Two things come to me on reading the second volume of Twin Spica. One, this is a gem of a series that deserves the broadest possible audience. Waste no time picking it up if a) you want to read a story that assumes the best and most ambitious in humanity, rather than its worst or most cowardly; or b) you have even the slightest interest in manga as something more than a way to show creative ways for people to get sliced in half.
Two, if Vertical Inc. editor Ed Chavez’s job description includes being on the lookout for titles like this, he has the best job in the world. He’s constantly scouring the planet (well, Japan) for manga that have that special Vertical something, and Spica has it in spades. It’s not so outlandish as to be alienating; it’s deeply felt without being sappy; and it plugs into something that people on both sides of the Pacific can tap into without needing a cross-cultural dictionary to decipher.
The second book picks up with little Asumi officially enrolling in Tokyo Space School, the next tentative step taken in her lifelong journey towards becoming an astronaut. What she lacks in physique (she’s the shortest student in the whole school) she makes up for in sheer determination and enthusiasm; unlike her friend Kei, she doesn’t doze off in the astrophysics class. There’s a good deal of material here that will seem familiar to anyone who’s read other awkwardness-of-growing-up and high-school-daze [sic] manga — but just as much that is unique to this story, like the anthropomorphization of Asumi’s childhood dream as an imaginary friend in the form of a cartoon lion. It’s one of those touches that seems awkward when described, but when you actually see it on the page it has an effortless exactness to it. You say to yourself, yes, this is how someone like her would envision such a thing, and the straightforward, just-detailed-enough art brings this feeling home nicely.
Two major plot strands come to the fore this time around. The first is a little more information about Asumi and Kei’s notoriously huffy and standoffish classmate, Marika Akita. Her father was a major donor to the school, but Marika does not savor her privilege. She hardly seems to acknowledge her own presence at the school, let alone anyone else’s. And yet there are signs she is becoming that much more accommodating of her classmates, and beginning to understand on a gut level why they say things like “No one can go to space by herself!” Asumi will need all the comradeship she can get, as (plot strand #2) the school administration is looking for a reason to drop her from the roster. Worse, the responsibility for talking her into quitting falls to someone who knows all too well why she is there — and it then falls to Asumi’s friends to compel her to stay and be true to her own principles. Not just to never quit, but to help raise others up when they fall.
I liked how the way both this book and the first volume were structured, with the front half of the book almost entirely in the present (well, 2024) and the back half made up of long episodes that filled in key elements of Asumi’s backstory. This time around, we see how Asumi’s father tried — not always successfully — to do the job of paying out reparations for the rocket crash that killed Asumi’s own mother, to keep his chin up (and hers with it) when the rest of the world would rather he fell by the wayside. Fortunately for them, and us, they don’t cave that easily.
Three things about Twin Spica keep me coming back, all of them elements of any top-shelf manga. We care about everyone involved — not just Asumi and her friends, but even the people we’re not supposed to like because of their contrary motives, which makes their conflicts all the more poignant. We’re compelled to keep coming back, to see how everyone vaults over the next hurdle in their path. And if this is representative of the quality of book that Vertical, Inc. is looking to pick up for their manga line, they may turn out to be my favorite publisher for yet another year straight.