Nov 11, 2023
"Yuugeki Uchuu Senkan Nadesico" is ostensibly an "adaptation" of "Kidou Senkan Nadesico" to manga, which was published concurrently with said anime. However, beyond the facts of its synopsis, it actually offers a significantly different experience, one that rarely makes it stand on its own. Gone is most of the meta commentary, most of the humor, and most of the story one may be familiar with from the show. So what is the hook?
Interestingly enough, the focus of the manga is on the main characters' -Akito and Yurika- relationship and specifically Akito's character growth. In the anime, these parts mostly seemed played for laughs or to
bring the story back on track when necessary, and always felt underdeveloped for lasting dramatic impact. The manga presents them in a much darker and brooding perspective.
The actual story of the manga is relatively the same as the show in the first volume -as much as one might expect from an adaptation- aside from a few new characters and plot points. These new elements come to gain importance in the following volumes and end up taking the story in a different direction albeit with some similar beats. The "new" story is serviceable, but without the meta commentary or jokes it loses a lot of appeal. At times, it looks like "Yuugeki Uchuu Senkan Nadesico" might do for manga what "Kidou Senkan Nadesico" did for anime, but that path was left unexplored. Akito is just a kid that needs to grow up, and manga and anime happen to represent part of that childhood.
The most glaring failings of the manga actually come from its links to the source material. Most of the characters were brought over but a lot of them have very little to do. Some (like Megumi and Jun) become background characters, which is fine, but others should have been dropped altogether. The way Izumi Maki is shoehorned in is particularly egregious: the character only has two lines yet gets chided by the others for making jokes, a fact that would only make sense to viewers of the show.
The other issue is the shift in tone and plot due to the first volume being so close to the anime. This can give the reader a lot of preconceived ideas about what is going on, which leads to confusion later on. The story does not really come into its own until half-way through and the manga sets an identity for itself. However, an exercise for the reader might be to try to frame this adventure into a follow-up to the anime. Certainly an unconventional way to appreciate the writing, but it underlines that the universe described in the manga is compelling enough to be added to the one from the anime.
An other appealing part is the art. It has roots in the anime, but pretty much forgoes the direction the "Kidou Senkan Nadesico: The Prince of Darkness" motion picture took, which a much less "slick and cool" style. Most of the character designs fit well into this esthetic (see the cover art) but there is sadly an homogeneity in some of the way they look that leads to confusion later on. The battle scenes are similarly hard to decipher at times, but some of the blame can be laid on the invasive onomatopoeia of the English-translated edition.
Overall, there is enjoyment to be found here, but this is nowhere near a must-read, and hard to discuss outside its relationship with the show. Paradoxically the more "mature" tone may make this version of the universe less appealing to older readers, since being hard to take seriously was part of the anime's appeal. The manga may give more appreciation (and clarification) of Akito's part when watching the anime, and more weight to his relationship with Yurika. My favorite part early on was the (now obscure) shout-out to 1980's Japanese pop music, and how it was fitted into the "lore". Something that would not be out of place in the anime.
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