Astra Lost in Space
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Astra Lost in Space ?
Despite being the first character introduced, I haven't talked about Aries much in these reviews. Part of that stems from the ensemble nature of the cast, and while many the characters have had episodes devoted to their backstories, Aries hasn't remained in focus for an extended period of time. She's always present, but she's largely been a reactive character, possessing neither a tragic past nor a bullheaded propensity for rushing into danger. I think it's definitely fair to criticize Astra Lost in Space for not giving its female lead nearly as much presence as its male lead, which is typical for shonen stories, but I also think it'd be wrong to call her entirely reactive. Her conviction and belief in her memory is what puts Charce on the spot at the beginning of this episode, and she refuses to be talked out of her suspicion. It's not so much that she wants to grill Charce for the truth, but she wants what's best for everyone, including Charce, and that means being honest. It's a tough situation, and she proves to be just as stalwart and headstrong as Kanata. I hope we explore more of this side to her in the future.
So Charce has to cough up his story, and it's a doozy. Astra's alternate history apparently includes a 1960's treaty that established an independent feudalist country that kept its royal family and abandoned any technological advances from the Renaissance onwards. I know we're operating in the realm of science fiction, but this is a wild pill to swallow, and I would've immediately suspected Charce of making it up if not for the other crew members going along with it. Anyway, his princely demeanor stems from him actually being a prince, although he held no love for nobility and instead spent his childhood playing with a commoner named Seira. Through a series of unbelievably unlucky events, Seira ended up in a coma, and Charce took it upon himself to separate entirely from his family and go out into the real world in search of her. As far as the crew's backstories go, Charce's feels the most rooted in cliché, so I still don't find him as compelling as some of the other kids.
However, what's important is that the rest of the Astra crew sympathizes with him. There's some comedic dissonance between his calm retelling of his life experience and the other crewmembers loudly wailing at all the tragedy, but there's also a warmth to it. Charce's life in nobility hadn't prepared him for people who would actually want to know more about him and help share his pain, so his surprise at their reaction was cute and humanizing. Also of note is the way he tells Aries that she reminds him of Seira. (If you haven't spelled either of their names backwards, try it now!) We're at least meant to consider the possibility that Aries is his old friend, having lost her memories thanks to the accident. While it's certainly possible, I think that would be one soap opera twist too far if it ends up being true. It's much more interesting to me that Charce would project his unrequited feelings and regret onto a complete stranger, and I'm curious how he'll reckon with the truth when he's forced to confront that selfishness.
With the identity of the traitor still a mystery, the Astra heads to its next pit stop on planet Icriss, which is an anagram of “crisis,” a pretty good indicator of their ensuing experience. Plants on Icriss have evolved to trap giant flying insects, so they end up mistaking the Astra for a juicy bug dinner. While some smart maneuvering on Zack's part rips the ship free, the ensuing damage and wind gusts result in a crash landing that knocks the ship out of commission—permanently. Shit gets real fast as everyone struggles to reconcile with the fact that they will all live and die on this planet. Quitterie takes it especially hard, but still adamantly refuses when Zack suggests the alternative of going into cryosleep. The Astra crew have only been able to survive this long by working together, and Quitterie acknowledges that waking up alone long after everyone she knows has died would be a fate worse than death for her. Truly, it would take an extraordinary set of circumstances to make someone choose the remote possibility of salvation for themselves over toughing it out together with their friends. But we'll come back to that.
Kanata himself can barely handle the news, but he shoulders both the responsibility for the accident and the responsibility for keeping his friends from falling into despair. His directives remind me of the tools people use to manage depression: when the weight of hopelessness is too much to bear, just focus on completing the smallest and most manageable tasks first. Fortuitously for the crew, they don't have long to wallow in their own despair before Funi discovers another nearly identical ship, also grounded and also in disrepair. Astra's been good about maintaining its sense of suspense, but I don't think things have ever felt as intense and uncertain as their appraisal of this mystery ship. Being alone in space instills a specific kind of fear; not knowing whether or not you're actually alone opens up millions of other possibilities, most of them bad. Ulgar joins the boarding crew, gun drawn and ready for the worst, but the insides are empty and the ship seems abandoned, save for a single S.O.S. message and an occupied cryo chamber. Kanata makes the executive decision to wake up the sleeper, and the face of a freshly-thawed woman gives this episode its cliffhanger.
This is a great twist, because it's not completely out of left-field, and it raises a ton of questions. Most pressing of all seems to be the implication that the Astra might not be the first ship to make this exact journey. The fact that there was only one viable route back to Earth suggests that any other people who found themselves attacked by the Mystery Orb might have had no choice but to follow the same string of planets. Maybe Icriss has claimed its fair share of travelers along this route. Or maybe it was a freak coincidence and two identical ships found their way to one exact planet out of billions! I doubt it, and I'm sure we'll get some answers next week, but this is the kind of stuff that's fun to speculate about. Astra's strength still lies in its characters, but episodes like this prove that it can be quite adept at spinning its space yarn into a compelling thriller.
It is curious that a ship as large as the Astra would have only a single cryo chamber. One nagging question in my mind has been how the traitor would have expected to get home after killing the rest of their crew, but maybe this is the answer. Maybe that's why there's only one person left in the other ship—and now they've just woken her up.
Steve is lost in space, but he can still stream anime so it's okay. A communications relay has been established on his Twitter.
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