By Dave Roman
Hakata Soy’s past life as the leader of a futuristic super team won¹t stay in the past!
The former space hero is doing his best to keep his head down at Astronaut Academy. Things aren¹t going so great, though. The most popular girl in school has it in for him. His best friend won’t return his calls. And his new roommate is a complete jock who only cares about Fireball.
Hakata just wants to make a fresh start. But how will he find time to study Anti-Gravity Gymnastics and Tactical Randomness when he¹s got a robot doppelganger on its way to kill him?
The basic concept of Astronaut Academy really appealed. The plot blurb really filled me with hope, a concept that seemed funky and charming at the same time, and on quick inspection a look of a junior Bryan Lee O’Malley. Could this really be an all-ages Scott Pilgrim in space?
Well, for a while, it seemed that it might just pull it off. It started off full of quirky fun, introducing the cast in a fast and furious, episodic manner (some of which undoubtedly comes from its webcomic origins). Underneath an impossibly shiny, metallic cover we get a fantastically overblown introduction to the academy from its ridiculously over the top principal (just do your own zany, faux-serious voice-over and it works a treat):
So very quickly we get to meet hero of the piece Hakata Soy, and all the other attendees of this school in space, each one snappily and quickly introduced before the focus moves on to someone else, something else.
And after a while I found myself wondering when the snappy episodic feel would develop into something a little more enjoyable.
What was initially merely charming, a nice, quick way to deliver introductions, just seemed to linger too long, and I found I was losing interest. And I really hated myself for it.
Because I really, really wanted Astronaut Academy to work for me. I had such high hopes for it. But there’s something not right with Astronaut Academy and it’s all to do with the pacing and the dialogue.
Roman has structured it as a series of vignettes, which as I said, work really well to introduce the large cast, but don’t work anywhere near as well in developing the cast once we’ve met them. Instead of creating a multifaceted structure of small tales building up to one cohesive whole, it merely breaks the book down too much. It’s all stop/start stop/start, the rhythm is off all the way through. I do understand that there are definitely times Roman’s going for the weird feel in his pacing, but it’s like he’s had an idea, a theme, a funny gag, but just can’t stop.
After a while it just starts to feel discordant, a song that just feels on the verge of real pop greatness but lacks the certain something to take it from Danni to Kylie. Likewise the dialogue has a habit of coming off as clunky, without real warmth, merely a means to pass on the latest chunk of information about the latest student on display.
Whether this doesn’t work for me because I’m too old for it and can’t truly appreciate the way it will speak to younger children around the nine to early teen age or because it’s just not as well put together as it could have been I’m not sure. Time will tell really, as the children in the school will have a chance with it when it gets added to the library.
By the time it does settle down, and the overarching storylines come to the fore, it was a little too late for me. However, looking at some of the good stuff that did make me smile…. I loved some of the knowing references he threw in; the Voltron doppelganger, the heart storage devices straight out of video game extra life icons, the weird and wonderful lessons – all great. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do the Tactical randomness workshop:
It’s full of gentle weirdness like that, and I have a feeling that the children will appreciate it a lot more than I did, will ignore the clunky pacing and just settle down with the quirky storylines and characters. The artwork will go over really well with them as well, it’s got that Bryan Lee O’Malley US Manga style. Manga very much with any rough edges removed. This is big and bold stuff, rounded, satisfying.
But it looks better than it reads. A disappointment, but part of that surely comes from my expectations for it being just that little too high?
You can find out for yourselves though – the Astronaut Academy webcomic is online and available to read as Astronaut Elementary, a slightly rawer form – tones have been added for this collection, and certain of the narrative sequences lengthened.