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The twelve years between the original publication of the Rocket Girls novel [1] and the adaptation into the anime forced some interesting adjustments to the storyline, and introduced an avoidable error to an otherwise enjoyable series.

NB: There will be some spoilers ahead.

The Premise

Much as you’d expect this is Rocket Girls and Rocket Girls: The Last Planet [2] adapted and compressed into a 12 episode anime. So it runs from Yukari’s arrival in the Solomon Islands to her flight with Akane, with an epilogue indicating that this is becoming a regular event.

The Questionable

The treatment of the Solomon Islanders is as questionable in the anime as it is in the books. The supernatural elements are possibly reinforced by having Yukari rely on a lucky charm on Matsuri’s advice.

Finally the treatment of poor Akane in episode 9 Kick Motor is more than a bit dodgy [3].

The Ewww…

Thankfully several of the disturbing elements from the books didn’t make it into the anime. However there are some new ones as well in the form of fanservice resulting from the skintight spacesuits.

There is also some fairly obvious, and slightly creepy, male gaze from the ground crew towards the Rocket Girls [4].

There are some shoutouts to these aspects in the anime, particularly with one journalist persistently asking the astronauts about whether they have boyfriends.

The Shout Outs…

When I reviewed the first novel I mentioned the shout out to Deke Slayton being sidelined with a heart condition. In the anime this becomes a major motivation for Yukari, and also Matsuri, in episode 3.

There is a sequence in episode 3 Launch Pad where Kinoshita has caught Yukari trying to eat her way out of the capsule but doesn’t get angry. His softly spoken memory of watching the Apollo 11 landing, and the gentle way that Satsuki told him about his arrhythmia, is beautifully done.

In the anime this is the moment when Kinoshita passes his torch to Yukari, when Yukari accepts The Dream [5].

Not only does this reinforce the Deke Slayton shout out, it adds an Apollo Program shoutout to the mix as well, one that is reinforced later.

The Revisions

The adaptation to the anime occurred some 12 years after the first novel was published. In the interim a number of changes occurred that had to be (or should have been) accounted for in the storyline.

The biggest of these changes was Mir, or rather the absence of Mir. In the novel the comedy of errors that was Yukari’s first flight involved a visit to Mir, and this had to be written out of the anime. There was a shoutout to the Russians left in, but that was it.

A change that should have been made was to properly allow for Technology Marches On. The final part of the 2nd flight depends on the absence of any way to record/display a list of numbers beyond writing them down on a piece of paper.  Given that the anime was made in the year that the first iPhone was released, and in a series that stressed repeatedly how high tech the capsules were, this is stretching it.

It also depends on the communications blackout during re-entry, which is now something of a myth [6].

Letting Yukari have the numbers and achieve a successful re-entry by skill rather than by luck would have been a much more satisfying ending for me.

Another change was to sharply reduce the number of flights. The anime merges Yukari’s first flight with the ending of her fourth flight, and this is to accelerate Akane’s introduction. This was a necessary decision to fit the story into 12 episodes, but having the additional flights under her belt made Yukari’s leadership of Akane a lot easier to believe.

Not all the revisions were bad – I mentioned Kinoshita’s scene above – and toning down Yukari’s aggression towards the Atlantis crew was a wise choice [7].

The Versions I Wish Existed.

One of the extras on the DVDs is a pilot film featuring much sharper character designs.

Oh how I wish this version had been made. I may edit this post later to include some comparisons, but in the meantime click on the link and weep for what might have been.

Whilst I’m wishing for versions that don’t exist, I may as well put one in for translations of the third and fourth novels: Fly to the Moon with Me and Rendezvous with the Witch. I would settle for fan translations but so far as I know there aren’t any.

The Good

I encountered the anime of Rocket Girls first, and I still enjoy it. Yes, there are a number of flaws, and I’m not about to cover those up.

Despite this Rocket Girls is just a whole lot of fun to watch.

Yukari is a gutsy, tough-minded, young lady who is easy to admire and sympathise with.

For all the unfortunate implications Matsuri has her moments of deep loyalty, and Akane’s determination to succeed is worth cheering for.

The Summary

By now it should be fairly obvious that I am a big fan of the Rocket Girls franchise. This is a franchise that does not pretend to be more than light entertainment, but  is determined to be good light entertainment.

In that aim it succeeds admirably with, on balance, better science  than many SF novels. Recommended, and one that I’ll be rewatching every so often as time goes by.

I’ll wrap up with the exuberant opening credits, and the rather sweet closing credits.

Opening:

Closing:



[1] Apparently (Wikipedia) the original title was High School Girl, Lift Off!


[2] The original title for the second novel was Angels Well That Ends Well. (Same source)


[3] It may be necessary, but it is still a bit dodgy.


[4] Although these are very minor characters, and it is worth noting that the main characters in the SSA seem to completely ignore that aspect of the Rocket Girls.


[5] Not that Yukari admits to holding The Dream, not even to herself, just yet. In fact Yukari doesn’t admit it to herself until well after Akane arrives on the scene and Matsuri still has to be the one to point this out.


[6] It was true for Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, but communication satellites transmitting down to the reentering vehicle can basically avoid it. To be fair this was probably a fault in the novels as well.


[7] Much like toning down Fatora in the El Hazzard The Magnificent World dub was a wise choice.