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I’m betting a lot of nerdy guys have these on their cellphones…I would

With the final launch and landing of the Discovery, I felt pretty bummed–I grew up with the Space Shuttle program, and I even went to Space Camp! Yes, I am a bonafide space nerd even now. That’s why I was so happy to pick up a manga series featuring the characters above–Mutta and Hibito Namba–two brothers who realize their dream of going into space! The series is called “Uchu Kyodai,” aka, “Space Brothers.”

Japanese bookstores have whole shelves devoted to Space Brothers

Mr. Chuya Koyama created the series in 2008, but I got hip to it a couple of years later–it’s always on the best-seller list at our local bookstore. There’s a manga for every nerdy niche possible, and this one hit mine! It takes place in the near future, during a joint initiative between NASA and JAXA, Japan’s space agency. But it’s the journey of the characters, not the space stuff, that matters.

The story is what pulls me in!

Space Brothers is a so-called “Kaou manga” or “face comic” because characters are usually shown face front or in profile with very little background detail. There are some neat renderings of space-related equipment, but the retro-minimal style keeps me focused on the story.

I think I’ve lost my appetite…

The series has spawned a lot of merchandising and food tie-ins (like the rice-ball thingy above), but that’s not why I like it. Food for the stomach is great, but I love how Space Brothers is also trying to feed the mind of its fans.

Why not use manga to inspire future scientists?

The manga is being sold right along books about science, the planets etc. There are also whole illustrated tomes about the accuracy of the equipment depicted in the series, as well as interviews with real astronauts who gave Mr. Koyama the insight he needed to start writing. I love the fusion of serious non-fiction and pop culture here in Japan. If comics inspire people to learn about real stuff, and real stuff inspires people to write comics, then why not?

I didn’t even know Japan had a space agency until a few years ago…shame on me

Real stuff, like the fact that JAXA is an actual place! A friend of mine works there, so I actually had a chance to visit a few years back, although I don’t remember it having this cool pan-Asian vibe. This must be a different entrance, or else a different site entirely. Neat dragons, though.

I’m guessing it’s a rocket?

Now, THIS is what I remember. Functional white buildings galore with all kinds of rockets, etc. outside, always with handy explanations in English and Japanese. I can speak Japanese pretty easily, but my kanji reading is still atrocious–lucky they thought of guys like me!

Jellyfish can float around in space?

The coolest thing I saw was probably a model of this “Jupiter solar sail” which if I remember correctly had been largely developed and deployed by JAXA. I guess it actually uses solar wind to travel. Not that I really know what that means, except that the thing probably conserves fuel that way.

There was also some awesome stuff about NASA/JAXA collaborations and the International Space Station. The Station’s impending closure in the future is a big part of the Space Brothers’ continuity, which makes me wonder if the creator was inspired by real events.

Space curry…mmmm, good…I think?!

But onto lighter fare: Just like NASA wouldn’t be NASA without space ice-cream, JAXA absolutely MUST sell space curry, right? It’s a weird note to end on, but I yam what I yam, folks. Check out Space Brothers if you get a chance–It’ll make you wanna go to the moon. Again, that is.

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