You know what’s great? Free stuff. You know what else is great? Manga. This right here is a winning combination.
Astra Lost in Space is the newest manga by Kenta Shinohara, the author of Sket Dance. It’s been published on the web and in the app for free on the Japanese site Shonen Jump Plus starting from this past May. You may or may not be familiar with Sket Dance; the manga has never been licensed here, but the anime is available on Crunchyroll (and even had a crossover with Gintama, of all series, first in Gintama and then in Sket Dance). Aestevalis even wrote a piece on it here back in the day. I haven’t watched the series myself, but I had at least heard of it, which lead me to check out Astra Lost in Space.
Now, I say I was checking it out, but it was being published in Japanese so really it was more like I was skimming the pictures and guessing at what they were saying; my Japanese skills aren’t that good. I did find a guy named gamria who was doing some summaries of the chapters, which was a life saver, but then even better news came along in July: Viz had licensed it with plans to release it for free!
And true to their word, they did put it up for free, with the first chapter going up on August 15. And as of the time of writing this, not only are all chapters still available with no expiry date yet listed, but this is also the first week that they’ve basically caught up to the Japanese release, only behind by one story chapter. Viz has been releasing on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Shonen Jump Plus has been releasing on Saturdays (Japan time).
Alright, that’s enough background. Let’s talk about the manga itself.
Aries Spring is super pumped; it’s the first day of Planet Camp, after all! Living on an alien planet for 5 days with no adults would have been enough of an adventure for her and the other 8 campers, but as soon as they touch down things start to go off the rails. A mysterious sphere appears and teleports them into space over 5,000 light years away, where an abandoned ship is floating. Now they’ll have to use their smarts to find their way back home, resupplying at different planets along the way. But how did they end up in this deadly situation, and what secrets are going on behind the scenes?
First things first: this is a good series. The art’s great, the story’s interesting, the writing balances comedy and drama, and the characters are worth caring about. I really only have complements to give out here. Is it perfect? No, of course not; not even Avatar: The Last Airbender is perfect. But any complaints that I would have thus far are minor quibbles.
Fundamentally, this is a road trip series: they start out on one end of the galaxy, and they need to hop between planets to get to the other side. Each planet they land on lasts for a few chapters, usually with some problem to be solved while they’re there. Sometimes these are logistical problems (where are we going to find food to resupply?), and sometimes they’re interpersonal issues (just being siblings isn’t enough to make you friends). Each planet is different from the last, offering a wide variety of climates and creatures to see. By the time they take off again, someone in the group has grown up a bit, and the group as a whole has tightened.
Really, the group is the main strength of this series. All nine members are unique characters that feel like they have actual personalities. Everyone has a backstory and their own motivations; they all come from different places in life, and seeing them get over their hangups and start to gel as a group is pretty rewarding.
On the whole, this is more of a drama than Sket Dance, but it still manages to throw some levity in. These are all just kids after all, so of course they’re going to act like idots and then call each other out for that from time to time. There’s even a dash of romance in there, though it’s far from the focus. Additionally, the series seems to have settled into a pattern where every other chapter is a 4-koma, riffing on the character’s quirks or recent events.
Since this is an ongoing series, I have no idea when it will end, but one of the fun things to do has been to speculate on where all this is going. There’s definitely a conspiracy going on in the background; the author has made that much abundantly clear. The question now is, what’s it about, and who’s in on it? This is a fairly advanced science fiction story, so almost anything is possible...
There isn’t much in the way of objectionable content to be found here either, unless you really hate light fanservice. As you can see in the header image, the character’s space suits are all impractically formfitting, and there is the requisite beach chapter. Also, one character’s exposed breast is shown from the side, but not in a titillating context. Any violence so far has been bloodless, and strong language is well within the PG-13 range.
So, to wrap things up, I would highly recommend that you check this series out. Just like the title of this article says, it’s fun and (perhaps most importantly) free, so get in on the action while you can!
As of the time of this writing, there are 23 chapters released in Japan and 22.5 by Viz, with the 2nd compiled volume having been released in November in Japan. Viz has not yet announced any plans for releasing compiled volumes, but if they ever do the free chapters will probably be taken down.
Special Bonus: There was actually a voice drama version of the first chapter released at the same time as it, which you can listen to on YouTube or the Kiku-Jump page (also with information on the voice actors). So, if you want to get familiar with the probable voices for the anime adaption that will hopefully exist one day, check it out.