Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica and the comfort of nostalgia

March 21st, 2012 by | Tags:

Before I moved out to San Francisco a few years ago, I was going through my stuff at my grandparents’ house. I found this diary/photo album for kids. Actually, it may have been for parents, now that I’m thinking about it. It’s a little fuzzy, but each spread was a school year, I think, with spots for a photo, a list of accomplishments, goals, and all of that. The book was mostly empty. I think everything past the second grade was blank, but I’d scribbled on a few pages. On kindergarten or first grade, I forget which, I’d written that I wanted to be a comedian/astronaut, or astronaut/comedian. Some combination of the two, or maybe I thought a slash meant “and/or” instead of just “and.”

I used to get a big kick out of reading about black holes and astronomy. I never really cared about the speed of light or whether or not a phaser could conceivably be a real thing, even in fiction. But pictures of stars? Talking about how stars could orbit each other in a never-ending death spiral, feeding off each other until their balance is upset? Supernovas, dark matter, and that face on Mars? That really got me going. I’d be a fool to try to figure out why it hit me so hard — it was forever ago at this point, and I remember only a little of that time — but space definitely held a huge amount of appeal to me. It’s alien and scary and beautiful.

I’m not sure when that changed. My mom got divorced, we started moving around, and I guess it just fell by the wayside. I read some SF in middle school, once I got a library card and could bike around on my own, but it didn’t take, generally. I could never stand hard sci-fi, and to be perfectly honest, space-based sci-fi without pictures was and is a hard sell for me. Killer robots? Cool. Descriptions of alien vistas, like those in Larry Niven’s Ringworld? Ehhh…

In the back of Twin Spica 12, Kou Yaginuma has a post-script. A couple, actually, but the one that struck me the most was about time travel. Yaginuma speaks on wanting to go back in time and apologize to a girl he made cry, confess his love to another, and fix all the little errors we all make. He says:

If I had a time machine — I’m sure everyone has thought about it at least once — but in my case, it’s more than once. Late at night at my desk, I’m always thinking about such things.

I want to go back to the place I’m nostalgic for. I want to apologize to the girl I made cry. I want to let that horrible teacher have it.

I know I’d be turned down, but I want to tell that girl how I felt. I want to change all of my regrets into happy memories. I want to erase the no-good me.

If my destinations are the past and not the future, I guess that means I’m an adult now. But perhaps… having a past I long to return to means that I’ve lived a pretty good life.

People say time machines are the stuff of fantasy. But in fact the starlight we see is actually hundreds of years old — phantom light reflecting a past world, something of a time machine. I don’t understand the theory of relativity or wormholes or any of that hard stuff but time travel to the past through reminiscence is within my capability.

Picking up a favorite manga from my childhood can make me feel wistful. If the manga I draw can be someone’s time machine one day, I really couldn’t be happier.

I never had a telescope, not that I remember. I think I went to an observatory with school once or twice, and maybe some an IMAX film on space, back when those were strictly for educational purposes. My interaction with space was limited to stargazing (a possibility in the countrified town I grew up in, not so much in San Francisco, I realized in horror a couple years ago while out with friends) and reading.

Yaginuma’s Twin Spica made me remember that. I’d put space and my prior infatuation with it entirely out of my mind at some point. I’d forgotten how interested I was in stars and all of that. But Twin Spica stars Asumi Kamogawa, a young girl who is positively in love with space and dreams of being a rocket driver. Her dream is to go to space. She’s motivated from childhood, young childhood, to fulfill that dream. The series is the story of her trials and travails in astronaut school, and the friendships she enjoys along the way.

All of the characters have slightly different goals, but space is the common denominator in all of them. Space isn’t… I said that space is Asumi’s goal, but that isn’t right. It’s going to space that’s her goal, and that’s something else entirely. Space isn’t so much a goal as a… signpost, or a symbol of her achievement. But even that isn’t right. It’s not a trophy or a prize. It’s a thing that exists for her to aim at, and in the course of aiming at it, experience new things. Getting up there above the Earth is a motivator, not a goal.

