The Dream of Space

hisuiconOn August 31, 2011 the U.S. shuttle program was officially ended. Due to high-profile shuttle disasters, increased results from unmanned space research, and the overall humongous expense the US decided that the money invested in the shuttle program is not worth the dividends. Now with one of the main pieces of the Space Race being the Cold War is long over the zealotry behind sending people in space is long gone. There are no dirty Commies to beat to the moon. The America that dreamed of sending a man into space, creating lunar and martian colonies, and extending its reach beyond the solar system is no more. Growing concern over domestic issues and a perceived notion that space travel is frivolous and dangerous has transformed modern space travel from a high concept to a farcical joke. Look at the reaction to Newt Gingrich’s proposal for a lunar colony. He might have well suggested throwing money into time travel research and cloning dinosaurs for a gigantic amusement park. In America, the dream of space travel is dead or at least in a fairly permanent coma for the time being.

At the same time Japan still seems oddly optimistic about manned space travel. I remember being slightly shocked that Sumire Kanou from Toradora! legitimately was studying to be an astronaut. I also remember Orihime Inoue off handily mentioning she wished to grow up to be an astronaut. While it is foolish to assume the aspirations of fictional characters are a one to one  correspondence to the desires of a nation the fact that Japan still writes popular stories in which people dream of exploring space in their fiction is remarkable.

You have the anime and manga for Planetes and Moonlight Mile both of which involved characters who wanted to explore deep space. Even the recent Kamen Rider Fourze has a space travel motif with Yuki Jojima being a hardcore space otaku and the rest of the cast having various levels of interest in space. You don’t get three space travel anime every season but they do appear frequently enough. Two series that we have recently beeen enjoying exemplify this infatuation with the hope for cosmic exploration: Twin Spica and Space Brothers. In their own way both of them revolve around a passion for celestial exploration.

Having just finished the Twin Spica manga and starting to watch the Space Brothers anime in the new season, I’ve become very emotionally attached to the dream of space travel again. These two series show so much hope and promise to the idea of becoming an astronaut and taking that first trip to space.

This was once a big dream in the U.S., too, but in the last decade excitement over current space exploration seems to be drying up. I recall one of my elementary school teachers being way into space and she worked it into lessons as much as she could. We built moon colony dioramas and I wished for space camp. I never did but I maintained a fond attachment to the idea of space travel.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but believe in that impossible yet incredible dream of space. Putting a face to the hope that traveling out past our atmosphere is what makes it resonate so strongly. Maybe in the U.S., we need our own Asumi and Mutta.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #168

I picked up The Story of Saiunkoku vols. 1-7 recently and my goodness has this only renewed my passion for the series. I fell in love with the anime a few years ago, so far this manga has followed it quite closely (both being based on a novel series which I have no way of reading, I don’t know if it follows the books closely as well).

Saiunkoku, put simply, is about a kingdom and a romance, but the series is far from simple.

In these volumes, we meet a large cast of nobles and get caught up in assassination schemes, courtly politics, syndicate wars, and various governmental situations. Shurei is a smart, hard-working, but poor, noble who is brought to court in the hopes of helping the new emperor. She not only forms a close relationship with Ryuki the emperor, but also many others in his circle. Shurei not only helps guide the emperor but begins gaining friends and influence in the politics of this large kingdom.

And that is what is so special about Saiunkoku; the political and societal struggles of Shurei and women in this ancient land. A good portion of the series after the first two volumes is Shurei dreaming and applying herself to become a civil servant which no woman has been allowed to do.

While the series also wears the hat of reverse harem, to its credit all the men are fascinating characters with their own places in the court and politics. And by and large they are not in love with our heroine. The story is pretty clear this is about Shurei and Ryuki. But on that note, it is amazing how little time these two actually get to spend together because of their stations and duties.

The story has a clipped pace never lingering too long on any one thing. At times I found myself really yearning for more time for Shurei and Ryuki to no avail. There are moments with a bit too heavy exposition but they seem to lessen as the volumes go on. All in all, it is a great world with a great cast that you want to know more about.

