Regular readers know that I’m something of a fan of Japanese comics, called manga in comic form and anime in cartoon form, but only of the stuff that deals with quasi-realistic near-Earth, near-future stories. They are few and far between in DVD and book releases, but they are out there.
Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise is often cited as a classic. A cautionary tale of civilizations teetering on the brink of savagery and war, and the first launch of a man into space in spite of all the hating going on. Released in 1987, I kind of see it at the tail end of the Gen X round of anime that was probably kicked off with Battle of the Planets.
The next round of anime and manga started in the late 1990s, which is when I remember little anime shops opening up around the East Village and Little Tokyo in NYC. In Japan it was the time of the Cowboy Bebop. I never really got into it at that point as I was up to my eyeballs in other interests in the city and just didn’t have time for it. Then I was off to Strasbourg for a year at ISU, to come back to the second worst job market in recent decades (the worst being the early 90s when I got out of undergrad). So I basically skipped the last round.
It was not until recently, whilst searching for additions to the Lunar Library (LL), that I found Planetes. Wow. A richly visualized story centered around the very real problem of debris in orbit, and replete with philosophical underpinnings, an exploration not only of the majesty of space but also the richness of the human soul. It was at times goofy, but always spoke to every individual’s desire to contribute in some way to the betterment of humanity, sometimes in ways that are quite explosive. The manga for the series, published by TokyoPop, revealed a vibrant medium for tales of the near-future, near-Earth. Both series were quickly added to the LL.
This sparked a search for other titles that might be of interest. There’s a lot of manga out there, as a visit to any major bookseller can attest, and that’s part of the problem. There are a lot of slow-moving titles where booksellers carry the whole set. This takes up a lot of shelf space, and until the booksellers move the product that’s taking up space they’re disinclined to add more titles. However, there are a few of interest:
This title appeared in October 2006, set in 2068. Technically it’s a manga-sized graphic novel since it is read from front to back. It’s a story of a young man involuntarily moved to the Moon when his Dad becomes the new Base Administrator and his Mom the new teacher. Damon is certainly surprised to find out at the end of book one that his Mom is a terrorist mole who does her terrorist thing at one of the power sats.
Book two, from July 2007, resolves this, and the repercussions that reverberate throughout Earthlight Colony. The kids decide to make a video to show how important Earthlight Colony is and why past events should not be used to shut down the base. This is used as an educational tool back on Earth, leading to an elucidation of one of the most potent reasons we have for going to the Moon. So important that I’ve reproduced a couple of the last pages in volume two as thumbnails throughout this update (click for larger size).
Apparently since this one was not really manga, it wasn’t listed with the manga titles, and some of the specialty anime stores weren’t aware of it. The main bookboxes carried it, but it sold out pretty quickly here in the metroplex. The next volume isn’t due until November of 2008. A preview was offered in the manga Project D.O.A., hinting that corporate interests may be coming to the fore in the next tale. Published by TokyoPop
This title appeared sometime in late 2007, set in the 23rd century. It’s a loving tale of a boy and his bike living amongst the last vestiges of humanity who fled to the Moon to escape an ecologically devastated Earth. Strange events start him questioning the Freedoms that the the Lunar Republic of Eden grants him. Young Takeru has bullies to race, and once he gets a hint of what’s really going on he also has the authorities to outrun.
The third DVD appeared in early February 2008, published by Bandai Visual. It also had an HD-DVD version, which is a bit of a problem, as the HD format was abandoned, and Bandai Visual has since been folded into Bandai Entertainment. When will the fourth through sixth DVDs appear? A little research shows that a batch of Vol. 4 may have been released back in February, but I didn’t see it. July 5th may be the next time they become available.
This title started appearing in 2008, and the story starts in 2009. Be forewarned – it is for adults.
Goro and Lostman are climbing to the peak of Everest. At the top, they wonder what challenges could possibly face them now. Then they see the ISS, framed by the Moon. They both know in an instant that they’ve found their new peak to climb, one at the cutting edge of human endeavor.
This series started appearing in manga form in 2001, and was later adapted to anime. The series is currently up to 16 volumes in Japan. In France, where they have translated the manga from the original Japanese, they’ve published 10 volumes to date (a ripping good read, too). Given the issues noted previously, and the fact that the manga (like the anime) would only be sellable to adults, there’s probably no reason to hold your breath waiting for the comics. The distributor of the DVDs here in the U.S. has also been having some issues, so there’s some uncertainty there as to when the next one will be available.
Those are the main titles available right now within my particular area of interest. Expanding the scope to include comics from the rest of the world, we find there are even more items of interest, including:
Back in the mid-1990s, Yokinobu Hoshino scripted and illustrated a trilogy of space graphic novels exploring humanity’s steps out into the Solar system, and then to the galaxy beyond. Published by Cadence Books in 1995, it’s over 750 pages of exploration of the bounds of space but also the human heart.
Two Faces of Tomorrow
This graphic novel is based on a 1979 James Hogan story, with Yukinobu Hoshino as illustrator. It was published in the late 1990s by Dark Horse Comics, and gathered together in 2006 for a big 572 pages of graphic novel overload. It starts in the year 2028 on the Moon.
Astronauts in Trouble
Long one of my favorites, This 1999 comic series told of the long tradition of investigative journalism and the Moon. A passÃ© form of jounalism in this age of corporate media feed reproduction, it is a reminder of how journalism used to be. It has since been gathered in a variety of reproductions. ‘One Shot, One Beer’ is my favorite.
In 2003, Warren Ellis and Colleen Doran gave us an almost hallucinogenic look at a post-space program world that gave up when a shuttle orbiter disappeared while on orbit. That orbiter has now returned, a treasure trove of the future waiting to be unlocked.
Ministry of Space
Warren Ellis is back, with Chris Weston and Laura DePuy, with this 2001/2004 tale from image comics of a ruthless British plan to dominate space using an unorthodox revenue stream. The influence of the old Dan Dare comics is evident in this one.
Full Moon Fever
This graphic novel from 2005 transplants the werewolf legend to a Moonbase, with ample opportunity for violence and gore.
30 Days of Night: Dead Space
If werewolves aren’t enough for you, this tale from the first quarter of 2006 takes the gore factor a step beyond with a tale of some kind of vampire that is of course an unstoppable, inhuman killing machine that makes for some very bad times for the shuttle and space station.
In this 2006 graphic novel from Wildstorm from the 2004/05 comic series, Warren Ellis returns, with Chris Sprouse and Karl Story. The time is 100 years from today. Humanity has stretched to the outer Solar system, and a station has been set up to study the oceans beneath the ice of Europa. A startling discovery sends a UN weapons inspector to Europa to face a threat to Earth older than mankind.
A tradition in English comics that I remember from my time there as a kid in the 70s, they have been rejuvenated by Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic fame, perhaps as a means to develop an increased popular culture interest in space (and therefore his products). It involves aliens, which may be why I have only a marginal interest in it. Currently up to issue number six.
So as can be seen, there is a fair variety of relatively current near-Earth, near-future stories told in cartoon and comic form. This should by no means be seen as an exhaustive list, and your Lunar Librarian is always on the lookout for more.