The first volume of Andromeda Stories dreamed big, took big risks, and got away with all of them. Here we had a far-future saga of man vs. machine that bristled with more creativity and wonder in its first book than many other manga do through the whole of their run. Now comesVolume 2, and I have the distinct feeling that if anything I might have under-rated this series. The second volume is even more adventurous and daring than the first — which means that if my math is right, the third volume will most likely cause my eyeballs to melt. There are worse ways to go, if you ask me.
Andromeda Stories (originally published from 1980 through 1982) was the brainchild of Keiko Takemiya — she of another outstanding space-fantasy epic, To Terra… — and noted Japanese SF author Ryu Mitsuse. It probably sounds like an unlikely collaboration from the outside; what would a shojo manga creator and an SF author be doing pooling their talents? But if you’ve read Terra, the parallels ought to be obvious: throughout Terra, you could sense Takemiya’s native fascination with the way SF can be used to make larger statements about identity and the place of the individual in the universe. I picked up strong parallels with another female SF luminary, Ursula K. Le Guin — in fact, for those familiar with Le Guin, Andromeda bears some vague thematic resemblances to her Hainish Cycle stories, although Takemiya and Mitsuse are unmistakably doing their own things with this work.
The first book gave us the Cosmoralian Empire, besieged by the machine civilization known only as “the Enemy” (emphasis theirs), which performs a Borg-like assimilation of everything that stands in its path. Whole cities are being bombed or bulldozed off the map, and the royal heir, the young Prince Jimsa, has fled into the no-less-dangerous wilderness in the company of his mother, Queen Lilia. Even though he’s still only a few years old, Jimsa has great power at his command — he tames one of the dragons that roams the wilderness and uses it to ferry him and his mother to relative safety.
Years go by. The boy Jimsa grows into a young man, even more powerful than before. He does not know that he is the descendant of a bloodline that leads off-planet, to a race of beings that were bred to fight the Enemy — many more of whom huddle underground in the caverns and await the return of their heir. Jimsa doesn’t believe any of it at first, not even when his own mother tries to convince him of the truth of it: he feels as threatened by his own people (if that’s what they really are) than by the Enemy themselves. But when forced to weigh trusting strangers again the prospect of losing the rest of his world to a machine civilization with no regard for biological life, he sucks in his fear and takes up the role of leader. Come to think of it, a parallel development takes place in Takemiya’s To Terra…, where protagonist Jomy Shin discovers he’s in fact one of a newly-risen order of telepathic mutants and is called upon to lead others like him out of exile.
Jimsa’s struggle has a parallel within the pages of Andromeda as well. His identical twin, Affle, only dimly aware of his own heritage, is being raised in another part of the world by a caravan boss and his foster mother, the prostitute Corino. She knows her “son” is destined for great things — the draconic birthmark on his hand is, for her, proof enough of that — but the boy doesn’t yet have the clarity of purpose in his life that his brother has. Maybe that’s a blessing: Jimsa finds himself faced with the burden of having to make life-changing (shilling for life-threatening) decisions about himself and his people … and at the end of the second volume he finds himself facing a stupefying secret hidden in the very heart of the royal castle. Bleedin’ cliffhangers.
Back at the beginning of this review I mentioned how Takemiya & Co. took big risks and got away with them. So do Vertical, Inc., the English publishers for this title — they’ve stuck their necks out again and again to bring us outstanding titles from Osamu Tezuka’s back catalog, the Guin Saga novels and manga, Takemiya’s other works, and so on. There’s scarcely another title out there, new or old, that shoots this high and this far with its vision, so pick this up, reward Vertical for their hard work and fine taste, and reward yourself in the bargain.