Back when I read the first volume of Andromeda Stories I noted that any series that begins with the creation of the universe probably has no small amount of ambition in mind. The second volumefollowed suit and raised the bar even further. And now that I can see them in context, all three volumes of Andromeda Stories have not just been shooting for the moon or the stars but for the next couple of galaxies over. Anyone who’s into epic manga storytelling — and I do meanepic — needs to pick this series up from the beginning; they won’t be let down. If anything, they’ll be left wondering why most other manga never aim this high.
The first two volumes introduced us to a world being overrun by the Enemy, a machine civilization that assimilates all who come under its domain. Against them stand a few pockets of human resistance, including the two heirs to a kingdom long since subsumed by the machines: Prince Jimsa, and his twin Affle. The two were raised without knowledge of the other in radically different circumstances, but have now at last been brought together by chance. Jimsa feels strangely drawn to Affle without quite realizing why, but his twin doesn’t return the sentiment — not until they realize they’re empathically connected. What one feels, so does the other.
It goes far beyond that, as they quickly discover: Together, they can unleash great power — exactly the sort of power that their people need to repel the machine invaders and grant humanity one last stand against the advancing darkness. The machines are of course only following the relentless logic of their programming — but as we soon discover, that programming was laid down a long time ago by one who happens to be among them, an old man who’s now leading part of the human rebellion. He was only trying to make life easier for humanity, and ended up enslaving it. Now, with the help of the twins, and a few other machines that have been programmed to serve mankind and not oppress it, he’s prepared to do anything in his power to liberate the world (and atone for his mistakes) no matter what the cost.
I’m skimming over a fair amount here, if only because the sheer density and breadth of the storytelling throughout Andromeda Stories has been one of the best things about it — it’s something you want to experience for yourself and not have spoiled for you through a mere summary. I should also say that what Jimsa and Affle have between them is also ratcheted up along with the rest of the stakes — their incestuous affection for each other is probably going to raise a few eyebrows, but it’s in a context that ultimately makes sense; it’s not just thrown in for the sake of spice.
The different streams within the story — the struggle of the twins to protect their people, the valor of their appointed and self-appointed protectors, and the destiny of humanity itself — all converge in a conclusion that’s as cosmic in scope as the beginning was. It’s a mind-expanding “wow” like the one at the end of the live-action Japanese SF epicCasshern: through every death comes a new albeit unforeseen life, so what can ever truly be said to die? You’ll see what I mean.
This whole production has come from the merger of two great creative forces: artist Keiko Takemiya (she of the similarly cosmic To Terra…) and SF author Ryu Mitsuse. The former has been getting broader exposure in the west thanks to Vertical, but the latter remains woefully underpublished. If this series is a hint of what we’re missing, then we need to see more of both of them.
What a ride this has been, and one where it feels like ten volumes of story have been compressed into three. There’s a bracing fearlessness to the whole of Andromeda Stories, a genuine sense that the fate of a world — or a universe — really does hang in the balance. It’s a rare and wonderful thing, all of it. Go seek it out.