WARNING: As mentioned previously, this review of Astra Lost in Space’s final volume will openly spoil any and all plot twists in this volume. Save for reading this review until you’ve read Volume 5!
The star-flung adolescents of the Astra crew? Clones created for the purpose of immortality and organ harvest. The culprits behind their space-trotting predicament? Their own parents; in other words, their originals. Planet Earth? Frozen and abandoned over a hundred years ago, erased in favor of a new wormhole-forged planet (Astra) and timeline as part of a government conspiracy. And the traitor? None other than Charce Lacroix: the clone of King Noah VIX. The Astra’s 146-day, five-volume journey has come to an end, concluding with an extra-thick volume and a head-spinning finale.
Make no mistake: the number of twists and turns Kenta Shinohara’s Astra Lost in Space juggles in this volume’s twelve chapters can be a headache to decipher, and it stumbles here and there – in its goal of five volumes, certain plot points aren’t ribboned up tightly, and perhaps that bothers me more than it should — yet as much of an exposition dumping ground Volume 5 is, it’s never any less compelling than the four volumes preceding it. Obscured, world-changing schemes are unveiled, then in themselves exposed as convenient cover-ups for more sinister purposes. Putting aside any suspension of disbelief — I’d have to agree with Ulgar this convoluted plot works a little too perfectly — they succeed in feeding directly into the Astra’s journey.
Case in point: Charce. As you may’ve already deduced — not like it was hard to guess, given his cover position — his previously divulged backstory was a fabrication, with his being a king’s clone being the most elaborate backstory of all. As we discover his plan to return Aries — the clone of the King’s deceased daughter (Princess Seira) — the friction between his brainwashed allegiance and newfound empathy for his makeshift family produces the tensest showdown this side of Ulgar’s gun fiasco. Like then, we know Kanata’s optimism will penetrate through, but unlike the miraculous rescue back on Arispade, Shinohara sees through our complacency and implements a stunning sacrifice gripping us ever tighter into Astra‘s climax.
Aside from the final two chapters, said backstory is where much of Volume 5’s heart lies — being the only clone with prior knowledge of his true identity, Charce is a valuable lifeline into a furtive environment. Despite his tragic irony, his friendship with Seira isn’t merely where he discovers his secret purpose; nay, it’s where he nurtures empathy himself, a concept denied by the King’s distant “parenting.” As readers who’ve consumed shonen after shonen, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize it was fostered further through the Astra’s journey — the very one he himself caused. From that perspective, could we perhaps view the Astra crisis as a rehabilitative camp that just so happens to change the world? (Alas, if only it granted Funicia relevance, as she continues to only ever speak up in accordance with group shots.)
Charce, you rascal, you!
Yet with so much time spent on conspiracies, betrayals, and exposition, not much is spent on Planet Astra itself. I was hoping for a confrontation between the clones and originals in what would’ve undoubtedly been host to a heartbreaking conflict – but alas, most are merely silently arrested as the Astra crew lands back home. Yes, the journey is the point and all that, yet Astra‘s designated length renders the aftermath something of a rushed footnote. Aries’s summary of events implies the worldwide reception to their earth-shattering journey led to unfortunate consequences (“There were even a few anti-government protests that turned violent.”), but the overall framing of these last two chapters invokes far too much of a limp “welp, we found the solution to all our problems, so everything ends up A-okay!” cop-out as opposed to a full-fledged ending.
Don’t get me wrong: what ultimately transpires is touching and all that, and I certainly won’t combat any counter-arguments it’s a fitting conclusion for the actual crew; after all, they’re the actual focus. Much as I wish Astra pursued the ambition unveiled in this final volume, I’m not to about suggest Shinohara should’ve stretched the series beyond its limits. I’ll instead settle for the juicy concept art detailing the cast’s creation; if anything, they certainly prove he did have Astra‘s best interests in mind — there were initially far too many characters for a series as short as this, and I had fun pointing out which axed characters were absorbed into the final cast. (I mean, granted, the relevant blurbs already reveal that, but they’re right there!)
In Astra Lost in Space‘s afterword, Shinohara elaborates on how the series was a necessary obstacle by diving into an unfamiliar genre. Any evident stumbling blocks aside, I was gripped by its journey and cast from beginning to end — be it comedy or drama, I eagerly anticipate whatever he conceives next.
(Speaking of which…now that Astra Lost in Space is complete, does this mean we’ll finally get Shinohara’s debut work in Sket Dance localized? Pretty please, VIZ?)
Final Verdict: 4/5
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by VIZ Media.