Astra Lost in Space Volume 1 – Manga Review
Astra Lost in Space Synopsis: Itʼs the first day of Planet Camp, and Aries Spring couldnʼt be more excited! She, along with eight other strangers, leave for Planet McPa for a weeklong excursion. Soon after they arrive, however, a mysterious orb appears and transports them into the depths of space, where they find an empty floating spaceship… (Official Viz Synopsis)
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow)
Astra Lost in Space is billed as the story of Aries Spring, a plucky, young, perhaps a bit ditzy, girl as she and eight other classmates venture out on their first camping weekend on a far away planet. The group becomes lost when a mysterious orb attacks and swallows them, transporting them into the depths of space, with only a derelict spaceship to save them.
The truth is Astra’s billing is misleading on several accounts. The series’ really isn’t about Aries Spring in specific. She’s a major character, a plucky fool who’s quirkiness brings a lot, and I mean a LOT, of comedy to the table. But the series is more an ensemble adventure. Not mentioned in the official synopsis are the other eight characters, each featured to such an extent that the story is really about everyone, and not just Aries. The most egregious omission is Kanata Hoshijima. Kanata is a head strong, never give up kinda guy who becomes the self-appointed leader of the group. While Aries plays a major role, particularly in the series’ opening chapter, Astra is as much, if not more so, about Kanata and his attempts to install himself as leader of this quirky bunch and get them all home.
While the series offers plenty of fun characters, like Quitterie Raffaelli, a spoiled princess of a girl with real social interaction issues (Read Tsundere) or Charce Lacroix a flirtatious young man who also has an extreme fascination with alien lifeforms, the story really seems centered on Kanata’s efforts to grow into the leader he sees himself as. This is all due to a childhood trauma, an event we keep flashing back to and constantly referencing throughout even just the first volume. It makes Astra feel most about Kanata, as none of the other characters have quiet such a traumatic and dramatic backstory. Even Aries, who’s current and sole claim to harrowing childhood is “not enough friends.”
That’s where the other mislead comes in: Astra isn’t really just a Sci-fi/Action/Adventure series. While there’s a constant sense of exploration, particularly once our band of heroes reach their first planet and begin to uncover the unknown creatures dotted across it, the series can produce a plethora of comedy to break up the more serious atmosphere. It’s not just a couple jokes here or there either. Astra Lost in Space wallows in a thick level of comedy that easily takes up half its content every chapter. Character are constantly taking jabs at each other, reacting with complete dismay and frustration at others’ more egregious and outrageous personality quirks, etc. Astra, at times, is more like a gag manga, producing such pervasive comedy that the jump between its more serious, adventure focused nature, and its childlike, non stop humor are likely to throw readers off, especially if they’re coming in with the wrong expectations.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the comedy. And it’s actually when the series is utilizing that humor to the fullest that Astra Lost in Space is at its best. Its characters, so quirky and outrageous, lend themselves extremely well to Astra’s more silly nature. That said, it’s not as if Astra is bad at the more serious elements. The story takes several interesting turns, and offers ongoing mysteries that help to keep its narrative compelling. In fact the first volume ends with a cliffhanger tease that has me dying to continue with the free chapters available online.
One of the last things I wanted to address with this first volume, and something I was most impressed by, is how well Astra handles its cast. Many manga, or any kind of entertainment, often make the terrible mistake of trying to introduce their larger cast all at once. With ten characters forming the Astra’s eventual crew that would’ve made for one bloated first chapter, or even volume, if it tried to give them all equal attention. And it thankfully doesn’t. Astra knows who to keep the spotlight on and when to gradually introduce the rest of the team. Characters appear alongside everyone else, but exist more so in the background until it’s time to give them center stage. Characters like Quitterie or her younger sister, Funicia, get little more than a few panels early on, but once the story is settled in they get a chapter or two to properly flesh them out and let the audience grow accustomed to their prickly personas. It’s this expert use of pacing, and focus, that allows Astra’s cast to gradually expand and flesh out at a natural pace.
In closing, Astra Lost in Space had my attention early on, months ago when I found some time to explore its first few chapters. Sadly, Viz saw fit to close out the free online versions of Chapters 2-7, making me wait until now to talk about how enjoyable this manga is. Having now read the entire first volume, I’m desperately eager to continue with the series, and see how our mish-mash crew of misfits manages to make it home. Greater mysteries, like the mysterious orb that began their unexpected journey across space, or the ending tease from Volume 1 has me aching for more. I strongly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a healthy balance of comedy and adventure, with plenty of character introspection to match their gradual exploration of the galaxy.
Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts on Astra Lost in Space in the comments section below!
Astra Lost in Space is a partially free manga available at Shonen Jump. Volume 1 released on December 5th. Chapter 1 is free to read at Shonen Jump’s website, as well as all chapters following the first collected volume.