“Lost in Space” is quite a generic theme for the sci-fi genre, but Kanata no Astra manages to stand out. Spanning 12 episodes, it is remarkable, how with its fun and thrilling space adventure on board the Astra spaceship, you get sucked in.
Kanata no Astra did not manage to garner the deserved attention in the summer of 2019 thanks to Vinland Saga, Fire Force, Kimetsu no Yaiba, Dr Stone and more. In no way does that mean or imply that Kanata no Astra is an inferior show. It is a hidden gem that must be foraged and relished.
1) Quick Answer
Per Aspera Ad Astra – ” through hardships to the stars “
Kanata no Astra’s strengths can be traced to its theme, characters and storyline. None of these factors are rushed and the writing takes a measured and slow approach to cementing and establishing all of them. Thus patience is the name of the game when watching this series. Fortunately, the anime only spans 12 episodes and it manages to do a magnificent job of consolidating its strengths and providing a well written and complete storyline in that time.
As mentioned earlier, the ‘lost in space’ theme is a familiar one. But Kanata no Astra’s treatment of this theme is what sets it apart. The anime manages to build an intricate storyline with multifaceted themes without making it too heavy for the audience. The writers have successfully created plot twists that are shocking enough to say ‘okay, just one more episode…’. These plot twists are executed at the right time and creep up on you quite subtly.
The storyline starts out quite innocuously. An unknown phenomenon causes an accident that leaves a group of students from Caird High School, stranded in space without adult supervision. The suggestion of ‘what if it wasn’t an accident but an attempt at murder’, makes you sit up and start paying closer attention. Kanata no Astra can boast about managing to hook its audience not just via its story and plot twists but also it’s setting.
Members of the Astra spaceship strategize their return home by making pit stops at 5 planets to replenish their limited resources. Thus, they explore some wildly interesting planets that suck the audience into the adventure too. The attention to detail while exploring these planets with their bizarre flora and fauna is what makes this seemingly innocent anime a gem. These planets made me catch myself fantasising about jumping on the trampoline tree or ride on Gruppies (saying goodbyes to the Gruppies was tough) on a different planet. Their travel back home was made up of episodic mental journeys too, besides just the bizarre and fantastic worlds the characters explored.
The writers somehow managed to ensure there was enough room for the overarching storyline, depth to each character and a true space adventure without compromising on the substance needed to complete each one of those facets.
One of the turning points for Kanata no Astra is its characters and their susceptibility to anime character tropes. There is the oblivious yet optimistic leader Kanata, stoic and intelligent Zack (who happens to be bespectacled), sharp-tongued diva Quitterie, compassionate klutz Aries, eccentric prince charming Charce( he is an actual prince ), timid and insecure Yunhua, laid back and funny Luca, mysterious and quiet Ulgar and the sweet emotional Funi. The graph of their development is almost insane but not unnatural especially considering they are in the midst of an unintentional space adventure.
The anime manages to make these one-dimensional characters gain depth through the crisis and forcing them to overcome their personal issues. As the distance between them grows smaller, the characters begin to seem more human. The anime allows us to see the vulnerability of these characters and the strength they gather to overcome their problems together. This is what makes their connection so impactful.
The writing doesn’t become centric to one character at any point. Captain Kanata tends to everyone’s feelings and needs equally, evoking the cliched but true idea that every member of any team is special in their own way. It introduces us to the trauma and motives of every character and allows time for empathy. Within a short span of time, it is wondrous to see the characters burst out of their cocoons and leave their pasts in the distance.
The important themes touched upon in the anime is identity and family. The link that connects them is quite evident by the fact that these characters were forced by circumstance to adopt an identity and were never accepted by their families. The anime quite boldly addresses important issues such as the treatment of intersexes, emotional abuse and neglect. Their families never allowed them to become individuals and it is this journey that allows them to create an identity of their own along with the courage to chase what they want just like the rest of us.
By the end, the anime shows a bunch of kids who have grown up and made quite a lot of decisions on their own to reach their goals. The anime does not spoon-feed character development to the audience and merely traces a significant turning point for these characters and how it affects each one of them. Luca is a great example of this. It is revealed in the anime that Luca is an individual who is biologically both male and female. Luca seems to be quite mature and calmly acknowledges that he was not okay at first but realizes that there is no point in fretting over things one has no control over. During the journey, Luca claims to identify as a male yet in the seven-year time skip, Luca dresses up more like a girl would conventionally. Luca is a great example of how this anime shows the growth of an individual and the art of self-realisation.
The anime embodies the thought that blood is not a prerequisite for being family. Love, care and a strong sense of compassion create a family. It is the choice to support, forgive and trust a person throughout their hardships that truly bond people. Thus, the space adventure created a family in the true sense of it. A significant line in the anime goes ‘We have to look at the world with our own eyes, minds and doubts’. As their spaceship motto says “Per Aspera Ad Astra” – overcome hardships to reach what’s beyond. Despite their trauma and hardships, the characters choose to move forward in life.
Therefore, Kanata no Astra is a thrilling and emotionally driven anime with a satisfying ending.