Manga of the Month: Ad Astra Per Aspera

Ad Astra Per Aspera (アド アストラ ペル アスペラ)
by Kenjiro Hata

hisui_icon_4040 Look. Lets just get this out-of-the-way. Kenjiro Hata is writing a new manga. It involves giant robots in a space opera. It was going to wind up here in Manga of the Month. It was pretty much its destiny. It would take something like a manga about table top RPGs written by Kinoko Nasu and drawn by Rumiko Takahasi to knock this series out of this spot. I mostly was just waiting for a few chapters to come out before I wrote it up. So if you want a totally objective recommendation free of prejudice that simply beaks down why this series deserves to be counted as a Manga of the Month that is not going to happen.

  1. Because your never really going to get that anywhere. You’re just going to get someone who tries to divorce themselves from their feelings despite the fact that columns like this always exist as a subjective opinion.
  2. This blog has never been that coldly analytical.
  3. This is a Kenjiro Hata manga, and I am me, so that probably never happen even if it were the tone of the blog.

So if you want to hear me gush about a comedy manga here you go. Otherwise just chalk it up to me just actually liking Japanese comedy manga.

Shinobu Hazuki lives on a version of Earth that has been conquered by an alien empire but this is not the Tripods. It is more like Abh. The Empire has not enslaved humanity and has in fact helped improve the overall standard of living by giving the people of Earth various technology. But like the Humankind Empire of Abh these aliens have decided that humanity is too aggressive and therefore limits their ability to leave the planet or progress pass the technological level they have deemed appropriate for the Earth. Shinobu Hazuki is fine living like an outcast with his friend who believes a much more revolutionary philosophy of resistance against their overlords. But all of that changes when they find a giant robot from the stars. Shinobu finds that he has a death sentence on his head and most go on the run with the mysterious pilot of the forbidden machine. Can he get a reprieve from the Emperor of the Galaxy before he is caught by the space police?

I was recently listening to an Extra History video series on Yi Sun-sin a legendary Korean Admiral. In the final video of their Extra History series they always do a series of corrections, observations, and fun facts on any topic they cover. One of the parts of the video that was a revelation to me was when James Portnow realized how much of Korena history has been recorded with the story of Yi Sun-sin in the mold of a Confucian parable. This is partially because it is part of the world view of many of people who are primary sources. He then commented that you can also see much of what is written about George Washington having that same American mindset coloring the material. James wondered it is not even any sort of deliberate attempt to frame those pieces of history into that mold but more of a subconscious influence of world-view. 

That might be a very good explanation of why Ad Astra Per Aspera is the way it is. When I was first reading it I was wondering if it was an endorsement of recent push for Japan to remove or reduce the power of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution or is it partially a parody of that movement. I can’t say I know enough about Kenjiro Hata to figure out what politics are. But I wonder if in the end Kenjiro Hata is not really trying to make a huge political statement. Is this more just more just the way that the narrative has a tendency to unfold in Japan. Do stories from Japan unfold in a way that makes the world appear like post-WWII commentary deliberately or do those events just have such dramatic effect on the national psyche that subtly influences a good deal of creative products without many artists realizing it fully.

I guess only Hata could tell you that.

But much like Hayate the Combat Butler this is a comedy manga not a serious business thriller. Shinobu is obviously a protagonist in the same vein of Hayate Ayasaki. Shinobu is a skilled guy who unfortunately will slip on every banana peel, walk under every ladder, and cross the path of every black cat on his way to a production of Macbeth (which he will forget to call the Scottish Play). So the humor is very much in the same vein of his other work. There is a good deal of physical comedy, a bit of romantic comedy, with a dash of schadenfreude on the side. Also lots of reference humor. The prime example is all the chapters dealing with the moon have names that reference Sailor Moon.

I also have to point out that the Versailles is a really cool robot. Comedy is good and all but if you have a show with mecha then those mecha have to be cool. Its design really reminds me of some of the better machines from Star Driver. I really look forward to seeing more than just the generic robots of the Empire. They just introduced the Hinagiku of the series, Satella, will almost undoubtedly have her own impressive robot or will get one soon. Those are just the rules.

That is a lot of talk for me talking about a manga that I am mostly recommending for being a funny adventure story. But I do enjoy do a deep reading on otherwise very silly things.

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