Comics Review: “Twin Spica, Volume 2” and “Saturn Apartments, Volume 1”

Written by Books, Comics Reviews

One book is about a girl entering school and the other is about a boy graduating and beginning his job but Twin Spica Volume 2 and Saturn Apartments Volume 1, two recent manga titles, show kids affected by tragedy trying to find some kind of peace or hope out of it

In Twin Spica Volume 2, creator Kou Taginuma continues to show how dreams can be born out of tragedy.  In his first volume, he showed us 13 year old Asumi Kamogawa’s life as she tried to enter the Tokyo Space School, 12 years after Japan’s spacecraft “The Lion” crashed into and destroyed the city where Asumi’s mother was.  That first book was about her trials and tests to get into the school.  The second volume is about her first days in the school, adjusting to classes, teachers and new friends.

Not everything is going to be easy for Asumi.  As she leaves her home to begin school, she has to say goodbye to Mr. Lion, her imaginary friend who looks like a normal kid wearing an oversized cartoon lion mask.  Mr. Lion was present during the first book, offering her encouragement that she couldn’t get from her mother and wasn’t getting from her father.  An obvious coping mechanism for her childhood loss, Mr. Lion injects a wonderful but melancholy fantasy into Asumi’s world.  She’s grown up now, heading off for school so it seems like she thinks she has to say “goodbye” to childhood things.  Even as she’s saying goodbye to Mr. Lion (I hope he’s not gone for good,) she has to promise him that she’ll never cry, not a even a tear.

After that touching beginning, Twin Spica V2 becomes a story about Asumi’s school.  There, her two main problems are a girl who won’t open herself up to being friends with anyone and a teacher who has his own secretive reasons for wanting to see Asumi fail.  Yaginuma tells a fairly straight-forward high school story, just set in a school for future astronauts rather than a typical, general school but the story loses a bit of its magic.  In both volumes so far, Yaginuma’s story works best when The Lion tragedy is at the forefront of the story or just underneath it, either in the presence of Mr. Lion or the other story-driven ways Yaginuma brings the accident into the story.  As Yaginuma concentrates more on the school portion of Asumi’s life, the tragedy is always there but the story becomes mainly another high school story.  Luckily the end of this volume makes it look like Asumi isn’t going to get away from having to deal with the past anytime soon.

This volume also includes two short stories, “Our Stars, Leaf Stars” and “Another Spica.”  In these short stories, Yaginuma tells stories related to the Lion accident.  Asumi appears in “Our Stars, Leaf Stars” but she’s a supporting character in it as another girl who lost a parent in the addicent takes the spotlight.  These short stories expand on Twin Spica’s world while showing how skilled Yaginuma is at writing emotionally driven stories.

Like Yaginuma’s Twin Spica, Hisae Iwaoka’s Saturn Apartments is overshadowed by the death of a parent but instead of striving for a dream like Asumi, Iwoaka’s Mitsu picks up where his father left off, cleaning the outside windows of a giant ringed space station encircling the Earth.  Saturn Apartment begins on Mitsu’s last day of junior high school, as he graduates and enters the working class at the same level as his father was when he died, while on the job.  While Asumi looks up and dreams of going to the stars, Mitsu looks down on an Earth abandoned by mankind before they drove it to complete ecological ruin.  Asumi wants to go to the stars; Mitsu wants to feel solid earth beneath his feet.

Humanity, in a wonderfully optimistic act for Iwaoka to write about, left the Earth before they could do irrevocable damage to the ecosystem.  They’ve been given a new chance at life in a wonderful space station and yet nothing has really changed.  Mitsu still has to get a job as a fairly menial laborer.  He’s trapped in that job because it was his father’s job.  As the human race, we can construct a wonderful ring-like world where we can live while our Earth heals itself and we still need window washers.  That’s progress for you, I guess.

While window cleaning is just a mundane task, it’s refreshing to see the enthusiams that Mitsu has for it.  It may be a job that’s appropriate only for one of Mitsu’s social level but Iwaoka doesn’t let that be the defining point of her characters.  For Mitsu, there’s a sense of duty and honor taking over his father’s position.  It’s not the greatest job in the world but Mitsu makes the bet of it in this first volume, trying to learn how his work is affecting the people who live in the ring.  With Mitsu’s zen-like boss/mentor Jin, the business of washing windows becomes an excercise in life.  From his unique perspective, Mitsu sees the world full of weddings, inventors, dreamers and artists.  He also gets to see the Earth from 35,000 feet above it, with its wide vistas and plains.  On one hand, Mitsu’s job makes him a voyeur, peering into places he shouldn’t be but he’s also a grand witness to humanity, seeing the best of us through the windows he’s cleaning.

Asumi and Mitsu are similar characters, both living with the loss of a parent and trying to understand their own roles in the world.   Yaginuma and Iwaoka’s stories are wonderfully linked by their views of growing up and of living up to our parent’s dreams and legacies.  Both Twin Spica and Saturn Apartments exist in this fantasy setting but they tell their stories on incredibly heartfelt levels.  In both Asumi and Mitsu’s characters’ eyes, you can see the innocence and promise of tomorrow.