Created by: Kou Yaginuma
Published by: Vertical
ISBN: 1934287849 (Amazon)
There is this fine line, razor thin actually, between the base manipulation of a reader and the generation of emotional impact through honest means. You might not believe it exists and you’d be right to be skeptical. Books that straddle the line are rarer than books that praise the literary structure and depth of Stephenie Meyer novels. Or maybe not that rare. But still, pretty rare.
The thing is: most books that call out to the passions either a) do so quite honestly and work hard to elicit their response through genuine means or b) are contrived pieces of brute violence whose whole identity lies in the ability to wrench tears from the reader. There’s not a lot of writing out there that makes you wonder which side of the fence a book comes down on. It isn’t often that I’ll actually need to have a conversation with myself about whether or not a book earned its response from me.
Twin Spica is a book that plays against expectation, then.
Twin Spica composes so grand a wealth of emotive moments that if a reader is at all averse to misting up within sight of others, the book should not at all be consumed in public places. I typically have ended up reading each volume on lunch breaks in coffee shops or pizza parlours* and every last time I’ve been stuck staring at a page waiting for the lines to stop being so damned fuzzy and regain their composure. It’d probably be embarrassing if I at all cared what dining strangers thought of the thirty-seven-year-old man biting his lip and reading manga in a booth by himself.**
So yeah, Twin Spica delivers the emotionally devastating moments so frequently and with such apparent abandon that even though the book feels honest, I can’t help but remain skeptical. Could any book so frequently and so convincingly bring me to be whelmed with feeling without resorting to fakery? I mean, I don’t feel manipulated, not really. But maybe Yaginuma is really just tricking me with his winning characters and their lives built on hope and pain and their willingness to take on a world that’s clearly too real for their dreams.
The thing is: I don’t care.
Generally, I have a pretty good nose for contrivance. And once scented out, manipulation bothers me enough to strip me entirely of any ability to just go along with the story. But with Twin Spica I don’t even care to know whether Yaginuma comes by his power naturally or through foul literary sorcery. The book so thoroughly has both my attentions and affections that it really can do no wrong. I adore Asumi and Mr. Lion and treasure all the terrible things they’ve endured to get Asumi to the stars.
In the world of Twin Spica, the world’s third great astronautical disaster occurred in Japan in 2010. Japan’s first manned spaceflight goes awry when the rocket booster’s fuel errantly ignites, causing the rocket itself to veer into the nearby city of Yuigahama, killing many and leaving others injured, both physically and emotionally. Spica's story begins in 2024 and concerns fourteen-year-old Asumi, whose mother died in the accident. Asumi grows up speaking to the ghost of one of the astronauts aboard the Lion (the rocket’s name) and develops a passion for the stars. When an astronautical training school opens up to pave the way for Japan’s newly reopened space program, Asumi jumps at the opportunity to pursue her dream of space travel.
While the story largely unfolds in the present day, all of the volumes so far (1–7) have included back-up stories following characters when they were younger. This helps flesh out the current characters and halts them from merely being plot points that exist only to drive the story. These include heartbreaking memories of Asumi learning to deal with her mother’s five-year-long coma to sweet stories about how Asumi was inspired to take up her astronaut training even as a young elementary-schooler.
One of the more interesting aspects of the series is that, while it is pretty thoroughly grounded in an extrapolated science of the future, Twin Spica spends a lot of time developing the relationship between Asumi and the lion-masked ghost of an astronaut (Mr. Lion, he calls himself). For what amounts to a sci-fi drama, this is a curious choice. Science, being thoroughly materialistic by definition, should have no overlap with the metaphysical. Perhaps mythic systems operate differently in the day-to-day lives of the Japanese people, but this inclusion of the supernatural in an otherwise mundane story might take many American readers off-guard. In the end though, Yaginuma’s inclusions of ghosts and an afterlife allow him to explore numerous story avenues and character explorations that would be impossible to otherwise sound out. It’s this combination of the physical and the metaphysical that gives Twin Spica its strength and so the combination of the two comes off less corny than it does inspired.
Twin Spica thus far*** is absolutely worth your time as a reader. It is honestly one of my favourite series being published currently and I look forward to the new volume every other month. It gets me a bit teary-eyed almost every time, but in a way that feels satisfying—even if Yaginuma does seem to be suspiciously talented at drawing out an emotional response from readers.
*Do they still call them parlours? Parlour is a but quaint for my taste, but pizza restaurant sounds pretty clunky and pizza joint sounds too flip.
**The lesson here is not that I am a lonely lonely guy, but rather: if you work in a place where no other employees are in your age range or share your interests, you will eat alone a lot. Really. I promise.
***There are, as of this moment, nine more volumes waiting to be released and the series should wrap up in November of 2012.
Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:
3 Stars = Good
2 Stars = Ok
1 Star = Bad
I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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