling “race-against-the-clock” scenario within a world host to un-preservable resources. The focus on his planetary design isn’t “how do I make this world dazzle the reader with my imagination?”, but instead, “how can this planet capture the reader by serving the story?”. Perhaps he recognizes any elaborate ideas (such as, say, a planet with alien denizens) would distract from focusing on the kids, and so the planets must serve to supplement their development as opposed to over-complicating the narrative. (Putting it another way, Astra Lost in Space is obviously meant as a short tale, so why bother diving into alien politics?)
Naturally, when the series isn’t centered around drama, Shinohara’s knack for comedy shines through. While Aries’s malapropisms are as charming as ever (“it was a deacon of poop!”), the volume-closing four-panel comics (the “Graphic Ship’s Log”) allow us to peek into the crew’s daily lives. Running alongside the strip’s serialization, waiting every week or two to be greeted such antics may have been a tad frustrating, but the silliness of Kanata’s fascination of Paper Sumo Wrestling and Zack’s inability to properly teach math to poor Funicia makes for an entertaining reprieve from the life-or-death struggles we frequently witness.
Astra Lost in Space remains on course. It’s fun and endearing watching the characters open up one by one, and the suspense in not just their perils but in who will be the next to open up keeps us on our toes. It’s not a revolutionary comic, but it doesn’t need to be: it just wants us to get these kids home, and knowing there’s only three volumes left means we won’t have to wait long. (and hey, if you find the wait unbearable, you can just read the rest for free on Viz’s site).
Final Verdict: 4/5
This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.