Astra Lost in Space Volume 5 (Chapters 39-49) – 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)
Astra’s final volume doesn’t build to much of a satisfying conclusion like I was hoping it might manage. Everything’s wrapped up, but in paper thin packaging that requires immense suspense of disbelief. From the last volume the crew of the Astra continue to discuss the idea of a secret history, confused as to how their new companion, Paulina, knows one history for humanity and the crew of the Astra another. We spend a whole chapter dwelling on this idea, but without anything to reveal the plot doesn’t go much of anywhere. It does set up a few important elements however, which tie into another major component left largely untouched since Volume 2.
After a long time left on the sidelines, the ‘killer among them’ plotline finally pops back up as the murderer makes a renewed attempt on his life, just as Kanata surmises that perhaps the Killer has given up their efforts. Kanata comes up with a plan to capture the killer, who is initially revealed to be Ulgar. This is the one place where I feel like the manga succeeds, fooling the audience into thinking its Ulgar, when it’s really Charce who is the true traitor. The overexplaining of the plan is the main clue as the manga details the upcoming attempt to capture Ulgar with far more detail than is needed for the audiences’ benefit. Although it might not work as well if Astra didn’t have a history of overexplaining, where plot point discussion is dragged out to considerable length.
Unfortunately the reveal of Charce’s true allegiance is where the manga really does downhill. Not only does it not make sense in places, (Charce talks about how he needed to get rid of both Kanata, for his leadership, and Ulgar because of the gun. He notes Ulgar especially, yet that’s not the first person he tried to kill? So why did he go after Kanata first then?) but it becomes overwrought with contrivance and convenience.
The manga tries to get heavy as Charce reveals he’s actually the clone of the Vix King from back on Astra, and he was tasked with killing them all so the murder plan was a total success. Not only that, but Charce starts to reveal the truth about society’s history. This starts with a brief aside to talk about the ills of modern (well, our modern, their past) society, pointing out the strife often caused by politics and religion. It’s a grim and true point, but feels so out of place in a manga that rarely ever wants to get truly dark and grim. It goes so far as to depict 9/11, and while still powerful imagery, feels perhaps too real for a manga that rarely, if ever, has addressed any of its content with honest realism.
From there the manga just regurgitates its entire plot on us, revealing not only Charce’s true identity, the true history, conspiracy and the like, but Aries’ true identity as the King’s daughter’s clone. We learn of the Princess’ assassination, and how Charce discovered Aries’ true identity by mere accident. The Princess was never for cloning, and when she learned that her father had one made of her anyway, faked its passing so as to give baby Aries her own life, free of the other clone’s destiny.
The manga gets exceedingly convoluted at this point, explaining Aries’ inclusion into the Summer Camp meant to kill all the clones by the hand of some shadowy power seeking to usurp the King’s power. It doesn’t make a lick of sense, seeing as they could have easily kidnapped Aries and used her mere existence, since Cloning is now illegal, as blackmail against the King, forcing him to step down or be jailed for his crimes. Why that didn’t happen instead is obvious, Astra wrote itself into a corner and this convoluted plot is all to justify how everything comes together.
It doesn’t help that this multi-chapter reveal contains superfluous information, often just burdening the audience with unnecessary details. Finally by the time things get going again we get to the “Shonen gonna shonen” part of the story. Charce, having failed in his mission and now his world view, concerning his own lack of self-importance, challenged to the breaking point, attempts to kill himself. Unsurprising Kanata and Co. manage to forgive Charce for all his ills and preach friendship above all else. While the surprise of Kanata getting his arm ripped off while saving Charce from his own suicide attempt is indeed shocking, it hardly marks up for the predictable outcome.
With Charce’s ill behavior forgiven, and welcomed back into the crew as a friend again, he spills the beans on the rest of the plot. For some reason the king told Charce everything, and the excuse seems flimsy at best. We learn how the world devolved into chaos and half the population was lost to warfare. From there the world agreed to abolish not only weapons, but religions themselves? The entire idea of this reset is laughably naive, and plays so fast and loose with reality that whatever altruistic message Astra was hoping to convey feels silly, unbelievable and altogether hokey. Getting people to abandon religion, no matter how grim the consequence, is unrealistic, at least if we’re talking about instantaneously giving it up. Nevermind the idea that all the adults agreed to just not tell any of the children the truth. Give me mind control, mind wipes, something, anything would make more sense than “we all agreed to just not tell the truth.” You can’t get a room of twelve people to reliably agree, let alone billions of people.
From there the series rushes through its climax, unceremoniously jailing its top level villains rather than offering a compelling confrontation. Our heroes then decide to tell the truth to the whole world, about the hidden history of how they got to Astra and wiped the slate clean. It actually begs an interesting question, one the manga sidesteps completely. While the altruistic nature of telling the population the whole truth is evident, is it really necessary? By all accounts Astra seems like an incredible society, only suffering from the occasional evil cloning plot and purse snatcher. If such a wonderful society has been created, even if on a lie, and no one is hurt by that lie, is it really necessary to unearth the truth? Even the Astra Crew themselves admit that it’ll throw society into chaos. The only way unveiling the truth makes sense in this scenario is from the POV of thematic integrity, since all our characters learned the terrible truth behind their origins and were better for it. But that’s the problem with heavily thematic based fiction is you can start to get some pretty stupid developments should you be married to your theme too much.
The manga sidesteps the turmoil the true history causes by saying that Kanata writing a book on their experience aboard the Astra helped to get everyone to see reason. I’m a writer and I don’t even believe the written word has that much power. Heck, if that were true 1984 would’ve had a way bigger impact on the chaotic world we live in today and half the shady shit that happens simply wouldn’t.
As if Astra wasn’t done mocking it up, we flash forward to catch up with all our characters several years later. While this section of the ending is already a bit messy, Astra subverts its entire message for a pitifully poor gag. Charce’s redemption and rejection of his self-less, I’m merely a clone, mindset, hinges on the idea that all of these children are their own people, unhindered and untied from the chains of the originals who created them. Yet the manga ends with a gag that Kanata goes to Charce, because he’s the clone of Aries’ father (The Vix King), and asks for Aries’, his ‘daughter’s’ hand, in marriage. (Since Aries is the clone of the princess and Charce is the clone of the king, get it?) It’s a gag already stretched to the breaking point of sense, but is so wildly reserved from the manga’s theme (Isn’t Charce supposed to be his own person!?) that it actively damages whatever Astra had going with its altruistic message.
Astra started decent enough, perhaps even strong in certain aspects. But as can happen with a story steeped in mystery, sometimes the journey is better than the actual reveals. For the closer Astra gets to the truth the more messy, convoluted, convenient, and poorly written the story gets. In the end even my hopes that some late game reveals might turn things around failed to bear fruit and I’m left feeling like Astra is more of a waste of time, that even a mediocre read.
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 released in physical format on June 5th. Volume 4 releases September 4th, 2018.