S.S. Astro: Asashio Sogo Teachers’ Room, Volume 1

S.S. Astro, Volume 1Creator: Negi Banno
U.S. publisher: Yen Press
ISBN: 9780759528987
Released: August 2008
Original release: 2007

S.S. Astro: Asashio Sogo Teachers’ Room is a yonkoma, or four-panel, manga created by Negi Banno. The first volume of S.S. Astro was originally published in Japan in 2007. Yen Press released the English translation of the manga in 2008, around the same time that it was licensing several other yonkoma manga series. As for S.S. Astro, only one volume was ever released. As far as I can tell, the series has been on hiatus since 2007 in Japan. Although I believe that Banno has created more S.S. Astro strips than those found in the first volume, there have not been enough to collect into a second volume. I have no idea if Banno plans to ever return to the S.S. Astro manga, but because so many years have passed it seems increasingly unlikely. S.S. Astro was actually one of the first yonkoma manga that I ever read. I originally came across it a few years back while searching for manga in English with yuri elements, which used to be a little more difficult to find than it is now.

Seven years after she graduated, Izumi Maki is back at her old high school. Except this time she’s one of the ones responsible for molding the young minds of Tokyo’s Asashio Integrated Public High School. It’s her first year as a teacher. Maki’s now in charge of both health and physical education classes, not to mention a home room with nearly forty students. (Now she just somehow needs to find a way to remember all of their names.) Maki’s not the only fresh blood at Asashio. Her good friend Yuko Nagumo, the new Japanese instructor, is also a first year teacher. The nursing teacher Setsuna Arai has a couple of years of experience on them and Maki’s backup teacher Kaname Karasuma, the instructor for the school’s English course, has even more. She also has a huge crush on Maki, not that Maki has noticed. Throw in all of the other teachers and their quirks, as well as Maki’s older brother, and high school is just as entertaining and complicated as it was the first time around.

Yonkoma manga tend to be fairly hit-or-miss for me, but in the case of S.S. Astro it’s mostly a hit. As with many four-panel manga, whether or not someone actually likes the series will depend on whether or not the reader likes the characters as they are. Although there are plenty of running jokes in S.S. Astro, the series tends to be episodic without much of an overarching plot and very little in the way of character development. Fortunately, I do like the characters. Quite a bit, actually. Maki’s a scatterbrain but earnest. Nagumo can put away an impressive amount of food and is closet fujoshi. Arai has a delightfully sadistic streak. Of the four main characters, Karasuma is the most responsible one, at least when she isn’t completely lovestruck. About halfway through the first volume of S.S. Astro the rest of the Asashio staff are more thoroughly introduced. Prior to that they were largely relegated to the background. I like the other teachers as well and wish more time could have been spent getting to know them better, too.

Quite a few manga licensed in English take place in a school setting. What helps to set S.S. Astro apart is that it focuses on the teachers rather than on the students. I find this to be a refreshing change of pace. One of the reasons that I’m particularly fond of S.S. Astro is that the manga focuses on the adults and their lives and relationships. Granted, the main cast are all relatively young and still in their twenties, but there are some older characters as well. Maki and the others can be immature at times, but in the end they are adults with adult responsibilities. Which is not to say there isn’t room for fun in S.S. Astro; being an adult has its perks, too. Video games, drinking parties, and a little bit of workplace romance (straight and otherwise) all have their place in the series. The artwork tends to be rather cute, too. In general, I find S.S. Astro to be fun and funny. S.S. Astro may not be a manga that I go out of my way to recommend to people, but it is one that I quite enjoy. I only wish that there was more of it.

My Week in Manga: July 11-July 17, 2011

My News and Reviews

As I am writing this, I’m sitting on the beach. Well, technically I’m sitting on a balcony overlooking the beach since I’m sure my laptop would hate me if I actually took it down to the sand. Either way though, I’m currently on vacation—the longest that I’ve been on in a very long time. Nearly two weeks!

Anyway. Last week I posted a couple of non-manga reviews. The first review was for Kaoru Kurimoto’s The Guin Saga, Book Two: Warrior in the Wilderness. I liked the second volume much better than the first and am starting to understand why this series is so well loved. The second review was for Ric Meyers’ newest book Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Book. While mainly focused on Chinese films, I decided to include the review on this blog since Meyers’ addresses the portrayal of Japanese in kung fu movies among other things.

Coming soon is July’s Manga Moveable Feast (July 24-30). This month will feature Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket. David Welsh at The Manga Curmudgeon will be hosting. I unfortunately won’t be participating this month, but I have read the entire series and look forward to seeing what everyone else has to say.

I’d also like to bring your attention to the latest Manga Out Loud podcast focusing on the first volume of Takako Shimura’s Wandering SonEpisode #41. As always, the podcast has some great conversation and discussion. I am terribly excited about this series’ release in English and will be posting my own review of the first volume later this week.

Quick Takes

Samurai Champloo: The Complete Series by Masaru Gotsubo. I adore the Samurai Champloo anime; it’s one of my favorites. Perhaps my expectations for the manga adaptation were set too high because of this. Overall, the manga just didn’t work for me and I found it to be rather dull. If I didn’t already care about the characters, I probably wouldn’t have cared about it at all. Even though most of the material after the first chapter is distinct from the anime, the manga still managed to feel like it was retreading old ground. It wasn’t all bad though, and I did like some of the characters that were introduced; both the unlikely magistrate and the Russian amused me greatly. Still, people will probably do better to just stick with the anime.

Seito Shokun!, Volume 1 by Yōko Shōji. Apparently, Seito Shokun is one of the very first shōjo manga to be published in English. Unfortunately, this means it’s somewhat difficult to find. I was extremely excited when I managed to get my hands on a copy of the first volume. It’s a bilingual edition, which makes it even cooler and makes for a nice Japanese language study aid. Naoko Kitashiro, who insists that everyone call her Nakki, is a delightful protagonist. She’s smart and energetic and utterly charming even if she is a little rough around the edges. Actually, her directness and honesty are some of the things that makes her so appealing. She’s a bit of a troublemaker, but that’s part of the fun.

Shout Out Loud!, Volumes 1-5 by Satosumi Takaguchi. Some people might find Shout Out Loud! to start out fairly slowly, and despite being a yaoi title, there is very little sex until towards the end of the series. But this series isn’t about the sex. Instead, it is about relationships and discovering the necessary balance between worrying about others and their needs and worrying about yourself and your own happiness. Shino is a voice actor who has been recently reunited with Nakaya, his high school-aged son. In order to support his son, who has moved in with him, Shino begins to take jobs he previously avoided, including boys’ love drama CDs. The art might not be spectacular, but Shout Out Loud! is a very well done manga.

S.S. Astro, Volume 1 by Negi Banno. Yonkoma, or four panel manga, tends to be pretty hit or miss for me, but I happened to really enjoy S.S. Astro. Many yonkoma available in English tend to feature cute girls doing whatever, but there aren’t that many that feature cute women (and men). S.S. Astro primarily follows four youngish female instructors and the various shenanigans they get into. Other teachers are introduced in a flurry about halfway through the book and I’d love a chance to get to know them as well as the main four protagonists, too. As far as I can tell, the series is on hiatus with only one volume released, but I definitely would pick up the next one if it’s ever published.