Twin Spica, Vol. 12

By Kou Yaginuma. Released in Japan as “Futatsu no Spica” by Media Factory, serialized in the magazine Comic Flapper. Released in North America by Vertical.

In Japan, this was released in two volumes, but it’s probably best for my heart that they came out here in this thick book. After seeing these characters bond and grow over the course of the series, we finally get the fruits of all their labors. After so much tragedy and blame and heartbreak… Japan is returning to space, and our heroes are graduating.

So much of this volume deals with the joy and sorrow of parting – even though they know that they’ll always be friends, the nature of the space school, and the fact that there will be only one student advancing to the final year, means that the idyllic school life that brought them all so close together is gone. We see everyone – even Marika – struggle with this, and trying to see how to go forward in life while still treasuring what they have. This includes, of course, Asumi, who is the student that gets chosen. (Sorry if that spoils you, but come on – she’s the heroine.)

This is not to say that Marika, Kei and Fuchuya don’t get a lot of attention. Not getting one’s dream does not necessarily mean abandoning it, and they all need to find a way to move forward on different paths while still remaining true to their desires to go to space. Whether it be Fuchuya’s preparing to take over the family business and trying to find ways to do fireworks in space; Kei’s love of photography and her pictures of the stars; or even Marika simply trying to find a cure for herself and others like her, this is a cast that has grown tremendously since we started. (The teacher talking about how much Kei’s enthusiasm meant to the class was possibly my favorite moment of the entire volume – that ogre!)

And so Asumi goes to space. And it’s as amazing as it sounds, so I won’t dwell too much on it. Surprisingly, the manga does not end there. Or rather, it’s not that surprising after all – the emotional climax of this series has never been ‘will Asumi get to space’, but about the relationship between Asumi and Mr. Lion. And now that she’s returned and has decided on a teaching career while waiting for the next mission (it’s not like they send a rocket up every 2 weeks, you know), Mr. Lion has realized that at last, there’s nothing really keeping him here. It’s a tough realization – we see a lot of Mr. Lion just sort of bumming around aimlessly here, even more than usual. But he says goodbye to Asumi, and it’s as heartwrenching as it sounds. But beautiful. Like the majority of this series.

In the end, things don’t necessarily end happily ever after for everyone – because this isn’t an ending, their lives will continue. Marika is still struggling with her illness, and we’re not sure if she’ll be able to discover a cure. Fuchuya still hasn’t really confessed to Asumi (who, as a time capsule towards the end reveals, was pretty much hung up on Mr. Lion anyway) so there’s no romantic resolution. But it’s still a great ending. In this cast we have hope not just for their own futures, but for the children of Japan. Seeing all the kids wanting to join the school after seeing Asumi go to space just puts a big grin on your face.

Twin Spica has been quite the journey, and I’ll miss it. Combining realistic depictions of what a space school might be like with the fantastic realism that comes with Marika and Mr. Lion (well, OK, Marika is merely sci-fi extrapolation, but…), and of course the gut-wrenching emotional tugs that are the core of this series. Every time you read it, you want to tear up – both happy tears and sad tears. It’s wonderful to see a series this affecting in North America. I wish Asumi and her friends the best on their outward journeys.

Twin Spica, Vol. 10

By Kou Yaginuma. Released in Japan as “Futatsu no Spica” by Media Factory, serialized in the magazine Comic Flapper. Released in North America by Vertical.

Foreshadowing can be a dangerous thing, especially when we want to be wrong. In amongst all of the love of space and hope for the future and plucky youngsters banding together, Twin Spica has taken us to some very uncomfortable places. And this volume makes us realize that they aren’t going away, and that our gang of five is not going to be together forever like many a manga series before it. Real life is intervening.

It’s especially ironic given that we also deal in this volume with the sheer stubborn determination to never give up that several of the lead characters have. Marika’s poor self-image and distrust of her own feelings and memories wars with her determination to go past that and see what she can achieve as her own person. Fuchuya continuing to persevere despite the fact that it still appears that he only is doing this so that he can be near Asumi. And of course Asumi herself, who may be incredibly tiny but still has the endurance of most grown men, and is running herself half to death even on her days off.

The middle of this volume shows the five kids relaxing once again in Asumi’s hometown for a vacation. It’s mentioned several times that they should try to do this every year – in fact, it starts to be a little ominous. And once Marika reveals her secret to the others, we begin to suspect that this story is going to end, if it does pick one, with only Asumi actually making it out into space. I don’t know any spoilers, but the basic theme of “keep on trying even if you lose your dream” seems to speak to that. Powerful words, but they can be hard to live up to.

In addition to Fuchuya’s crush, hidden to Asumi but obvious to everyone else, there’s also Kei and Shu. Her crush is even less hidden, and it’s possible that Shu does know about it, but he’s so inscrutable that it’s hard to get a handle on him. Their scene together at the festival is really sweet and heartwarming, giving you a brief look at typical awkward high school romance in a series that in generally not about that.

And then we get that ending, which I will attempt not to spoil. Again, I note Twin Spica’s ability to be both uplifting and soul crushing at the same time. The majority of this volume has tended towards the former, so we were probably due. Of course, it’s mostly a cliffhanger here, and I’m sure we will deal with the fallout in volume 11. But I admire the author’s ability to convey on the page what’s going on – that feeling where your heart stops, your head is buzzing and dizzy, and you want to deny everything that’s being told to you. This is where the silence of the printed page works best.

Due to Vertical’s condensing of the series into 12 volumes, we’re only 2 away from the end. (I believe that this volume was half of 11 and all of 12 in Japan). I’ll miss it. Asumi is a heroine you really want to root for, and I’m really curious as to how realistic this series will get. Will one of the group – OK, will Asumi if we’re honest – he able to get past all the roadblocks and make it into space? Or will this be like all those sports mangas that show the team all coming together but losing in the semifinals? And will I be able to read the start of Volume 11 without curling into a tiny little ball?

Bookshelf Briefs pointer

For those who read my reviews by category, I have reviews of La Quinta Camera and Twin Spica 8 in this week’s Bookshelf Briefs.