Part lighthearted comedy, part sci-fi mystery, and part good old-fashioned adventure. Mix all those genres together and you get a solid description of Kenta Shinohara’s Astra Lost in Space, published by Viz Media. The series’s last few installments have impressed me greatly, and Vol. 4 is out this week. It collects chapters 29-37, in which the crew of the titular Astra encounter more twists and turns than ever before. This is a volume that shakes things up just to further rock the already upturned foundation. The book’s official synopsis reads:
After crashing on planet Icriss, all seems hopeless for the crew of the Astra. That is, until they discover another Astra hidden on the planet. And thereʼs a woman in cryogenic sleep inside! Will this new Astra be the ark that saves group B-5 from their despair?
This volume is very successful when it comes to its plot twists. I didn’t see any of them coming prior to their being revealed, save for the last one which is built up briefly by a character’s panicked suspicions. None of these twists seem forced; rather, each one furthers the series’s lore in ways that make sense and are engaging to read. I previously alluded to the series’s foundation being shaken, but it might be more accurate to say that it gets dramatically fleshed out. New pieces of information are introduced periodically that recontextualize past events, adding narrative weight to scenes that had already felt important on first readings. As a result, Shinohara pulls off the best kind of twists: ones that make the work’s events feel more important instead of unreliable and thus inconsequential.
Shinohara also does a good job developing the characters in this volume. Their personalities are consistent with their past depictions, and they react to unexpected setbacks in ways that make sense given said prior characterization. The group members’ dynamics continue to be a source of comedy, although the humor’s quality is somewhat inconsistent. There are plenty of laughs to be had here, but some of the jokes between Zach and Quitterie fall flat. Their relationship is the subject of one of the twists, and it’s the only twist that feels needless. It’s not outright bad, but it doesn’t contribute much to the plot or either character.
Art-wise, this volume is solid. Most of the line-work is quite clean as usual, and Shinohara is good about not overloading panels with too many details. The characters continue to be joyously animated; there’s not an awkwardly stiff moment in the entire book. The fauna on planet Icriss also have cool designs, although it would have been nice to see more of them.
My main complaint with the art here is just that some backgrounds get a bit monotone. There are points when different objects in the backgrounds are all rendered with similarly dark values, causing them to blend together a bit too much. It’s never too big of a deal, though. To be honest I’m just splitting hairs at this point.
Overall, Astra Lost in Space Vol. 4 is yet another enjoyable installment in the series. The characters’ dynamics are solid, the art is clean and full of life, and the plot moves forward in unexpected but engaging ways. There’s plot twist after plot twist, but they’re plot twists done right. If you like shonen and/or sci-fi series with a heaping helping of mystery then this manga is well worth checking out.