The depth of Asumi’s love, and the way Yaginuma goes about portraying it, is incredible. It really brought back those feelings of idly wondering what the Oort Cloud is like, or what color Proxima Centauri is now. Twin Spica is like falling down a wikipedia hole, only instead of dry information, you’re diving into someone else’s emotions. You can feel the love when you read these books, and that’s an incredibly good feeling.

Twin Spica is at times melancholy, funny, serious, and goofy. Yaginuma covers a lot of ground over the course of the series, from heartbreak to grief to fruit-themed jokes, but more than anything else, Twin Spica feels comfortable. It’s a strange word for what’s sometimes a stressful or sad tale, but it’s true. You’re essentially watching a group of children grow up and learn who they want to become, just like you did. You can see mistakes they’re about to make, or spot areas where they were smarter than you. It’s a funny feeling, but a welcome one.

It’s nostalgia, but it isn’t like the nostalgia that led me to pick up Spider-Man comics at the grocery store after I quit comics. That’s a nostalgia for an object, for Stan and Steve’s baby. It comes from a desire to look and see how something I used to like is doing. The time travel nostalgia of Twin Spica is more like nostalgia for a specific time period. A when, rather than a what, that’s gone all fuzzy now, but still feels warm and inviting. I guess that is exactly what nostalgia is about: a yearning for yesterday. Twin Spica gets me caught up in a feeling I don’t have any more, though it sometimes returns in spikes, like when I find things like this scaled chart of the cosmos and then spend an hour on wikipedia googling up concepts I’d forgotten about.

There’s this bit later in the series where a character from the book is shown to have become a role model to complete strangers, little children in particular. It’s not pitched as yet another glory for that character, at least not primarily. It’s more like something that’s almost incidental, a side effect of that character’s dream. Infectious optimism or motivation, in a way. It’s a nice reminder of the fact that people can and will watch your path as you go about your life and chase your dream, whether you realize it or not. When your nose is to the grindstone and you’re wondering what it’s all worth, there’s somebody out there thinking “That’s the life.” The process of chasing your dream may enable, or encourage, others into doing the same. This isn’t really related to the nostalgia point much at all, but I wanted to be sure to mention it. It’s my favorite part of volume twelve. It’s probably the kindest moment in a series full of them. And I think it speaks well of Yaginuma’s skill with a pen, as well.

I remain impressed at the story Yaginuma told, and how he chose to tell it, but it’s the time traveling that got me most of all. The fact that he was able to evoke that feeling so well, well enough to reawaken that feeling in me personally, is a genuine achievement. It’s not that his artistic accomplishments revolve around me, either, so much as he’s so good at his job that he brought something out of me that I didn’t expect when I first picked up the series.

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4 comments to “Kou Yaginuma’s Twin Spica and the comfort of nostalgia”

  1. I’m a bit conflicted about nostalgia. Sometimes I feel like it’s a harmful indulgence that makes you long for the past instead of appreciating the present but other times I love getting caught up in exactly the kind of thing you’re describing.

    I’ve not read Twin Spica but if I get the chance to I’ll definitely check it out.

  2. As a soon-to-be college graduate, this article hit me right where I live. I’ve been on a sabbatical from comics the past few months, and one of the better parts was going back to the old books I used to love as a kid.

    I think it’s interesting how those stories we read back then, with simple messages like “defeat the bad guy, save the world, get the girl” have bled in to the rest of our memories. We read these stories and long for a time when life was as cut-and-dry, even when we know deep down that wasn’t really the case.

    I agree with what Larry said, that getting too caught up in nostalgia can be a slippery slope, but other times it can be exactly what you need. Plus, being able to share that love with someone else is a pretty awesome feeling too. Pulling up an old cartoon on Netflix and sitting on the couch with my little brothers and sisters has become one of the highlights of my weekend.

    Then they switch over to Suite Life of Zach & Cody and the moment’s gone.

  3. […] mainstream comicsphere has been writer David Brothers. Earlier this week, David posted an essay at 4th Letter! to explain why this sci-fi series had such a profound effect on him: Twin Spica is at times […]

  4. That was a really lovely piece. Twin Spica is amazingly kind, and I feel very blessed that Vertical chose to bring it to the U.S. and finish it. Thanks for your thoughts on the series and what it means to you.