By combining frequent plot twists and effective suspense with charming character development, Astra Lost in Space has become one of the most consistently engaging manga in recent memory. The sci-fi shonen comic, created by Kenta Shinohara, has also impressed with its creative alien designs and stellar pacing. The time has come to bid the series farewell, however, as its latest installment is also its last. Of course, its not unusual for a comic to excel throughout its run just to drop the ball with its ending. Does Astra Lost in Space Vol. 5 stick the landing? Is it good?
As per usual, this volume is full of plot twists and misdirections. Also as per usual, Shinohara does a great job with these. Among the many plot threads resolved here is the identity of the suspected traitor first mentioned early on in the series. It’s not a simple reveal, either. Shinohara drops hints potentionally implicating several characters, challenging readers’ expectations every step of the way. This layered suspense succeeds largely because all of the characters’ actions make sense given their personalities and circumstances. None of the intrigue feels forced; rather, it’s the natural result of everything the Astra’s crew has experienced.
While this volume starts out great, it hits its peak roughly three-fourths of the way in. The traitor’s identity is finally revealed, and what follows is some of the most well-paced action in the entire series. Shinohara’s choices of subject and perspective allow him to deliver exactly the right shots at exactly the right time. The character work in this section is also fantastic, and some of the facial expressions and body language are heart-wrenching. Shinohara perfects the drama even more by knowing exactly when to utilize splash pages and two-page-spreads. There are very few of them in this volume, but they’re always stunning in their emotional impact as well as in the polish of their thin line-work.
My main complaints with this volume concern its final quarter or so. More mysteries are resolved with regard to the histories of the planets Earth and Astra, and we get an epilogue set some years after the main story’s conclusion. The main flaw with these sections is that they have no conflict. A lot of crucial ground is covered, but the ease with which certain goals are accomplished doesn’t ring true. It doesn’t take long to get the sense that the story’s stakes have been gutted, and it feels like Shinohara had to rush to reach his desired ending. This is a major problem for a series that has, very literally, always been more about the journey than its end points. It’s not that the ending is entirely poorly written, but it feels like a preformed conclusion rather than a final result that’s been logically built up to. Because of this, the final chapters lack in both suspense and effectively poignant character development.
So, does Astra Lost in Space Vol. 5 botch the landing? Yes and no. On one hand, the final chapters definitely suffer from a major loss of narrative steam. With that said, everything prior to them is excellent. Shinohara’s line-work is clean and pleasing to look at throughout, and there’s a lot of effective suspense. The character work and pacing of the traitor reveal is flawless, and more than affecting enough to leave one feeling satisfied despite subsequent chapters’ dropping the ball a bit. Astra Lost in Space may disappoint at the very end, but everything up until that point is fantastic.
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