In the final three volumes of Shinohara’s five-volume science fiction adventure, more secrets are revealed and the characters reach the shocking end of their dangerous journey.

In the first two volumes, Aries Spring and seven other senior classmates, as well as a ten-year-old, set out for a routine week of camp on Planet McPa. But something goes wrong—a strange light orb sucks them in and spits them out light years away in space. By the third volume, they have figured out a plan to return home, hopping from planet to planet, gathering supplies. Several of the characters have opened up about their personal struggles and feelings, but there’s also a hidden danger; someone who has sabotaged them in the past and may have been planted as an assassin.

The third volume opens with a brief picture of life back on the planet, as the teens’ parents try to accept that their children are surely dead. The action then immediately jumps to the group on their current planet, a lush, tropical paradise. This, of course, means the obligatory beach scene with bikinis, but it’s relatively mild, focused mostly on the girls giggling about the boys and some jokes about how attractive they are. Things quickly get serious though, as two of the most mysterious characters, brooding loner Ulgar and artistic, upbeat Luca confront each other. During the confrontation, both reveal secrets and although things are tense and dangerous at times, the group seems to be tighter than ever as they set off to their next planet. But Planet Icriss will challenge them even further; will their journey end on this strange and deadly planet?

Volume four opens with a shocking discovery on Planet Icriss and proceeds to reveal even more shocking secrets about the teens themselves. After all they’ve been through, will they be able to overcome what they’ve learned about themselves and continue their journey, or will their group disintegrate?

The fifth and final volume throws in an additional plot twist while resolving the mystery of the assassin and the true nature of the teens’ families. They will have to make a number of difficult and dangerous choices in order to finish their journey home, and even then there is no guarantee of survival. The last volume also includes an epilogue of sorts, finishing the stories of some of the surviving members of the group and looking forward into their future.

The special features between chapters that showcase characters is expanded in the last volume, including models of the space ship and sketches for the various characters that show how they evolved to their current look and character. The skin-fitting space suits exaggerate the characters’ bodies, especially the girls’ breasts, and the boys’ muscles. This combined with the beach scene gives these later volumes a slightly more mature feeling, but it’s still teen-appropriate.

In general, the drawing style remains consistent throughout the books, although some characters’ hair-styles change, showing changes in their characters as they open up to their new friends. Astute readers will see the revelations of each book hinted at in the arrangement of characters on the covers, as well as the sample panels that encapsulate the action on the back cover.

This series packs a lot of information into the last three volumes; an intersex character is revealed in volume three and they seem to have a reasonably good representation. The character says that for right now they want to be seen as male, although they may change their minds later, and their friends comply with no apparent problems.

The additional plot twist in the final volume felt like overkill, as there are already a lot of sudden twists and turns, reveals and secrets. The sudden jump to include a world-wide secret government plot felt unnecessary. There is a strong thread of hope for the future woven throughout the series and the final volume especially emphasizes the values of looking forward, acknowledging your past, and striving to do better. In this way, the manga felt very much like a classic science fiction story, with science and space exploration taking humankind to a better place.

The lack of a lead character also focused the story on the action and events, even though much of it centers around the characters’ personal growth. A different member of the team takes the lead in each volume, as readers learn their backstory and see them make choices that will affect themselves and their friends.

With only a few violent moments, some mild flirting and giggling among the girls about boys, and a few light innuendos, this manga is appropriate for most teens and will be enjoyed by those who like brisk action and adventure with interesting characters and a certain amount of personal growth and exploration.

Astra Lost in Space
By Kenta Shinohara
vol 3 ISBN: 9781421596969
vol 4 ISBN: 9781421596976
vol 5 ISBN: 9781421596983
Viz Media, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

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Character Traits: Genderqueer

  • Jennifer

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Matheson Memorial Library

    Reviewer

    Jennifer Wharton is the Youth Services Librarian at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin where she maintains the juvenile and young adult graphic novel collections and was responsible for creating the library’s adult graphic novel collection. She is constantly looking for great new comics for kids and teens and new ways to incorporate graphic storytelling in programming. Jennifer blogs for preschool through middle grade at JeanLittleLibrary and has an MLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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