The School Trip That Will
Take Them Across The Galaxy
Kanata no Astra was an anime that seemingly came out of nowhere. I’d never heard of it and hadn’t seen any promotional videos or the like prior to the Summer 2019 season beginning. Turns out this was for the best because once this story got going it sucked me right in and was quite the enjoyable ride, more so because of walking into it absolutely blind. While it isn’t flawless, this was undeniably my favourite story of the Summer season and if it hadn’t been for the emotional connection I felt with Given, this anime would have walked away as my favourite anime of the season.
I know. High praise right off the bat.
That said, I will caution readers that though I’m going to avoid major plot spoilers as much as possible, given the nature of this story, with small bits of information revealed throughout each episode, pretty much anything I mention beyond the first episode would count as a spoiler. If you want to go in blind, just know this one is great and concludes its plot very nicely and that first double episode might start a bit slow but hang in their, it definitely finds its feet.
For everyone who is still with me, let’s talk about Astra Lost in Space.
This one is a fairly basic story following the voyage and return model where our kids, thinking they are going on a school camp, end up thrown to the other side of the galaxy though fortunately they find a functional space-ship (convenient that) and then they have to plot a route and make their way home. On the journey they learn a whole bunch of stuff about the world and themselves. Underlying this is the reason for them ending up in that situation which we will learn more about piece by piece as the journey progresses with all being revealed nicely by the end. Still, it was really fun having a week inbetween each episode to speculate.
We do need to start with that first episode though. Kanata no Astra begins and ends its run with a double length episode which adds to the overall cinematic feel this one seems to be striving for. Honestly, I probably could have done without the black bands that framed the screen for the majority of scenes however in key moments of drama, such as the rescue sequence at the end of that first double episode, that cinematic feeling really helps draw the viewer into the character’s situation and it works remarkably well.
What was a little less thrilling was the opening twenty minutes which is where the story lays its groundwork and introduces the characters. While the goofy comedy aspects on display in this part never go away, the rest of the story balances moments of tension with moments where the kids kick back and get to be kids. The opening sequence on the other hand feels like pure fluff despite the necessary introductions to the characters and the setting. If I were to change anything in this series, it really would be this opening because I actually did pause the episode and contemplated walking away as my Summer watch list had been quite full. By the time I got to the end of episode one, all such thought were erased from my mind.
See, the characters in this story individually aren’t all that great or exceptional. In fact, most are pretty much characters we’ve seen many times before. The cast however is perfect together and as the group of kids face danger together, work together, clash with one another and then reconcile, they win the audience over and their plight becomes somehow more significant and interesting. Whether the story had ended up with a satisfactory ending or not wouldn’t change how fun the journey with this cast was even if individuals within the group annoyed me, they fit within the team.
The story also deftly introduced an additional character to the crew toward the end. Their integration only added to how solidly they had built these characters as the students we’d been travelling with interacted with, learned from, and responded to the new addition. There was some attempt at building up a few characters on Earth who were plot significant, though given the time frame this anime was working with, as well as the fact that the kid’s journey was by far the more interesting part of the story and the conspiracy was more interesting when the kids were speculating, this didn’t really go very far.
The one down side of all of this is the reveal of the traitor ended up being less of a reveal and more a confirmation of what you will have probably suspected for awhile. The character in question did feel off comparatively and there’s a lot of obvious flags along the way. I’d picked the traitor and then dismissed them because they seemed too obvious. While this isn’t the end of the world given their reveal is just one part of the mystery it is a point where more nuanced individual characters may have helped muddy the waters a bit more while still making this make sense.
Obvious red-herrings aside, there really weren’t any other candidates.
Still, it isn’t as though Kanata no Astra wants you to be perplexed. There are clues in the OP and a number of moments where characters tell us important information. While it is a slow drip-feed of info it never really stops coming and if you put the pieces together, by the time most revelations occur you’ve got a fair idea of what’s about to happen and then it is the satisfaction of having figured it out. Or in one case, being miffed that you went the wrong way with your speculation (well, I can’t get them all right).
Anyway, I loved the sense of tension this series managed to build up at key moments. I loved how when the kids had some down time they really felt like teenagers who were finding their way to a friendship. The music was fantastic and I liked that when a character changed her hair in the show they changed it in the opening as well. I also found it great the number of times Astra didn’t play the OP at all because it was using every minute of its episode time.
In less deft hands this story could have felt bloated, rushed, or meandering depending on how it was delivered. Yet here it feels like every step of the journey has been carefully plotted out and given just enough time without lingering past its welcome. Critical conversations are framed by comedy or short action sequences and everything balances nicely. In short, this series is a genuine joy to watch. It’s a space exploration story with a group of characters you can enjoy spending time with but it has ongoing drive throughout the series giving it a sense of direction and focus that helps pull everything together.
Now I’ve actually watched the series twice already because I was watching the episodes alone to review them but about four episodes in I talked a friend into watching some of it and we soon caught up to where it had aired. After that I’d watch and review the episode and a day or two later we’d watch the episode together. It is amazing how many extra details you pull out of this on a second watch even if that watch is still with a weekly gap.
On that note though, I don’t think I’d recommend binge watching more than two episodes of this at a time. This series seems to lend itself to that slower viewing experience of watching chunks of it and then contemplating before watching a bit more. Still, I’ll definitely buy this on DVD is it becomes available because this is one series I just had a blast with.
Just so it doesn’t sound like I’m heaping nothing but praise on this anime I will point out that it has a penchant for ending episodes on cliff-hangers, or building up to dramatic moments and then resolving them fairly quickly. In other anime I’ve found this can get quite annoying as it makes it feel like they are going for cheap TBC moments. For whatever reason I didn’t find the impact to be annoying in Astra and usually just happily waited for the resolution or accepted where the story went. That doesn’t mean it won’t be irritating if you find that particular narrative gimmick one that wears thin.
However, minor niggles aside, I’d strongly recommend giving Astra Lost in Space a go. Maybe it won’t work for you but I know I thoroughly enjoyed the story that was told here and there’s plenty of positives to take away from the series even if it ultimately doesn’t work for you.
Thanks for reading
100 Word Anime.
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Images from: Kanata no Astra. Dir. M Andou. Lerche. 2019.