Continuing along with the review copies provided by Vertical Inc., Twin Spica is the first of Vertical's new licenses to see print this year (as of this writing volume 2 has already hit stores).
The story focuses on 14-year old Asumi Kamogawa, a child of tragedy who's sole dream is to become an astronaut. In the year 2010 Japan's first "all Japan made" spacecraft suffers a malfunction and crashes into the heart of a city killing the crew and many innocent bystanders, including Asumi's mother. Asumi's father continues to try and support the family through construction jobs that leave Asumi alone most of the time.
Asumi has always dreamed of becoming an astronaut and decides to not tell her father that she has applied and successfully passed the entrance exam to the Tokyo Space School. After an emotional, heart breaking encounter when her father finds out; Asumi heads to the school and begins a practical exam that would finalize her entrance into the academy.
For being the first of a 16 volume series, one doesn't expect the plot to move along at high speed. When I began reading this book I expected character, plot, and motivation introductions to help draw me in to the story and become interested in how it will develop. What I didn't expect is how great yet minimal these introductions would be. No the plot doesn't move along quickly; in fact in retrospect very little happens over the volume's four chapters, but so much detail and development is brought forward that it doesn't matter at all. The bulk of the book is the practical exam and so much time is spent with the characters simply interacting that it feels extremely realistic and I even wanted it to spend more time than it did, but I'm okay with this (remembering it is a 16-volume series).
The art style definitely helps out in this department as well. While the art style isn't hyper-realistic like Ryoichi Ikegami's, it is far from the prototypical "manga style" that many potential readers tend to shy away from. As simplistic as the style might seem at first, Kou Yaginuma manages to perfectly pull the proper human emotion out of the characters, tied with the highly plausible setting and plot only heighten our involvement as readers. Each of the main characters as so distinct in their personalities, with just enough hidden at this point, that we can identify with them all in some form or another. Yaginuma's style compliments the emotion and identification perfectly because we are kept within the confines of the story. We never get pulled out due to "cartoony" drawings or any sort of absurdity in the setting or story. We are kept close and begin to feel as if the story is entirely plausible and begin to feel for the characters and become interested in how the plot will evolve.
As great as the story is, it is the side stories that really knock this volume out of the park. The main story is great and I for one cannot wait to see how it will turn out, but the side stories (which are actually pilots for Twin Spica) are so well written and executed that they pack all the emotional punches one can handle thereby sealing the deal in reading Twin Spica.
2015: Fireworks is the first story presented. This was the initial work of Kou Yaginuma that started his mangaka career. The story centers on Asumi's first meeting with her "imaginary" friend The Lion. Since this is a one-shot, it doesn't directly tie into the Twin Spica canon but helps us understand more about Lion and his relationship with Asumi and the main story. The focus is more on Lion than Asumi but not once does it fail to hit the perfect note. It feels like a movie almost. You know, the big Oscar-bait films that are extremely good but focus on drama and characters? It is pitch perfect and a welcome addition to the volume.
The second story is the first chapter of a mini-series launched after the success of 2015: Fireworks, Asumi. The series of stories focus on Asumi's childhood before the events of Twin Spica. This chapter tells the story of Asumi coping with her mother's death. As with Twin Spica and 2015: Fireworks, the art work is so genuine and realistic in its story telling that the plot of this chapter never feels absurd or "crazy", it is just perfect. Emotionally powerful from start to finish, Asumi adds to the main story even more and creates a deeper emotional connection with the main character that made me re-read the volume!
That is the beauty of Twin Spica; engaging and wonderful on its own merits but combined with the additional stories giving background and "insider" information, it becomes a series that not only should be read, but should be read multiple times. An emotional powerhouse that invokes feelings typically reserved for the greatest of films, Twin Spica comes to grand life in exquisitely detailed black and white pages. Don't pass on this series, if you do you may be missing out on a series many manga publishers would never release because it doesn't pander to a specific fandom but instead gives a full, deep story independent of other manga and one that truly stands out from the pack in terms of quality and uniqueness.