iya_logoThis year, 2009, has been proclaimed the International Year of Astronomy.  Four hundred years ago, Galileo Galilei first put a telescope to the sky and made many discoveries, including four of the moons of Jupiter; Io Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.  Stars and the planets have held people’s fascination for eons, as they appear in songs, art and books.  Even manga has taken notice of the heavenly bodies.  Whether it’s the stars and the constellations, the planets, or just observing them, manga covers them all in fun and imaginative ways.

saint-seiya-1One of the most well known manga that has to do with astronomy is Saint Seiya.  First published in the 80s, this title features many of the constellations, including Pegasus, Cygnus the Swan also know as the Northern Cross, Andromeda, Draco the Dragon, the Phoenix and the entire Greek zodiac, among others.  The characters wear armor that are connected with the constellations and use a power called Cosmo to fight.  Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, a girl’s manga from the early 90s uses the planets instead of stars for the characters powers.  Known as Sailor Scouts, the girls of this series call upon the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter to give them their power.  Scouts for the outer planets, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto join the series in later volumes, but the inner planets are always the core.

Hero Tales and Fist of the North Star both use the same constellation, the Big Dipper, as the basis for their stories.  In Hero Tales, the seven starts of the Big Dipper represents the Two Noble Spirits and the Five Divine Warriors.  The hero, Taitou represents the star at the tip of the handle, Alkaid and his adversary, Keiro is Merak, at the opposite end of the constellation.  The Five Divne Warriors are the rest of the constellation.  Each star burns brighter when that warrior is using his power, or has the upper hand.  Fist of the North Star is less involved with the actual constellation.  Kenshiro is the 64th successor to the assissin’s art Hokuto Shinken, and has the constellation of the Big Dipper scarred into his chest.

From the Big Dipper’s star Alkaid you can find the star Spica.  It is one of the brightest stars in the sky, and is actually two stars that revolve around each other.  The manga series Twin Spica takes it’s name from this star.  It’s about a group of high school students who are training to become astronauts at the Tokyo Space Academy in the near future.  The use of the Spica binary system has some relevance to the title’s theme of friendship.

While not a full series that is based on the stars, constellations or heavenly bodies, the manga Kindaichi Case Files had one story where the Southern Cross constellation was the key to solving the mystery.  In volume 14, The Gentleman Thief, a painting that includes the constellation gives Kindaichi the clue he needs to solve the mystery not just of a stolen painting, but of several murder that happen on a famous artist’s estate.

To help you find all these stars and learn more about astronomy in general, check out Sora no Manimani.  The story is about Saku Oyagi, who moves back to his home town after being gone for several years.  Going to High School, he is reunited with Mihoshi Akeno, his childhood friend who is crazy about astronomy and is trying to start up a club at school.  As well as high school hi-jinx and drama, this manga talks a lot about astronomy, and the issues associated with it such as light pollution.  The manga was just given an anime series that aired this year, which is part of Japan’s celebration of IYA.

You can check out Saint Seiya from Viz.  The series is almost complete with volume 27 of 28 coming out soon.  Sailor Moon and Kindaichi Case Files are out of print from publisher Tokyopop, but volumes can be found around the net, though Kindaichi will probably be easier to find than Sailor MoonFist of the North Star was never completely published in english, though stray volumes of Gutsoon!’s editions can still be found.  Hero Tales just started serialization in Yen Plus magazine from Yen Press, with the first volume set to come out next month.  Twin Spica was just licensed by Vertical, so watch for volumes to come out starting next year.  Sora no Manimani hasn’t been licensed yet, but hopefully it will.

So take some time, after reading some of these titles, to go outside, find a place lay down and just watch the sky.  With all our everyday problems that see so big pressing, it doesn’t hurt to take some time and wallow in some child-like wonder that only the vastness of the universe can provide.

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