Astra: Lost in Space – Anime Review

A while back, when I had started my fanzine with the intent of getting established science fiction fans, in particular, those who read fanzines (a demographic that is generally more likely to vote and nominate in the Hugos), to watch and nominate speculative fiction anime – I started with a list.  I gave a list of anime series that had come out since the turn of the millennium which I thought literary speculative fiction fans would enjoy. Among them was Bodacious Space Pirates, a science fiction anime which I felt took the sense of adventure and wonder that was a fixture of ‘50s and ’60s YA Space Adventure science fiction, kept that, and dropped the obsolete political and social views that fill so many works of that period. Astra: Lost in Space is the next anime that tries this and pulls it off spectacularly.

The show is set in the far future when High School class B5 of Caird High School are sent to the planet of McPa for a camping trip – basically the science fiction equivalent of Outdoor school. However, the sudden appearance of a Wormhole on that planet whisks the students to a distant, uninhabitable planet hundreds of light-years away. By blind luck, the kids find a derilict starship, unmanned but still functional, orbiting over this planet.

This ship has an FTL drive for intersystem travel and an anti-grav drive for intrasystem travel, so they can get home – in a few weeks. However the ship doesn’t have any sort of matter fabrication and limited water recycling systems – so if the kids are going to get home, they will have to find several inhabited worlds along the way to allow them to resupply, so they don’t die of starvation or dehydration. It will take all of these kids’ skills in various talents to make their way home.

Now, odds are pretty good that after reading that synopsis, you’ve probably thought of at least a few works of science fiction that the show is probably paying reference to, from Tunnel in the Sky, to Gravity, to Starman Jones. However, it never comes across as being derivative. Astra: Lost in Space very much puts its own spin on these concepts, stripping away the things that have aged poorly – the sexism and racism that often came up in those works, along with some political views that have aged poorly.

And, to be clear, it’s not that the show is apolitical either. The show is part of a big cluster of anime series I’ve seen lately that put some significant emphasis over found family over filial obligation – something that is nothing to sneeze at in fiction aimed for younger Japanese audiences. On top of that, without getting into spoilers, Astra: Lost in Space feels like a series that is also using SF as an allegory to address another political issue – how history is taught in Japanese schools. It doesn’t go so far as to put a surrogate of the Rape of Nanking (or other Japanese historical atrocities that have been covered up in the Japanese education system) that had been covered up. However, what it does to is promote the idea of digging deeper and questioning the accepted historical narrative, by having a narrative plot point being that the protagonists had been lied to about the history of their world, and ultimately uncovering the truth and deciding that it’s better if that information came to light.

It’s a very incrementalist approach to this topic, but considering the Japanese government’s reluctance to address some of the historical skeletons in their closet is comparable to the Turkish government’s reluctance on their own skeletons, even getting this much is saying a lot.

I really enjoyed this series, though I’d say for those who are seeing this series for the first time, there is a mystery to this series, and it can be spoiled.

The anime is currently available for streaming on Funimation’s web site and on Hulu in the US.

The show is also based on a manga, which is currently available from RightStuf and Amazon.com (links are to the first volume of the manga). Buying anything through those links helps to support the site.

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