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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: rocket girls, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Recommended viewing

Ken Murphy over at OutOfTheCradle.net has previously written glowing reviews of two anime series, Planetes and Rocket Girls (the latter winning a "Best of the Moon" award along with Lunar Pioneers), but there's one other series he hasn't mentioned. That's probably because it isn't commercially available in the US, although you can find it online if you know where to look.

Twin Spica (or Futatsu no Spica in Japanese) is the story of five kids who make it into the very first class at a special Japanese astronaut training academy. In this version of the near future, Japan has had its own manned space program, but suffered a disaster when one of its rockets malfunctioned on liftoff and crashed into a Japanese city. The main character, 16-year-old Asumi Kamogawa, lost her mother in the accident. Her father was an engineer in the space program, but now he works elsewhere. Asumi's dream since childhood has been to become a "rocket driver." Her main ally in her quest is the ghost of an astronaut who died in the accident - he always wears a big lion-head mask over his head, and so Asumi calls him "Lion-san."

Twin Spica is a "slice-of-life" drama - something you don't see in American animation. It takes its time moving the story forward, stopping to explore smaller, less-noticed themes along the way. It gives the characters a chance to develop and makes them more well-rounded. Their training at the space academy focuses on physical and psychological preparation as much as it does on physics and astronomy, which is probably a realistic depiction of what high school for future astronauts would look like. They get pretty creative with some of the tests the kids have to go through.

What I like best about this show is the way it depicts the dream of going to space. It's not a dream where everything's rosy - it doesn't hide from the fact that getting into space is difficult and not everyone will get to do it. But that just makes the dream more appealing, because the characters know what it requires and are willing to go for it anyway. Each of the five kids has a reason for being there, and we get to see what spurs them on.

As I watched this show, I couldn't help wondering how Asumi and her friends would get along with the astronauts in Rocket Girls. Asumi herself is very small for her age, which means she'd be a natural at the Solomon Space Agency. Her cheerfulness and never-say-die optimism might be too much for Yukari Morita, though.

Twin Spica also exists as a manga that is still ongoing, continuing the story well beyond the end point of the anime. I'll have to look for that and see how things turn out.

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2. Recommended viewing

The first Japanese citizen in space was Toyohiro Akiyama, a journalist who visited the Mir space station in December 1990. He's best known for the acute case of space-sickness he developed during the flight. Supposedly the Mir crew called down to Moscow at one point and said, "We've never seen anyone throw up so much before!"

But if you compared the way space is depicted in Japanese and American popular media, especially in media aimed at kids, you'd think the Japanese were the ones with the long history of space exploration, and we Americans were the ones whose first astronaut spent the entire flight barfing. The Japanese have a long track record of producing stories about space flight that are far more realistic than what you typically find in the US.

The latest example is Rocket Girls, a 12-episode anime series based on a set of children's novels. The premise starts with a private Japanese company that is trying to get into space, but is struggling with a booster that can't lift a fully grown adult. Their solution? Recruit a bunch of small, lightweight teenage girls to be their astronauts!

The show has its share of silly and cheesy moments, but it's got a lot of reality in it, too. It should - the Japanese space agency JAXA had a consulting role in the production, and a JAXA astronaut even makes a cameo appearance in one episode. It's a shame no one in the US is interested in asking NASA for that kind of help.

Ken Murphy over at OutOfTheCradle.net has a full review, complete with a link to the DVD listing at Amazon.com. You can find it here:

http://www.outofthecradle.net/archives/2008/11/young-women-on-the-threshold-of-tomorrow/

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