Kenta Shinohara’s Astra Lost in Space mixes youthful optimism, sci-fi adventure, and intrigue into a uniquely fun and dramatic package. The series stars nine grade school students who find themselves lost in an uncharted section of outer space following an accident on a school trip. Technically, though, there was no accident–there was sabotage, and neither the reader nor the characters know who was responsible. The manga’s third volume, recently published in English by Viz Media, collects chapters 19-28. Is it good?
Several members of the cast get significant character development in this volume, and it’s all handled very well. Ulgar, who was previously the wannabe lone wolf of the group, is fleshed out so we can understand why he sticks to himself. Charce also has his past delved into, and his segment of the plot reveals more than we previously knew about this series’s version of Earth and its geopolitical history. Luca, meanwhile, receives the most notable development as he comes out as intersex. This is cool to see since I can’t think of a single other intersex comic character off the top of my head, especially not from a shonen series. This plot point is handled respectfully, and Luca remains a valued member of the core cast just like the rest of the students.
Another thing to love about this volume is the level of thought and detail it puts into its alien worlds. Details like tilt and rotation are addressed, as well as how said rotaions impact climate. There’s also discussion of how the lifeforms that evolve on planets are profoundly affected by the environments in which they live. The planet Arispade, for instance, consists mostly of water and is highly susceptible to tsunamis. This results in a lack of land animals; all of its fauna are birdlike or otherwise airborne. The planet Icriss, meanwhile, has creatures that have adapted to survive in its harsh weather conditions. My favorite alien lifeforms in this volume are skyscraper-sized tree-like plants with carnivorous tops; they’re like Venus fly traps on steroids.
Astra Lost in Space also impresses visually. Shinohara’s artwork is a lot of fun to look at, with clean line-work and lushly detailed alien landscapes. The skylines and oceans here look realistic, which allows the reader to feel like they too are exploring foreign worlds. With that said, it’s the rendering of the human characters that is most integral to the volume’s success. Dramatic emotional moments would fall flat without strong art, but Shinohara does a great job here. The characters are all distinct, with facial expressions and body language all their own. My main qualm with this volume’s artwork is just that Yun-hua’s body is sometimes rendered very awkwardly. Her head is often smaller than her bust to the extent that it looks unintentionally comical in its ridiculousness.
Overall, Astra Lost in Space Vol. 3 is a nearly flawless read. Several characters receive game-changing development, the series’s intrigue elements reach new heights, and the artwork is great throughout. All my qualms with this volume are fairly minor, and they only pop up occasionally. I would highly recommend this book to any fan of sci-fi or shonen manga.