Science fiction has long been a mainstay of the anime and manga industries, with the number of tales that have some relationship to it running into the hundreds. It’s surprising then, that such a well established and lucrative genre is still lacking in certain departments.
Consider for a moment the titles that you know to be science fiction, or that have used the genre in some manner (Aria is probably the best example of the latter). Many of those that might immediately spring to mind will probably fall into the category of popular modern science fiction. Now there’s no problem with this, as it’s something that’s very much in keeping with the changing face of technology, however one can’t help but wonder if sci-fi anime and manga has hit a wall, especially as most of the titles released over the last few years are simply variations on a theme.
The question is, where has all the curiosity gone? At one time science fiction didn’t simply tell you a story, but took you on a journey to realms unknown. There were travels to distant stars and planets, first contacts with strange, wonderful, and sometimes terrible lifeforms, utopian societies, dystopian futures, lessons to learn about oneself and humanity, and more besides. Unfortunately that type of sci-fi is slowly disappearing in anime and manga as the industries are more focused on delivering explosions, flashy visuals and skin-tight outfits than they are on delivering tales to make you stop and think.
There may be a ray of hope for fans of science fiction in the classical style though (and by that I mean Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne, Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, E.E. “Doc” Smith, etc), and it comes in the form of mangaka Hoshino Yukinobu.
Now some of you may be familiar with the name as the author responsible for 2001 nights, a sci-fi manga that payed homage to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the story collection 1001 Nights (better known as The Arabian Nights). Parts of that series were adapted for anime in 1987 as Space Fantasia 2001 Nights, with a second adaptation of two chapters produced in 2009 under the name TO.
But we’re not here to talk about that.
Stadust Memories is a collection of 13 short stories that ran from 1995 to 2003 and, like a number of Hoshino’s other works, draws inspiration from classic Western science fiction tales. The only problem is that audiences these days aren’t as receptive to entertainment that makes you think (as the success of Twilight has proven).
Now given that this is a series of individual narratives one could rightly argue that there would be little in the way of actual plot development, so it’s to the mangaka’s credit that the majority of stories have a well thought out, imaginative premise. Each is crafted in a specific manner in order to convey quite a broad range of perspectives and ideologies, all of which adds to the sense that one is not so much reading a story, but is instead gaining a brief glimpse into a possible future.
That said, there is an element of preaching about the manga which, strangely enough, actually has a lot in common with classic sci-fi, and although many of the tales are simple enough affairs, some can become overly moralistic. It should be pointed out though, that while this can sometimes be intrusive to one’s enjoyment of the stories, more people will be put off by the unusually Western art style more than anything else.
That’s right. Stardust Memories doesn’t just read like a classic sci-fi, it looks like one too.
In terms of looks the manga is a strange mixture of interesting scenery, contrasting visuals, unusual creatures and imaginative spaceships. The characters are designed in a stylized Western manner that would normally grace the pages of a 1950’s comic, but unlike those there is a greater degree of expression thanks to Hoshino’s usage of more simplistic manga techniques. This combination of East and West is unusual as it can often be difficult to not only visualise characters, objects and scenery, but also to implement their creation. In all honesty very few mangaka make the attempt as it requires not so much the application of different techniques, but different thought processes, and this is one of the reasons why Hoshino has become so respected in science fiction manga circles.
Which brings up one small problem. Because this is simply a collection of short stories there is very little one could consider character development, a factor which may dissuade those who consider this an essential part of any story from giving Stardust Memories a try. There is another side to this coin though, as while that aspect may be lacking, the manga more than makes up for it by offering the reader something very different to the norm – a perspective on the human condition.
Each narrative is designed to ask certain questions not only of the characters, but also of the person reading the story. Granted these are simplistic, open to interpretation, and sometimes completely outlandish, but for the most part they tend to work fairly well along side the moralistic tone of the series.
Now I will be honest and admit that I quite enjoyed Stardust Memories, but then again I’m quite partial to classic sci-fi so I found many of the stories possessed a degree of familiarity. This may not be the case for the majority of people though, as the series isn’t easy to read, especially as it’s effectively a throwback to the science fiction of days gone by. That said, if you’re looking for something different to the norm, or if you want something with more science and less fiction, then it wouldn’t hurt to give this a try as it can be a very rewarding experience.
It’s just unfortunate that both the anime and manga industries now view sci-fi as nothing more than a cash cow, and because of that much of the creativity and imagination that gave us original titles like Uchuu Senkan Yamato, Macross, Gundam, Patlabor, Ulysses 31, and even Top wo Nerae, is slowly being replaced by stories that will sell merchandise.