This review contains spoilers!
The first volume of Naoki Urasawa’s latest manga Asadora! delivered a wonderful character-driven piece of historical fiction set in the backdrop of Typhoon Vera. However, the actual hook of the story occurs in the last two pages, in which Asa Asada and the aging former pilot fly through the aftermath of the typhoon and discover the footprint of what looks like a Kaiju. Based on this reveal, Urasawa sets up an element of both science-fiction and mystery.
In terms of the mystery of the giant monster – whose tail is revealed in a rather terrifying set-piece, done in that traditional monster movie narrative where you show only part of the creature – Urasawa is playing the long game as he chooses to focus on the human side. Often in Godzilla movies, the human stories tend to be the weakest aspect, and though not every aspect works, Urasawa has always been exploring the good and bad in humanity in all his works.
For most of the volume, the chemistry between Asa and the pilot, whose name is revealed as Kasuga, remains the highlight of the manga. Their banter continues to shine through humor, as well as moments of backstory that help inform both characters. As Kasuga loses consciousness from a gunshot wound, it is up to the little girl to pilot him and herself to safety, resulting in a breathtaking revelation of what Asa wants to do: fly for the rest of her life.
Urasawa uses similar storytelling techniques to that of 20th Century Boys, such as a competent young female protagonist who can make reckless decisions. Following the events in 1959, the story jumps to 1964 where Asa (now 17) and Kasuga run an advertising business where Asa pilots her plane with banners for other businesses. Urasawa knows how to use the passage of time, showing how Asa has grown and has to be the parent to whatever family members she has left after Typhoon Vera, though she clings onto the hope that the rest of her extended family is still out there. There are other supporting characters, such as the young Shota, who is hoping to compete at the Olympics, and yet these subplots aren’t as compelling as the main story and makes you wonder where they are going in the long run.
Urasawa’s art is not one of dynamic visuals, compared to the works of Akira Toriyama and Katsuhiro Otomo, artists who push the boundaries of how manga can be such a unique medium. However, despite his basic panel layouts where there are a lot of talking heads, Urasawa’s characters are so expressive, from the bubbly Asa to the grouchy Kasuga. The background art continues to be spectacular as we see more of the destructive aftermath of the typhoon, whilst the silent panels featuring the flying sequences visualize that sense of freedom.
The hook of the mysterious Kaiju is still there, though Naoki Urasawa continues to play the long game with it, but Asadora!’s greatest strength is the human story that moves from tragedy to explore new waters.
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