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IMG_0104Despite liking it a lot I noticed that I don’t have reviews of either the Rocket Girls anime, or the two translated light novels by Hōsuke Nojiri. I feel it is time to correct this lack, especially as I am currently a) sick and b) bored.

The Premise

In all versions the basic premise is the same: a Japanese financed Solomon Space Agency (SSA) is attempting Japan’s first manned launch from the Solomon Islands. The political cover for this is the promise to provide a dedicated communications satellite for education etc. to the Soloman Islands.

The rationale for a manned launch is to provide a light, re-usable, capsule that can be used to service satellites in orbit.

The SSA has one proven rocket that is not large enough for a full size astronaut, and a larger rocket that keeps blowing up. The smaller rocket can probably handle an astronaut weighing, oh, maybe 40kg.

Enter 16 year old Yukari Morita who arrives in the Solomon Islands searching for her deadbeat dad who wandered off during the honeymoon 17 years ago.

Hilarity and hijinks ensue that bring Yukari and the SSA together where it is quickly noted that Yukari is a) healthy b) weighs only 38kgs and c) can be bribed/blackmailed into signing up as an astronaut in return for help finding her father.

The Questionable

The set up of the SSA seems a touch too… colonial for my liking.  I haven’t really unpacked this but it does make me nervous, as does the general portrayal of the Solomon Islanders.

There is also a casual acceptance of the supernatural [1] that I find questionable, and it is a bete noir of mine in many anime.  Unless the pairing of supernatural and science is as rigorously thought out as Key the Metal Idol, or as integral to the story as Silent Mobius, I will ask why is it necessary? As it happens, Planetes is the anime that shows why it isn’t necessary [2].

But I digress.

The point here is that having tribal curses be the reason for the larger rockets blowing up [3] is dubious at best, and plays into the unfortunate implications of the set up at worst.

The other concern is that I’m not certain how realistic sub-40 kg weights for 16 year old girls are, or of the possible body image issues that might arise from that being presented as perfect health. I simply don’t know enough here.

The Ewww…

There are a couple of places, including a live press conference [4], where the book goes into rather more information than I was really comfortable with [5].

On the one hand I appreciate the attention to working out the logistics.

On the other hand these were the places where I was keenly aware that the author was a male writing about female anatomy that he may not understand as well as he understands space technology. See the footnotes for more information.

The Shout Outs

There are far too many shout outs to the real space programs in this novel to count. The ones that jumped out at me on this reading were:

  • The early Mercury boosters (the Redstones IIRC) always blowing up;
  • Deke Slayton being sidelined with a heart condition;
  • Alan Shepard’s “Light the Damn Candle” moment in the Freedom 7; and
  • John Glenn’s heat shield problems in the Friendship 7;
  • A general salute (sort of) to the Russian space program and Mir (again, sort of); and
  • A general salute (sort of) the shuttle program.

Mr Nojiri clearly knows his stuff, and I had to look up at least one of those [6]. This does make me wonder: how many more shout outs are there that I missed?

The Good

Despite the problems Rocket Girls is an engaging, and fun read. For a long time fan of the space age, the shout outs simply added to the fun.

The physics, when the evil spirits aren’t meddling, is reasonably good, and the unobtainium is kept to a minimum [7].

The translation by Joseph Reeder is excellent and preserves the best of the often black humour running through the novel. Possibly my favourite quote from the translation is just after Yukari has been tossed out of a helicopter with a parachute:

From a distance, lush green foliage looks soft and welcoming

It isn’t.

Poor Yukari, that had to hurt.

The Summary

Rocket Girls is great fun to read and I recommend picking it up. There are, as you’d expect, substantial variations between the books and the anime but I’ll wait for the anime review before I comment on those.

[1] Literally the “evil spirits” of the Solomon Islanders in the books, and also a good luck charm owned by Yukari in the anime.

[2] Incidentally Planetes is a candidate for a 30 days series next year.

[3] The curses are also the reason for [SPOILERS]. What, did you actually expect me to tell you what goes wrong?

[4] ROT-13: Lhxnev vf nfxrq “Jung qb lbh qb vs lbh trg lbhe crevbq va fcnpr?” naq “Jbhyq lbh pngrtbevfr lbhe zrafgehny cnva nf frirer?”. Erzrzore gung guvf vf ng n yvir cerff pbasrerapr…

[5] ROT-13: Pbafvqre gur arprffnel syvtug cercnengvbaf sbe n fxva gvtug fcnpr fhvg jvgu ab fbyvq jnfgr qvfcbfny snpvyvgvrf. Gunaxshyyl vg jnf n bar yvare gung qvqa’g tb vagb gbb zhpu qrgnvy…

[6] I had to look up Deke Slayton, for some reason my faulty memory of The Right Stuff had Wally Schirra as the Mercury Seven pilot with the heart condition.

[7] I’m classifying the skin tight suits as logical projections, but the solid fuel described is quite probably unobtainium.