Well, at long last we reach the end of the month. After all of these books, I want to end things on a high note. As such, I decided to go back to the early days of shoujo itself for something special.
ANDROMEDA STORIES (Andoromeda Sutorizu), written by Ryu Mitsuse and art by Keiko Takemiya. First published in 1980 and first published in North America in 2007.
Deep within the Andromeda Galaxy on the planet of Astralis, the people are celebrating the marriage of Princess Lilia of Ayodoyo and Prince Ithaca of Cosmoralia. All seems joyous on their world until a bright star appears in an unfavorable position that soon falls upon Astralis and brings doom upon the royal house. In the midst of this disaster, another ill omen occurs: the queen gives birth to twin boys. The queen's nurse spirits one of the children away to be cared for by a gruff gladiator, unaware that this child may just be in fact the savior of prophecy who will save Astralis.
This is some straight-up, old-school, Joseph Campbell style, sci-fi tinged fantasy. That's not all too shocking considering who the author is. Ryu Mitsuse is not a name that would be known to most manga fans, but in the world of Japanese sci-fi fiction he is a notable figure. Learning this went a long way towards explaining why Andromeda Stories feels a lot like pulpy old sci-fi, for better and for worse.
There's a lot of stories going on here. There's a lot of backstory and side stories to go along with the main one and some of come off as a bit perfunctory. Still, it's all incorporated in a way that feels organic and even the less consequential ones lend the story a sense of atmosphere. The characters aren't all that deep either, as they tend to stick to a lot of well-worn character types: the wilting princess, the evil king, the bluff soldier, the mysterious ninja-type warrior, the old sage, the prophesied hero and so on. They're not complex either, but they get the job done. What really carries the story is the atmosphere and interesting philosophy going on just under the story. Through this conflict between a mysterious technological force and this pseudo-medieval civilization, Mitsuse explores the conflict between technology, nature, and spirituality. It's hardly subtle, but it's still compelling. It carries the story all the way up to the cliffhanger ending, and it goes to prove how even a story largely be built on trope and cliche but still end up with something good.
Amazingly, this was not the first time a Mitsuse story was adapted by a Showa 29 artist, as another story was turned into a manga by Takemiya's old roommate Moto Hagio. Still, Takemiya is a perfect fit for this sort of pulp fiction considering her own history with dramatic sci-fi stories like To Terra. While this manga might date from 1980, the art style is still firmly stuck in the world of 1970s shoujo. That means a lot of pretty people, glittering dark eyes, dramatic angles and occasional moments of breathtaking beauty, such as the prologue where the creation of the universe is covered in a way that masterfully blends hard science and elegant metaphor. It's one of the few moments that feels like one of her ideas instead of Mitsuse, and I wish there were more moments like it.
This comes from the early days of Vertical, so the presentation does leave things a bit wanting. The only extra is a character guide. That would be a fine thing on its own as there are a lot of cast members, but it's far too short and shoved awkwardly onto the back cover.
Andromeda Stories is held back a bit by its very archetypical story, but its fusion of old-school sci-fi and shoujo beauty still makes it worth a look.
This series was published by Vertical. This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available. All 3 were published and are currently out of print.