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The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
Astra Lost in Space

What's It About? 

Every year, the students of Caird High School embark on a special camping trip that challenges them to survive in the planetary wilds. In 2063, Group 2-B is supposed to begin their trip just like any other – a bunch of disparate students are put together and sent to a park-like planet for a week. But things are not going as planned: no sooner does the group arrive then they are pulled into a mysterious sphere that transports them 5,000 light years away from home into deep space. Fortunately they're able to make it to a derelict ship nearby, but now the teens will have to figure out how to get home with no food or water and only limited jumping abilities. And even worse, it looks like someone on the team doesn't want them to…

Astra Lost in Space is an original manga and will be published by Viz in December.

Is It Worth Reading?

Amy McNulty

Rating: 3

Astra Lost in Space volume 1 starts weak and grows progressively more interesting until the reader finds themselves eagerly flipping the pages to see what obstacles the characters will face next. It's a space story, but the sci-fi elements are almost incidental. At its core, Astra Lost in Space is a story about a small group of people stranded and cut off from civilization who have to use the limited (albeit futuristic) tools at their disposal simply to survive. Of course, this Lord of the Flies-type situation lends itself to character conflict as well, but that's where the story continues to fall flat throughout this first volume.

There are nine main characters, some of whom are almost completely forgettable, while most of the others are common tropes with little substance. There's the ditzy, bubbly heroine and the gung-ho, optimistic hero. There's a tsundere who's grating on almost every page she appears in, though her character does experience some evolution by volume's end. Kanata, the protagonist, reveals a somewhat three-dimensional background and motivation for his actions, and he has a better sense of humor than some action series characters, but he's not particularly endearing this early on. Perhaps the most memorable character is the innocent little kid, Funica, and her hilarious, smart-mouthed dog puppet toy that can apparently convey her true feelings. (She doesn't control the dog—the toy itself can read her emotions.) They add some much-needed hilarity throughout, though Shinohara certainly tries to make the reader laugh more often. In fact, his attempts at humor are largely what make the first fourth of the manga fall flat. The pratfalls and other moments of “comedy” are groan-inducing and too predictable with the exception of the foul-mouthed dog.

Shinohara's art is a highlight of this volume, though the character designs are generic and don't particularly stand out. (Like the tropes he so heavily relies on for characterization, his designs are a dime-a-dozen depictions of said tropes.) However, the vastness of space and the worlds the characters encounter make for gorgeous visuals, as do some of the bizarre creatures that cross the group's path.

From its fumbling attempts at levity to its shallow characterization, it's clear that Astra Lost in Space volume 1 isn't going to attempt to say anything deep about survival and human behavior in dire situations—at least not yet. Still, there's enough on the page to entertain most any manga reader, so long as they can overlook the flaws that may initially turn them away.

Rebecca Silverman


Astra Lost in Space's first volume isn't quite sure if it wants to be a rip-roaring sci-fi adventure, a dangerous survival game, or a kind of silly romp through space with a bunch of teenagers. Not that it can't be all three, which is actually a large part of this introductory volume's appeal – it has elements of silly fun, the threat of sabotage, and some interesting new planets and technology that all help to make this book an entertaining read. The problem is that it feels like it kind of wants to settle on one or two of its themes but the mangaka is having trouble making a decision, which gets a bit distracting, particularly when a single scene contains elements of all three potential directions.

What's particularly interesting here is that Kenta Shinohara uses his characters to mark the different story threads. Kanata, the ostensible male lead, has a backstory out of a series where students survive a bus crash in the wilderness. (Alarmingly, there are a lot of them.) He's a highly-trained athlete with a keen sense of how to make it in a grown-up-free environment, but he doesn't quite trust his experiences or instincts, and he's still very much a teenage boy, so he doesn't always come off well. Secondary male leads Zack and Charse are the smart guy and the hot guy respectively, and both of their personalities are used to set serious or silly tones as needed. On the girl side, Aries appears to be sweet but dumb until it turns out that she's actually great at thinking outside the box – the wildcard who helps pull everyone through at the last minute. Meanwhile her tsundere counterpart comes with more emotional baggage than anyone, making her unpredictable but great at creating strife and tension. It makes for an interesting and varied character dynamic that most of the time works, even if at other times it makes the tone of the book feel off-kilter.

Shinohara's art is clean, and each character is distinct and recognizable. The flora and fauna of the one new planet they've visited so far and the basics of the ship and its tech aren't all that creative – the planet looks like it could have come from the pages of Toriko – but it also isn't fussy or too crowded. Astra Lost in Space looks like it could be a good series to keep an eye on, a science fiction treat in a field that tends more towards fantasy with an ongoing question of who the saboteur could be.

