Astra Lost in Space Volume 4 (Chapters 29-38) – 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 week long 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)

Review:

Astra Lost in Space continues its descent, producing outlandish coincidences as it works to reveal one of its two major twists with some of the most ham-fisted, forced exposition possible. While I was already feeling burned by the series with the third volume, volume 4’s chapters do more to harm my interest in the series than hype me up for the upcoming ending. Astra Lost in Space tops out at 49 chapters, with just one volume left to go. Sadly, I’ll be going into that final volume with the limpest of interests.

Problems start right from chapter 29, failing to address the major coincidences required for Astra’s crew to find the exact same model ship on the planet they’ve found themselves stranded on. It’s not to say that this won’t be addressed, but the series does little to acknowledge how absurdly unlikely this coincidence is, making it feel like the author would rather you ignore this as a plothole than something we can expect answers for at a later date. This moment perhaps speaks to the author’s, Kenta Shinohara, distaste for leaving his comfort zone. Frequently Shinohara avoids getting heavy, delving into the darker nature of his story. While that’s understandable to a point, wanting to maintain a lighter tone, sometimes stories need to get dark to feel natural and bring drama to a heavy situation, even if the core of the series is one of levity. You don’t have to look much farther than fan favorites like One Piece or Dragon Ball, two series known for light-hearted charm that weren’t afraid to draw on heavy emotional, or grim content in order to aid in the drama. My Hero Academia, current shonen poster boy, is another great example. Kenta Shinohara seems to want to have that drama in his series, but never quite give it the serious tone it deserves, preferring to always play to his strengths, even at detriment to the story.

Casual sexism.

It isn’t long until our heroes stumble upon a new character, Paulina, a cryostasis astronaut they find aboard this derelict spaceship. Paulina seems to come at a time when we’re running dry on character development, with many of the more mysterious characters having had their backstories now revealed. But Paulina herself doesn’t feel a character that we’re meant to come to love, rather existing exclusively to service the series two major twists, specifically the twist hidden beneath the first. She’s less a character in her own right and more of a plot device. Even her character focused chapter feels comparatively thin to what we’ve managed with the rest of the cast.

It’s also at this point that the series latent sexism starts to rear its ugly head. Astra has always had a very thin undercurrent of sexism, often casting women into the damsel role, and the men into the heroes. It’s often the male characters who do much of the action, and Paulina’s backstory involving her as the only female member of her crew, and all the men going out to search while she stays behind doesn’t exactly alleviate that air. It’s not the worst example of sexism in manga, but for a series that has a number of more progressive and positive gender elements, it is something that needs to be mentioned.

Stop playing with your food!

But even more frustrating than a little backwards sexism is the series absolutely frustrating insistence to try and surprise us with how our heroes get off this planet. The minute we discover the exact same model ship there’s an expectation that it’s the key to escaping this hellish world of extremes. While the series is quick to note this ship is also too damaged to ever take off again, most audiences will likely have guessed that combining the working parts of both ships will create one, usable vessel. And yet the characters are portrayed as altogether inept, taking forever to put two and two together to get four. This drawn out reveal really hurts, either giving the sense that our heroes are thoroughly thick-headed, or that Kenta Shinohara doesn’t think much of his readers. The second is a more extreme read, and not likely the authors intent, but does speak to his lack of faith in his readership.

Before finally deciding to reveal its first major twist, the series pads their time on the planet out with a few rom-com shenanigans, finally pairing off Zack and Quitterie together with some capable humor. It’s a highlight in the series, playing to the Shinohara’s strengths. When it comes to mystery and reveals Volume 4 solidifies my opinion that our author isn’t terribly good at weaving them in naturally or simply producing a compelling twist itself. He’s much better at crafting quirky character interactions and silly, light-hearted comedy. It makes sense that things never get dark for very long, and even discussions on the darker nature of the story feel decidedly lukewarm or dry.

Note to self: If going to be a trash dad, do so with greater subtlety.

It’s by Chapter 32 that we delve into the multi-chapter reveal. Paulina comments on Quitterie and her adopted sister’s, Funicia, physical similarity. This spurs a DNA test to see how related the two are, only to reveal they have identical DNA and thus must be clones. It’s a big, although predictable reveal, one that would be enough on its own to tide readers along for another handful of chapters. But as if the author is disinterested in letting Astra Lost in Space drag on too long, we cut corners, forcing our heroes to jump to the most wild of conclusions without enough to substatiate such a train of thought. Yes, as soon as Quitterie and Funicia are revealed to be clones Zack makes the outrageous leap in logic to every single one of the Astra crew must be clones as well.

They’re right of course, as that’s exactly where the series ends up going, complete with a chapter dedicated to the adults, their ‘parents,’ offering up the most bold-face, on the nose, exposition and audience explaining I’ve witnessed. No effort is made to make this conversation flow naturally and instead the adults simply regurgitate their entire failed plan and murder plot to the readers. It’s cheap and weak.

Things are further botched as not only in this reveal spurred on by a leap in logic, with not enough hints and mysteries to build the way to said reveal, but the aftermath is decidedly lukewarm. In classic Astra fashion everyone takes this heavy news incredibly well, again cheery and chipper within just one chapter.

And you thought your engagement was awkward.

If not for the second, more hidden, twist I might have lost total interest in the series right here. Thankfully Paulina hints back in Chapter 30 about some horrible event that’s supposed to have happened while she’s been in cryostasis. It’s in Chapter 37 that we learn none of our heroes are from Earth, but rather some planet called Astra (go figure.) It’s so subversive of our initial assumptions going into the series that I think this actually works quite well, or at least, far better than the Clone plot reveal. Of note though, Astra’s early chapters don’t perfectly jive with this twist. While the series does go out of its way to never refer to their home planet by name, the reasoning for naming the Astra feels slightly at odds with the idea that their home planet is named Astra. Zack has to explain the meaning of the word Astra, which already feels weird considering their home planet is named that, and also notes that a lot of corporations around the globe us the old latin saying where they first saw the word in their slogan, as if the use of the word Astra would be strange on, well, planet Astra. Nothing in that section actively breaks this late game twist, but it isn’t the smoothest of rereads.

The volume ends with Chapter 38, delving into the confusing historical differences between what Paulina knows, and everybody else is familiar with. We end before we really come to understand exactly why everyone else is from the Planet Astra, and only shares our history up to a certain point. In fact if nothing else Chapter 38 adds greater confusion to the concept than it does provide answers. Without this twist I think I’d be done with the series, with zero drive to finish the last volume. While my interest is still damaged, frustrated at Astra’s near one note presentation where everything is light-hearted and the best content is when the series altogether shies away from anything dramatic, this secondary plot twist has me intrigued enough to finish the journey, especially since there’s a firm end with just one volume left to go.

Well, I see a lot of sound effects, and they’re technically still alive.

Overall however Volume 4 is even more a disappointment than Volume 3, with the writing taking such a dive, feeling so sloppy, that my appreciation for the series is at its lowest. It’s not to say the idea of the clone plot is a bad one, but the execution is thoroughly weak. While my interest in the series has been damaged, I’m crossing my fingers than this secondary Earth/Astra twist will still perhaps build a modest conclusion. It’s about all I feel I can hope for now.

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. Volume 2 released physically in March of 2018. Volume 3‘s chapters will leave the free section on Shonen Jump’s website and be released in physical format on June 5th, 2018.

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