Will the Astra ever make it home?
As we’ve already hit the half-way point in Kenta Shinohara’s Astra Lost in Space, it’s only expected the pieces start coming together. With the last of the Astra’s reclusive crew members finally opening up, the roots of the conspiracy that drew them together are gradually unearthed, and the implications are not pretty. As deadly vendettas erupt on a tropical paradise and certain doom awaits via a barren wasteland, any and all grudges must be swept aside if they desire survival, but is everything truly settled between the crew members? And what shocking secrets await from this volume’s very final page?
For all the gears to begin turning, it takes two of the least-distinguished characters to step into the spotlight: Ulgar and Luca. The former’s abrasiveness personality raised obvious flags for a bitter past and future conflict, yet as previously documented, it was difficult to get a bead on Luca. While an otherwise entertaining character, his defining trait as “the upbeat one” struggled to prove itself in a posse of teens not only possessing similar traits, but distinguishing themselves with their respective talents and character arcs. Now with this volume’s stunning revelation, perhaps that was the intention all along?
Regardless, it’s a fact that up until now, Ulgar was the most secluded of the Astra gang — in fact, were it not for a certain disclosure by Luca, he’d likely have remained aloof and impartial to the crew’s crisis for the entire trip home. That he’s only driven into action now is a testament to his agenda: nothing matters more than his revenge, impossible as it may have once seemed, and he’ll even destroy a vital key for the way home to do it. It is only through the revelation that he and Luca are much the same that he realizes he’d become exactly what took his brother away, and in that he’s not only able to discover a more noble reason for making it home, but to do so with what he’s finally accepted as the makeshift family that forgave and accepted him.
Just admit it! You’re friends!
Indeed, it’s thanks to careful balance with the characters’ optimism that renders Astra Lost in Space so endearing — even in the midst of Ulgar’s deadly confrontation, for instance, Kanata declares he’s grateful if only in that we finally got to see something of the real Ulgar. His attempt to defuse the standoff isn’t out of desperation, but as we saw with Yun-Hua, is a chance to connect with a friend who’s closed off their heart. Despite this being the third volume, it’s how their grim acceptance on the next planet feels natural: there’s no individualized cliques or factions dividing up the Astra, but one group slowly molding together in the journey home. Is it cliche? Yes? Is it believable, heartwarming, and genuinely cathartic to witness the crew come together, even with the pervasive threat of a traitor? Absolutely.
Not that everything’s doom and gloom, of course: there’s enough Sket Dance-patented humor to go around, not the least in what’s the largest serving of four-panel volume-ending funnies yet. With Astra Lost in Space emphasizing drama, perhaps they’re Shinohara’s way of letting off steam? Not that there isn’t comedy interspersed throughout the main story, mind, but I can’t help but wonder if Shinohara longs for another comedy-driven series– perhaps one actually localized by VIZ this time? Hint, hint! (And what’s this? There’s apparently some romance budding on the side — well, as Quitterie points out, it’s only natural since they’re kids, but could this lead to further friction?)
As far as the art goes, while the two planets depicted here are in line with Shinohara’s imagination within the context of story/world-building, they’re probably the least eye-popping of his otherworldly creations, so it takes the characters to carry things through. By far the most captivating moment is how we observe Shinohara’s careful delicacy in maneuvering around obvious restrictions all for the sake of a crucial plot twist; needless to say, for as rare as a subject as this, it’s tastefully done. (Also, if the last two volumes hadn’t already proved as much, Shinohara can still draw incredibly cute girls — naturally, with the first half revolving around a beach planet, it’s ample placement for fanservice)
Thus far, Astra Lost in Space has impressed in its iterative quality: each succeeding volume surpasses its predecessor in quality, so it goes without saying this is the finest volume of the series yet. Having read the entire series when it released for free on VIZ’s site, I’ll leave it to you to discover if that ascension persists for the five-volume journey, but as it stands now, it’s a definite page-turner that grips me well after serialization.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
This was based on a review copy provided by VIZ.