Astra Lost in Space is a shōnen, science-fiction anime adaptation of the original manga series by Kenta Shinohara. It follows a group of high school teens who participate in what is supposed to be a short trip to a different planet for a rite-of-passage sort of summer camp. However, shortly after arriving they encounter a mysterious glowing orb that chases them down and consumes them. Suddenly these kids find themselves drifting in space above an unknown planet a few thousand lightyears from where they’re supposed to be.
I picked this up as part of the thirteenth season of Jon Spencer’s community anime watching shindig, #AniTwitWatches (announcement page and schedule). I actually suggested this title after browsing Funimation’s catalogue. Craving science-fiction and something relatively short, I thought Astra Lost in Space would be a good pick. The first episode, which runs about forty-seven minutes in length, ended up being one of the most promising first segments that I’ve seen of any anime in a very long time (sequels and things not included).
There are three main facets that really stood out to me during this pilot—the comedy, the animation quality and virtual cinematography, and the classic sci-fi trope of teamwork—and it has me feeling immensely enthusiastic about watching much more of the series over the approaching weeks.
I really enjoy the style of comedy in an anime where it pokes fun of itself and how potentially ridiculous it can be. Occasionally it can feel relatively on-the-nose, but Astra Lost in Space weaves it into the dialogue so seamlessly and even matter-of-factly that it never loses its natural tone or presence. This always makes media more charming for me. (I tend to have a very dry, eccentric sort of humour.) Since the first one-third of the segment does offer a decent amount of laughs, I was worried that maybe the comedy would have too strong of a presence and the other curious facets of it may get washed out because of it. Luckily, that didn’t happen.
When the teens find themselves unbelievably dislocated, the mirth takes a backseat for stress, anxiety, and paranoia that comes from being completely alone in the vastness of space. It’s bloody big that it’s nigh impossible not to feel claustrophobic or even like one is drowning. During these portions where the cast members are feeling the high-intensity of anxiety pangs from being stuck tumbling about in space, the emotions portrayed are pretty damn genuine. The sweat beads on their faces, the difficulties breathing and the inability to think straight because the worse possible scenario just dances around in one’s mind over and over again, and then the horrifying threat that not all of them are going to make it and the remaining people are powerless to stop it from happening. Whether they get saved or not is irrelevant, it’s about the feeling, that debilitating shock of being utterly helpless. That’s where the tension of fear and the excellent sense of suspense starts to take root. I honestly didn’t even realise this episode was over forty minutes long until after I finished because I had become so engaged with the terrifying plight these kids were faced with.
The element that helps connect everything together so beautifully is the animation and virtual cinematography. The way that a lot of the scenes are depicted, and the variations of the how certain scenes seem “shot,” gives the anime plenty of depth, foreshadowing, and symbolism—all of the things that helped me fall in love with sci-fi stories back when I was a wee brat.
For example, in the beginning of the episode we are greeted with a character that is floating farther and farther away from a planet with busted thrusters. Her belongings and the belongings of her classmates are strewn about her like debris from an explosion. The wide-screen shot helps put the fright of total loneliness amid the limitlessness of space into a powerful perspective. In another scene, a male character is speaking about how he always wanted to be an adventurer of space. While he does so, the scene focuses in on a frozen orange or tangerine that’s sitting in the palm of his hand. It’s phenomenal symbolism for his idealistic dreams and, as such, how the whole world (or galaxy) can be within his grasp. Later this frozen fruit is shown floating in space far, far away, almost as if those dreams are being jeopardised on whether this character can maintain his hope and fortitude to confront the unexpected. Scenes like these just really enhance the storytelling prowess and the characters’ experiences without the use of extra words or dramatic music and it’s awesome. (Plus, the various interpretations that stem out of them make for amazing discourse.)
The cinematography also helps to emphasise the importance of an unlikely motley crew of individuals, who tend to clash heads more than anything else, coming together to work as a team rather than separate parts just heading in the same direction, so to speak. Their inherent personality quirks, differences in morals, beliefs, and varying skill sets is what’s going to help them to collaborate with one another towards a common goal. This is a popular trope in sci-fi, and it’s one that I enjoy immensely when it’s well-written. The message that all humans are capable of finding mutuality to operate towards a better future, or achievement, in a peaceful manner (mild bickering notwithstanding) is the true potential of the human race, in my opinion. But rarely do we take this route. So, seeing a bunch of kids who are as irritated with each other as much as they need each other and want to survive together, is just a really interesting dynamic for me, especially within the anime medium.
All in all, my first impressions for Astra Lost in Space are rather remarkable. I expected the first episode to be good, mostly formulaic as it set up the conflict and basic plot foundation, but I wasn’t expecting this much technical and visual entertainment, to be so marvellously intellectually enchanted by it. Moving forward some things I would love to see is a deeper development of friendships between everyone, maybe even some rougher patches as it’s a great tool for depicting very humanist frustrations, and a bit more explanation on this coming-of-age camp thing that started the whole unexpected journey into the unknown to begin with. I have my suspicions, but it’s too soon to voice them, and I wouldn’t want to share any potential spoilers (yet). At the very least, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you watch the first segment if this series sounds even remotely exciting. Keeping my fingers crossed it won’t disappoint (at least not too much) as progress is made.
Source: Manga by Kenta Shinohara
Season: Summer 2019
Director: Masaomi Andō
Content Warnings: Theft. Brief violence. Mildly intense paranoia and anxiety. Caution advisory for claustrophobia, kenophobia, and nyctophobia.
AniList: Kanata no Astra
Streaming: Funimation, Hulu, Anime Lab (Aus)