I will say that they wrapped up the first season of Young Justice quite nicely. I did feel that one or two of the slow building plots were quickly resolved in the last 2 episodes but that is more of a stylistic issue than a major complaint. Over all they did a good job of having everyone one in the main cast having some noticeable character progress while at the same time tying all the episodes together into one cohesive plot. I do find it a bit odd that all the new animated DC series seem to be utterly in love with Vandal Savage. While he is decently old character I myself had never heard of him before recently. But he makes for a good foil to teams as opposed to some villains who are better off as either pawns of a bigger villains or as the nemesis for solo heroes. I also have to applaud them for adding more women to the team with the addition of Zatana and Rocket. At the same time while Zatana gets a decent amount of screen time for a late addition Rocket sort of gets thrown in at the last second. So I thought, “Well she can get more screen time and character development when they come back for season 2.”

Then very surprisingly the next week went straight into season 2. And people HATED it. While I can’t say I was in any way as angry as other people I do feel their pain. The season starts after a 5 year time skip. Most of the Young Justice team is new, half the old team is nowhere to be seen, and most of the team that we see is remarkably different with no explanation.  I recognized all the new team additions but is mostly because I have a solid albeit firmly intermediate comics education. Well I recognized everyone except for Lagoon Boy. But all those underwater guys who are not Aquaman are super-duper high level nerd territory anyway. I am sure the average viewer would at least need some explanation for who the Blue Beetle is. The problem is unlike The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes they don’t do the greatest job of introducing people without exposition.

I get that they are going for the risky payoffs of the in medias res plot revelations but the execution is somewhat off.They did such a good job of building up the first team. If they just skipped ahead but kept the team the same it probably would not have felt so jarring. Both changes combined really throw off the flow of the story. I will continue to watch but I feel that the choice was a major misstep and apparently most of the audience agrees. Hopefully they payoff for the reveals of what happened during the time skip will make this all worth it.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #159

I remember hearing about Friends with Boys when I was listening to Manga Out Loud podcast and thinking it sounded interesting but I forgot to look into the title further. But when I remembered I could read the comic online as web comic as mentioned again on the 3 Chicks Review Comics podcast I set aside some time to read Friends with Boys. The first thing that stuck me was the art reminded me of the art of Chynna Clugston. Both women have a style that is clearly manga aware but is equally informed by a wide variety of comic traditions. Faith Erin Hicks will discuss Tezuka as quickly as Bone when she is commenting on a page of her comic. She has an expressive style that lends itself equally well to web comics as well as traditional print comics. The story itself has two main layers. The first is the story of how Maggie McKay has to deal with going to a public high school after being home schooled all her life. At the same time there is a supernatural element of Maggie being able to see ghosts. The highest praise I can give the story is that if you removed all of the supernatural parts I would have found the story equally enjoyable. Maggie learning to make friends outside of her brothers with the punk Lucy and her brother Alistair was perfectly wonderful. While the ghost story tied the mundane drama together it was never forced to pick up the slack on the story. If anything it felt slightly thrown it just to make the story stand out as more than a mundane tale of friendship and self discovery. It did not detract from the story but it was an unusual addition. I will mention that not every plot element is wrapped up. If you want answers to every question the story poses you will be disappointed. The main story arc is resolved satisfactorily but certain side elements are left to your imagination. I don’t think the story is purposefully written to be a ongoing series. A sequel could be written but nothing in the book demands it. I would read more about the life of Maggie McKay and her friends and family but do not feel cheated if I never got more. The story itself is only up as a web comic for a few more days if you want to sample it but you can buy the physical book right now as well. As a side note what has Chynna Clugston been up to recently?

Avatar the Last Airbender: The Lost Adventures is a collection of short comics with mini-stories that happened during each of the seasons of the TV series. The book is divided into sections based on the books in which each story takes place. It is a little disconcerting if only because you are somewhat forced to remember what was happening at that particular moment, but you get on board fairly quickly. There are lots of different artists and writers so some are more stand out than others. I particularly liked the stylization by Brian Ralph for Momo’s adventure and the youthfulness of Gurihiru’s art. The greatest and most hilarious moments include the return of Wang Fire. It is a fun collection of mostly humorous anecdotes but nothing that screams buy this!

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