Today marks the release of the 8th volume of Twin Spica by Vertical in North America. This manga series, although science fiction in setting, has been described as anything but. It has been described as a realistic slice of life story, a heartwarming coming of age story, and even a drama with romantic elements. Although reviewers will agree to disagree on the categorization of its genre, they can all agree that Twin Spica rekindles the romance of spaceflight that has seemingly been lost over the past decade.
Twin Spica, at the time of its writing between 2001 and 2009, was a future history manga series, seeking to outline a realistic progression of historical events that could occur in the near future regarding Japan’s space program. The earliest future date it included was 2010, which made it very timely for Vertical to have licensed the manga and released it last year. Unfortunately, Japan’s first venture into human spaceflight ends in tragedy. Its space program is restarted in 2024 after an extended period of national mourning.
Japan is a nation that has known and overcome many tragedies, from earthquakes and tsunamis to becoming targets of atomic bomb attacks. Even in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, we have witnessed profound determination among the Japanese to return to their daily lives. This is no different from the characters of Twin Spica who have been affected by the failure of Japan’s first manned rocket. For main protagonist Asumi Kamogawa, her entire life has been overshadowed by that tragedy.
Since the manga began in 2001, Japan’s space program has changed dramatically. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) did not exist then and was only formed in 2003. At the time, the space program under the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) was facing mounting criticism after two successive launch failures of its H-II rocket. In fact, one can find similarities between the design of the H-II rocket and the “Lion” rocket in the manga. Under JAXA, Japan’s space program was given a new lease on life. In the eight years since its organization, JAXA has seen several successful missions. Its ambition is very clearly reflected through its vision for 2025.
Although Japan is a technological nation, it is also a human nation. It takes pride in aligning its technological advances for the betterment of human society. The science fiction genre has historically been defined by the Western space opera, but recent Japanese works such as Twin Spica, Planetes, and Saturn Apartments have given the genre new meaning. Twin Spica received JAXA’s endorsement when it was adapted for a live-action television drama in 2009, and its story was updated to be as realistic as possible in depicting training for space missions. Space remains a mystery, and we can still be captivated by it, just as the world was captivated by the Hayabusa probe when it successfully returned asteroid samples in 2010 after a seven-year mission.
Over the weekend, the Space Shuttle Atlantis sped toward space in the last flight of a space program that has symbolized the romance of space for two generations of Americans and people around the world. In its 30 years of existence, the Space Shuttle and its regular launches made space seemingly easy to reach toward the end of the 20th century. It seemed we have lost the romance of spaceflight because we had come to take the Space Shuttle launches for granted. The end of the program, however, should be a way to rekindle both the romance and our awe of spaceflight. This is especially true for nations with up-and-coming space programs such as Japan.