By Kou Yaginuma
272 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical, Inc.
With so many manga series being translated into English these days, it’s easy for ones to get lost in the shuffle; doubly so when it comes to ones that aren’t on their first or second volume. In the case of books in Twin Spica, it would be a genuine shame if it became forgotten. Not only is this 12-volume series about a Japanese space academy charming, but its ninth volume is almost certainly its strongest installment to date.
Kou Yaginuma has always juggled multiple elements in Twin Spica; it’s not just about Asumi trying to become an astronaut (despite, or perhaps because of the personal tragedy her own family suffered due to space flight attempts), but about the relationships between her, her fellow students, and others associated with those at the academy. In the case of Twin Spica Vol. 9, though, I think Yaginuma has found the perfect mixture of stories to provide just the right balance of moods and ideas. We’ve got a journalist intrigued by the presence of Marika and trying to figure out her connection to his memories of many years earlier. A friend from Asumi’s past comes to visit, but is hiding the real reason for her arrival. There’s a thread about pride in making the new space craft entirely in Japan, rather than contracting parts out (like on the ill-fated Lion). There’s even a subplot about Marika working her first job. And of course, the training is getting progressively more difficult, to weed out those not suitable to become astronauts.
It might sound like much, but none of these stories felt cramped or getting short shrift. Perhaps it’s because these later volumes have a higher page count, but Yaginuma is moving effortlessly from one story to the next, and each feels emotionally fulfilling. The centerpiece of the book for me was Asumi’s visit from her friend Kasane. There’s something particularly sweet about that portion of the book, perhaps because it felt so especially honest and emotionally revealing. As readers get older they’ll find themselves in similar situations when it comes to long-time friends that might be slipping away, and Yaginuma writes as if he’s dealing from personal experience, here.
I also appreciated that more now than ever, Yaginuma is making it clear why Asumi would be a good astronaut. In earlier volumes it felt that while she had a lot of the drive, but perhaps not the physicality to be successful. By this point, though, we’ve had a careful progression of her attempt to be an astronaut, and having the newer student start to understand how her long-term dedication is now paying off is a nice moment. It feels like this has been planned from the very first chapters of the story, and we’re getting the fruits of that labor. Even the element of the ghostly Mr. Lion, who has started to feel past his expiration date, feels a little smoother here. Perhaps because it feels like Yaginuma is preparing his departure from Asumi’s life, but the slightly more reflective and subdued presence here is appreciated.
As always, Yaginuma’s art looks lovely. His ink lines are delicate and small, providing a rich texture to his art. As strange as it sounds, it’s starting to remind me of artists like Ladronn, able to draw something big and bulky like a space suit and give it heft while still feeling somehow impossibly light and perfect. And more importantly, when it comes to looks of wonder on the part of the main characters, look no further than Yaginuma. When Asumi, Kasane, or someone else’s face lights up in wonderment or happiness, it will melt your heart. Likewise, when someone is crushed, their looks of sorrow will threaten to drag you down too. It’s a beautiful overall look.
Twin Spica has just three more volumes to go, and I’ll be sad to see it end, even as I’m dying to see what happens next. I don’t know anything about Yaginuma’s new series Gunryoku no Jiu save that it’s about samurai, but Twin Spica is good enough that I’ll buy a translation sight-unseen. (Are you listening, manga publishers?) If you haven’t given Twin Spica a try, you owe it to yourself to take a look. It’s been a real joy falling in love with this series.