Review

by Rebecca Silverman,

Asadora!

GN 4

Synopsis:
Asadora! GN 3
Asa's continued insistence that her family didn't die in the typhoon but was instead taken by the mysterious monster gets an unexpected boost when she (literally) runs into Nikaido, a researcher whose mentor died pursuing the beast. Nikaido isn't keen on talking to Asa, but he's also unwilling to let his mentor's notes be destroyed, despite his lukewarm feelings on monsters and their research. The two find themselves meeting a second time when a decidedly shady branch of the military seems like it may be taking Asa's claims more seriously than she at first assumed. When her youngest brother is revealed to have been drawing pictures of the very same monster, the adults around Asa look like they had better start paying attention – especially with the 1964 Olympics looming ever closer.
Review:

The plot may be thickening in this volume, but it's in the same way that instant pudding thickens in the fridge: in other words, it's just sitting there. That's not to say that there aren't important pieces of the story; the reveal that Japan does, in fact, have fighter pilots for the first time since WWII is definitely worth paying attention to, as is the fact that the government (or at least a shady piece of it) is aware of Nikaido's research materials from his mentor, which deal with the mysterious creature that surfaced during the typhoon all those years ago.

In part the lack of forward momentum could be said to mirror Asa's largely ignored insistence that her family wasn't drowned in the floods brought on by the typhoon, but taken away by the monster. Asa has never stopped believing in this possibility to the point where she doesn't even see it as a mere “possibility” – as far as she's concerned, it's the truth of what happened that day. That none of the adults are willing to listen to her simply makes her look stubborn; she's basically being treated like the teenager she is. To a degree, she does understand that and doesn't let it really get to her; she may be the eldest Asada child now, but for most of her life she was simply stuck in the middle, so she's used to being dismissed out of hand. She does get a little snippy about other things, though, such as the fact that she's an accomplished stunt pilot in her own right and that just because she's the oldest sister in her own family doesn't mean that she wants to play that role for her friends.

Both of these situations spin out into their own storylines within the book. The latter is perhaps the least interesting element of the volume, although it is useful for reminding us of the time and place the story takes place in. 1964 was the height of Beatles Mania (or at least one of the heights), and the pop music scene was jumping. There was also a postwar exportation of American pop culture, and both of those are reflected in the ambitions of Asa's friends to get involved in show business. 1964 also marks the moment idol culture in Japan really took off – although the Johnny & Associates agency had been founded in 1962, the release of a French film on the pop music scene, Cherchez l'idole, in 1964 not only coined the term in terms of pop music but also provided a springboard for the industry. Asa's friends' ambitions are a marker of this cultural moment, and in the storyline about one friend who has been scouted as a solo artist and doesn't want to tell the other friend, we can see the nascent idol genre as we know it today.

Meanwhile on the pilot side of things, the upcoming Olympics prompts a more widespread awareness of Japan's fighter pilot unit, Blue Impulse. Although founded in 1960 for strictly acrobatic maneuvers (post-war regulations wouldn't necessarily permit it otherwise), the squadron didn't truly achieve recognition until they were asked to create the Olympic logo via skywriting for the 1964 games. Since Asa's a stunt pilot, and a very good one, she thinks that she and her erstwhile kidnapper-turned-grandpa are being shown the fighter planes because they need her help. Although this isn't formally discredited, the real reason seems to be that a very suspicious military man presumably heading up some sort of Japanese Area 51 equivalent is interested in Asa's story of the monster. He never truly says that he believes her, but he's also definitely looking into the creature's appearance. It's possible that's just because he doesn't want Japan to go down in Olympic history as “the country with the creepy monster that ate the athletes,” but Urasawa goes so very out of his way to make the man as shady as he can be that we have to question that assumption. Asa, however, in a very clear sign of her youth, is mostly upset that a missile launcher has been affixed to her precious plane and peeved that she's not being asked to participate more in the aerial maneuvers department.

As has been the case, Urasawa's use of actual history with his science fiction plot is what makes the story work and come alive. Even when we're in a narrative situation that feels largely useless to what's going on, he makes a point of showing us why everything is important: the boy who fights with Asa's youngest brother lives with his enormous family in what is essentially a shack, giving us insight into the poverty of the time; Nikaido's notes being housed in a former red-light district shows us how basic social structures that were taken for granted pre-war have changed in its aftermath. It's not so much historical fiction as science fiction with a well-defined historical setting, and that helps to keep things interesting even when the plot is lagging.

Unfortunately, those moments are almost lost in the story's holding pattern. For most of this volume, the government guy is being shady and mysterious, Asa's friends are creating Drama, and the Olympics are coming. The reappearance of the kaiju towards the end of the book implies that things will be more dynamic in the next volume, which is good. Urasawa's always worth reading and I still enjoyed this, but it definitely lost a little of its power in what could feel to readers like a borderline stagnant volume.

Grade:
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : A-

+ Still incorporates period detail seamlessly, Asa is a believable teenager most of the time.
Plot is feeling stalled, her Olympically-ambitious childhood friend feels like he has no role in the story.

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Naoki Urasawa

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