REVIEW: Asadora! Vol. 1 Depicts a Vibrant Past… and an Already-Dated Future?

Asadora!, the latest ongoing manga by Naoki Urasawa, begun publication in the seinen magazine Weekly Big Comic Spirits in October 2018. At the time, the manga's first five pages, taking place in the year 2020, were set in "the future." Reading those first few pages in English for the first time in 2021 naturally plays very differently.

Urasawa did manage to predict there would be a major disaster threatening the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, though his fictional threat is decidedly more Godzilla-esque. Obviously, we're in science fiction alternate reality territory here, but the thought of reading about last year as imagined a little over two years ago still feels like a recipe for awkwardness.

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Luckily readers can put off those concerns for the rest of Asadora!'s 208-page first volume, since the rest of the action shifts to 1959, five years before Tokyo's last Olympics and during one of the most devastating typhoon seasons on record. The story promises to follow its main character, the "nameless girl" Asa Asada, "from the postwar years to the present day." While it will be curious to see how the passing years affect plans for the "present" part of the story, the period piece focus of this first volume is beautifully realized.

Asa is one of 11 kids in her family, and her mom's about to have another. She hates her name, feeling as if her parents chose it out of laziness (it means "morning" and she was born in the morning), and feels as if her family wouldn't even notice if she was gone. When she catches a suspicious-looking man committing a burglary, she ends up a kidnapping victim.

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Fortunately, Asa is clever, and her kidnapper, Haruo Kasuga, is so pathetic he becomes endearing. She successfully talks him into bringing her home, and his tragic stories about serving as a pilot in the war earn her respect. There's something Miyazaki-esque in the portrayal of the war, community resilience and the wonders of flight; there are shades of Marco and Fio from Porco Rosso in the character dynamic. The more comical aspects of Haruo's portrayal are also somewhat reminiscent of Iyami, the Osomatsu foil Urasawa previously made a character in Mujirushi.

As a piece of historical fiction, Asadora! is so convincing that it's almost a surprise once the science fiction elements pop up again in the last two pages of the book. It's certainly a great hook for the series, and while we're not sure where it's going to go or how the "present-day" aspects will pay off, anyone who's enjoyed Urasawa's previous work should check this series out.

Asadora! Vol. 1 is available from Viz Media on January 19.

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