Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home.
So I was debating whether or not to get back into doing episode reviews after nearly driving myself mad with The Promised Neverland over the course of the winter season, but I really enjoy writing, and this seemed like it’d be a simple enough thing to cover without going totally overboard, so here I am I guess. Like the aforementioned Neverland, this was another adaption I was really looking forward to this year. I was a pretty big fan of the author’s previous series Sket Dance so when Viz started putting up chapters of Astra’s manga up for free on their site a year or two back, I kept up with it pretty regularly and ended up really digging it. Of course this meant that my expectations here were fairly high, but unlike Neverland’s situation where I was much more confident in the strength of the material than the strength of the anime staff going in, this adaption’s being helmed by director Masaomi Ando whose previous work on School-Live and Scum’s Wish feels like a perfect fit for this series (even if I wasn’t a super big fan of the former) and the fact that the manga is already finished, means there’s significantly less chance of Ando and the rest of the anime staff at Lerche not getting the material. So with all that rambling out of the way I suppose it’s time to talk whether or not this show is actually off to a good start.
The answer so far seems to be an incredibly firm yes. I was a little cautious as to how well this premiere would be paced since the manga is 5 volumes long (which is short enough to fit into one cour, but long enough that there’s the risk of having to rush things to cram it all in), but thankfully the premiere didn’t run into this particular problem. While the benefit of a double-length episode probably helped with that, it uses all of its time well, and does a great job of setting up the show’s space opera premise and bringing the characters together in a way that feels pretty organic and keeps you consistently engaged without ever feeling like it’s moving too fast. It helps that said group of characters are all pretty likable. The leads, Kanata and Aries are a pretty good pair of likable dorks, and while we don’t spend as much time getting to know the other members of Astra’s “crew”, the premiere shows enough of their personalities that it’s pretty easy to get a feel for who’s who, and makes you want to learn a bit more about them. Kanata himself gets a lot of focus throughout the premiere, as we learn that this isn’t quite the first time he’s found himself in a life-or-death situation, and how he had to help a group of his friends survive when his teacher died in an accident while they were on a camping trip. That story ties pretty heavily into his desire to become the leader of this current group and his never-give-up attitude, but it’s also clear that there’s a bit more to his background than just that, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of it gets handled.
Solid as this material is though, it can only go so far if there isn’t an equally solid production behind it, and thankfully Lerche has really delivered here. Right off the bat, Masaomi Ando’s visual direction for the show gives it the look of a blockbuster film, and that look meshes pretty well with the sci-fi elements of the show. This style of direction is especially effective when it comes to tackling Kanata’s backstory, as the film reel effect and muted colors used for it helps to really sell the pain he felt in being unable to save his teacher and his struggle to survive. The animation and music are also pretty solid so far (well aside from the opening being a typical J-pop number but that’s a pretty minor weakness in the grand scheme of things) and while the show doesn’t exactly look “gorgeous”, everything here feels fairly polished, and even with an hour-long premiere, there didn’t seem to be any notable signs of strain so hopefully this show’s animation will be able to stay afloat for the remaining eleven episodes. About the only real nitpick I had here is that the direction for some of the show’s comedy was a little hit or miss, but I more or less felt the same way about the manga’s humor in comparison to Sket Dance’s, so that’s more a flaw of the material itself than with the anime specifically.
It’s been quite a while since a premiere of an adaption I was anticipating actually managed to hit my expectations but Astra’s really pulled it off. From the pacing to the visual direction, everything here feels extremely confident, and its given the material plenty of room to breathe, while also showcasing some potential advantages the anime might have over it’s manga counterpart. Time will tell if it will be able to keep this up for the rest of it’s run but if this manages to stick the landing *heh* this might actually have the potential to surpass it’s source manga. For now though, I can safely say this is one journey I’m more than happy to sign up for.
Available on Funimation