Lynzee Loveridge


A group of misfit kids stranded in space is hardly a new concept. My first introduction was Nickelodeon's Space Cases, but plenty tuned into the anime with a similar premise like Infinite Ryvius or Soul Link. If I had to compare Astra: Lost in Space to any predecessor (besides the obvious one in the title) it would be They Were Eleven. The 1970s classic by Moto Hagio throws a bunch of space cadets onto an abandoned spaceship as a test. The surviving winners will move up their respective social hierarchies. The cadets discover they have an extra member, but no one knows who it is.

Astra's story sets out on the same well-worn path with a cast of equally familiar archetypes and the looming reveal that someone is a saboteur on this mission gone awry. Like Hagio's original, there's the possibility of the entire crew dying. The 1970s manga it's a sickness that spreads as the abandoned spaceship's temperature rises as it approaches a collapsing star. Astra's crew is threatened with starvation. Whether Kenta Shinohara is merely inspired by Hagio's earlier work remains to be seen as this first volume focuses more on setting the blueprints of the kids' survival mission and establishing the personalities that make up the crew. The latter is done to a fault, as it starts to feel like Shinohara is pushing to flesh out his characters beyond their two dimensional idiosyncrasies of a hot-headed jock or tsundere rich girl to the detriment of plot's pacing.

There's isn't anything I'd consider particularly fresh in the first volume, but that isn't to say the narrative has no redeeming qualities. For instance, if you aren't familiar with backstabbing twists of Infinite Ryvius and also didn't tune in to a live-action kids show from the early 90s, Astra is perfectly acceptable introduction to the whole space survival genre, especially if you want your drama with lower stakes. This is a Jump+ series; it's less likely that anyone is going to get graphically devoured by marauding space creatures or thrown out of airlock only to simultaneously freeze and suffocate. Cast members could die, but Astra seems first and foremost about things like bonding, family, and the importance of friendships and less about the grimdarkness of the real world.

Austin Price


It's not always important that a series open with a strong understanding of its intentions or direction. While confident storytelling generally proves better than the loose work of a writer making it up as she goes along, the fact is that most professional work is so scrubbed and clean and honed that one occasionally yearns for the rough edges and exciting unpredictability of something amateurish.

And there is a bit of this in the first in the first chapter of Astra. Nothing about it seems planned; in fact, it often feels as if creator Kenta Shinohara's editors demanded he switch protagonist and setting and plot and genre halfway through a page. Aries, the first character we're introduced to and the one who's obviously supposed to serve as our viewpoint, is sidelined halfway through the chapter to privilege the exuberant Kanta. What starts as a light-hearted and very dated variety of high-school comedy wherein the humor mostly consists of characters shrieking about how odd another character's behavior is turns instantaneously into a story of survival when a floating ball of light warps this intrepid band of campers into the literal middle of nowhere.

If at first it feels nonsensical – discombobulating – this unconsidered approach also lends the series an identity all its other tired elements could not. Yes, Shinohara could have found a more graceful way to strand his nine characters in space – a wrecked navigational system on their ship, maybe something a bit closer to the complicating factors that launched the original Lost in Space series this seems to be cribbing from – but the initial premise promised the same kind of antiquated highschool hijinks that kept his Sket Dance chugging along for an interminable 32 volumes. How much more interesting to think he would take this chance to experiment with wild tonal and narrative shifts, that his decision to set Astra across a number of uncharted planets was a matter of allowing himself a chance to stretch his sensibilities as a writer and comedian.

Sadly, after the disorienting but fun patchwork quirkiness of this opening, the story quickly settles back into the kind of adolescent bonding rituals and dramas it seemed posed to avoid, the planets immediately relegated to little more than exotic backdrops for mundane antics. Not that Shinohara's nondescript art would be up to much more: the forest world that serves as the crew's initial stop is as stock as the personalities and sensibilities of the nine children who use it to hash out their predictable intra-and-interpersonal conflicts. It looks like it might have been lifted from the background of a long-forgotten side-scrolling shooter; the cast seems assembled from some unpublishable romantic comedy.

Some attempts at intrigue are made to deepen the story – it's suggested that the light chasing them is doing so for a reason, and that there is a traitor within their midst – but there's too little there to chew on to sustain anybody interested in making this galaxy-spanning voyage alongside the Astra's crew.

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