Twin Spica Vol. 9

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.

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Twin Spica Vol. 5

By Kou Yaginuma
208 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical, Inc.

Since Vertical launched their English editions of Twin Spica last year, it’s been fun to receive a new installment every two months and watch the story unfold—in no small part because Kou Yaginuma has quietly been tweaking the story since those early chapters, adding and discarding elements as he sees fit. By this fifth volume, it’s juggling two related but tonally different storylines, one involving training for Japan’s astronaut program and a second one about memories of young love. The latter is aided by the ghost of "Mr. Lion," whom Yaginuma seems to be trying to keep relevant to the story by showing his past with Asumi’s classmate Marika. If we didn’t already have the storyline involving Marika’s health issues, this might have seemed more out of the blue, but instead it serves a purpose by giving us more information about this secretive character.

Still, the primary draw for me remains the training for space, and after meandering away from it for a while, the second half of the book is taken up primarily by a training exercise that the entire class goes on. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the series to date, with what seems like a simple simulation suddenly turning into a much more challenging event. Child-sized Asumi is our main focus here, and I appreciate the fact that Yaginuma is able to cast doubt into the reader’s mind on if she’s really cut out to be an astronaut. Considering she’s our main character, the fact he can plant that doubt is a good one. His delicate art style assists in that manner; watching the battered Asumi stumble through the challenge wouldn’t be half as effective if she seemed buff and sturdy. With its twin love affairs of childhood romance and the yearning for space, Twin Spica continues to draw its readers in, and is worthy of staying on your radar. If you ever wanted to be an astronaut, you’ve got to read this series.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

7 Billion Needles Vol. 1

By Nobuaki Tadano
192 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical

You might think about buying 7 Billion Needles based entirely off the cover. That’s because Vertical has designed it like an old science-fiction paperback, complete with orange band up at the top, and a large font text description on the back. If this is the sort of thing to make you think, "I need to read this book" then you are fortunately also in luck, because Nobuaki Tadano’s 7 Billion Needles is inspired by the 1950 science-fiction novel Needle by Hal Clement, and this is a book where the cover tells you exactly what you’re in for.

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Twin Spica Vol. 1

By Kou Yaginuma
192 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical, Inc.

I almost didn’t buy Twin Spica because of the cover. There was something about it, with its creepy little girl holding two glowing objects, while strange lights fell from the sky, that was an instant turn-off. Was it because it felt like a science-fiction version of Children of the Corn? Or a strange reversed-gender riff on Akira? Fortunately, I have friends who are less afraid of strange cover design, and their repeated ravings over Twin Spica made me finally reverse my stance and pick up the first volume. I’m here to tell you that they were right, and I was wrong. If anything, I’m kicking myself for staying away as long as I did.

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Black Jack Vol. 1

By Osamu Tezuka
288 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical, Inc.

With more and more of Osamu Tezuka’s comics being translated into English, it was just a matter of time until Black Jack came back into print. With just two volumes of material originally translated and out of print for years, I knew about Tezuka’s stories of a renegade surgeon more by reputation than anything else. Now that Vertical is bringing its 17-volume run into English? I have to admit, I’m ready to go under the knife a few more times.

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Buddha Vol. 1: Kapilavastu

By Osamu Tezuka
400 pages, black and white
Published by Vertical, Inc.

It’s hard to believe that just a couple of years ago, it was almost impossible to find works by Osamu Tezuka in English. Considered by many to be the father of comics in Japan, his English canon consisted primarily of Adolf and Black Jack. Now, it seems, America is finally catching up with the rest of the world. In the past five years, we’ve seen Tezuka inducted into the Eisner Awards’s Hall of Fame, and translations of Phoenix, Astro Boy, Nextworld, and Metropolis just the tip of the iceberg. Now book publisher Vertical, Inc., already publishing translations of Japanese prose novels, is publishing Tezuka’s eight-volume opus Buddha.

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