Twin Spica Vol. 1 (Vertical)

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A seemingly standard space academy plot gets a touchingly melancholy twist in this gem of a manga series.

 

192 pgs. B&W; $10.95
(W / A: Kou Yaginuma)
 
In the year 2024, a young girl named Asumi Kamogawa dreams of being an astronaut in Japan’s burgeoning homegrown space program, a program that is only just recovering from when its tragic first launch (nicknamed “The Lion”) exploded shortly after takeoff, crashing in the middle of densely-populated Tokyo. Asumi tries to hide her plans to enroll at the Tokyo Space School from her father—Asumi’s mother having died in the Lion crash—but getting him to let go is the easy part: dealing with hot-headed classmates and forcing her diminutive frame through the rigorous physical training still lie ahead.
 
If that sounds like a pretty stereotypical premise for a 1980s space academy story to you, well, you’d be right. Add in Kou Yaginuma’s clean, uncluttered art style, pie-faced character designs, and a release from Vertical (pretty much the standard bearers for delivering vintage manga to the American masses) and you’d be forgiven for thinking Twin Spica was a long-lost classic from the 1980s heyday of star-soaring classics like Macross or Gunbuster. What’s surprising given that classicist surface, however, is that Yaginuma kicked off Twin Spica in 2001.
 
But despite being a throwback, Twin Spica is quick to establish its own unique identity. What really sets the series apart is its emotional depth, and the skill with which Yaginuma wrings empathy from the reader. Asumi dealing with the loss of her mother could have been a source for hammy melodrama, but Yaginuma delivers it with a melancholy poignancy.
 
The bulk of that emotional intensity is carried by the art. Though Yaginuma’s style looks simplistic on the surface, he shows masterful skill at laying out pages for maximum dramatic effect. In that way, reading Twin Spica is akin to being swept along by a gently rising wave: one need only let yourself float into the book’s dramatic current and Yaginuma takes care of the rest.
 
Having recently reread longtime manga translator Matt Thorn’s essay “On Translation,” I read Twin Spica attuned to Thorn’s idea of what makes a translation an effective adaptation of a work into another language. I can’t prove it as I don’t read Japanese, but I’d like to think Maya Rosewood’s English adaptation of Twin Spica is one of the good ones. The text never seems to hinder the book’s pathos: nothing is ever overtly wooden or literal, and the characters have a uniquely identifiable voice and personality. Combine that with the solid physical presentation of the book (Vertical’s first in the standard manga size used by VIZ and Tokyopop, but every bit as well-built as their usual larger-format books) and it’s clear Vertical is giving Twin Spica the treatment it deserves.
 
With fifteen more volumes to go in the series, Twin Spica has barely gotten its feet wet, but this first volume is more than enough evidence that this is a series to keep an eye on. What’s truly impressive is just how engrossing this first volume is despite the fact that, honestly, barely anything happens in it: Asumi enrolls in the academy, confronts her father, gets in, goes through her first test with her roommates (friendly but overly emotional Kei and ice queen Marika), and that’s it. Only 124 pages into the volume and we’re already at a “to be continued,” with the rest of the book given over to two lead-in stories that predate Twin Spica by a year. Both stories follow Asumi as a precocious but sad first grader: in “2015: Fireworks,” Asumi first meets Mr. Lion, a ghostly apparition in a lion mask that only she can see (who features prominently in the book’s main storyline), while in “Asumi,” Asumi suffers a near-death experience and gets to meet the mother she only barely knew. Being Yaginuma’s first major works, the art is surprisingly accomplished even if it is a little rougher around the edges (the ink line a bit looser, the characters a bit stiffer) and the stories flesh out Asumi’s background nicely. I was initially put off by the inclusion of so much bonus material, but the book was perfectly satisfying as-is, and one I can wholeheartedly recommend. | Jason Green
 
Want to sample Twin Spica? Click here to read the entire short story chapter “Asumi,” courtesy of Vertical.
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