With more manga going digital legally by the day, maybe someday we won’t have to rely on pirated manga for the latest chapters of everything we want to see in English…?
Astra: Lost in Space (in Japan, Kanata no Astra) is a somewhat short series at 49 chapters, but the way it’s structured leads me to believe in its ability to be a forerunner for other series to go online the way Viz put it and Boku no Hero Academia: Vigilantes out. But why, exactly?
Pun explanation time! Kanata no Astra can mean “Astra far away” or it can mean “Kanata’s Astra”, which makes sense because from day 1, Kanata’s sure he wants to be captain of the spaceship Astra.
The first thing that’s noticeable about Astra, after a bit of reading of the first volume, is the chapters seem longer than usual. This may be due in part to the longer first chapter – which, according to the contents page, is triple other chapters’ length (although extended page counts are usual for a series’ magazine debut) – and characters’ verbosity, the likes of which only get matched by other dialogue-driven series like Death Note. Astra is a series driven primarily by survival knowledge and banter, so it’s a given it would rely on dialogue, but that means text can get quite small. Here’s where web distribution comes in – most standard manga readers have a capability to enlarge images, allowing readers to take in tiny details that create character depth (like when Zack goes, “I don’t like that guy [Ulgar]” – this is in its own frame, but it’s kind of hard to notice).
Then, for some reason, the mangaka’s name – Kenta Shinohara – and the excessive amount of text seemed vaguely familiar. Welp, turns out Shinohara was responsible for another Shonen Jump work called Sket Dance and, before that, was an assistant on Gintama. I admit I have zero experience with Sket Dance, but from what I do know, it’s quite reliant on wordplay and dialogue (there’s a pun on its central “Sket-dan” in the title, for one). This would probably explain why Astra managed to get into print after web distribution, while Sket Dance didn’t see an English manga release – i.e. comedy manga with wordplay a la Gintama are translators’ nightmares, but Astra is more straightforward in that regard. However, there’s also enough fame behind the name Sket Dance, whether it be from Crunchyroll having the anime or otherwise, that can move volumes of Astra and promote the web chapters.
Sidebar: I almost mistook Astra as being from Nisio Isin, but humorous moments are what separates the two. Isin’s humour is drier than Shinohara’s and a lot less frequently used (if not more subtle), based off the one Akazukin Chacha gag in the Death Note light novel. Also, since Isin was responsible for the Monogatari series, most of the light novel author’s work is serious…which doesn’t click with the occasionally light-hearted Astra.
Finally, the themes of this manga are icing on the cake. I mean, if you wanted to move legal manga distribution online and you had this shiny new manga about a space camp you could launch right away on the platform, it makes perfect sense, since both are about exploring a new frontier…metaphorically speaking. Not to mention this series was serialised on Shonen Jump + (a website) before it was translated and on the English site, which makes crossing the language barrier easier.
…Hold your horses though – this still makes Astra a Shonen Jump property, so it holds all the hallmarks of “friendship, hard work and victory”, even if it’s not demonstrated in the ways other Jump manga do.
By the way, not everything about Astra is fine and dandy. At the end of the first volume, there’s a locked-room mystery element introduced as a hook, which, on top of the survival and comedy aspects, is a lot to juggle for a series as long as it is. That sign showed up in Barrage as well, which means Astra may have been slain by the Jump popularity machine…
So, back to happier talk. Do you see legal digital distribution as the way forward for manga, much like it is for anime already? What are some of the innovative things you’ve seen being done in web manga spheres that make legal web distribution worth supporting?