One of my colleagues at KAORI loves to retell what his physics teacher used to say about stargazing. There is something romantic about stargazing, so the explanation goes, for humans are actually looking at and admiring the light of stars from millions of light years away, which might have been long gone before their light even reaches the Earth. The gap in being only able to see what the stars are like long ago and not what they are now because of the vast distance of space becomes an emotional story to tell. And it feels relevant to think about this memory in regards to the winter 2020 anime Asteroid in Love.
Asteroid in Love (Koisuru Asteroid) in an anime adaptation of a four-panel (yonkoma) manga series of the same name by Quro that is serialized in a yonkoma manga magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat. The series features the earth sciences club of Hoshizaki High School, created from merging the school’s astronomy club and geology club because of their lack of members. The main characters, Mira Konohata and Ao Manaka, are aiming to fulfill a childhood promise to discover an asteroid together so they can name it after Ao (Mira herself already shares her name with a celestial body). The club also include club president Mari Morino who was in the astronomy club, and vice president Mikage Sakurai and second-year Mai Inose, both of whom were in the geology club.
With its cast of school girl characters and the school club setting, the series seems fitting to be seen as a kuuki-kei or nichijou-kei work. Kuuki-kei and nichijou-kei are a couple of terms that have come to denote a type of narrative mainly featuring daily school life with cute girl (bishoujo) characters, and often originates from yonkoma manga (Tanaka, 2014). The Manga Time Kirara family of magazines themselves are known as sources of some of the most notable kuuki-kei titles such as Hidamari Sketch and K-On!.
But let’s take a deeper look. A key feature of kuuki-kei narrative, as Tanaka (2014) explains, is a lack of serious conflicts or complex problems, instead consisting mainly of rambling conversations between the characters about superficial subjects. That typical characteristic can be exemplified with the well-known skit from the first episode of Lucky Star anime where the characters discuss how to eat a pastry called choco coronet (ibid.).
Moe characters are the focus of kuuki-kei works, and as blautoothdmand (2017) elaborated, the trivial characteristic of the situations happening in kuuki-kei works allows for the distinct traits of the characters and chemistry in their interactions to be explored and developed by way of the characters’ responses to the given everyday situation. Returning to Lucky Star’s choco coronet situation, for example, how the characters Konata and Tsukasa interpret the shape of the pastry and how they react to each other’s opinions allow the audience to feel familiar with the traits of and relationship dynamics between those characters.
To some extent, such characteristic does present in the character interactions in Asteroid in Love. However, the series also features some conflict that seem to be more serious than what is described to be typical of kuuki-kei, such as characters making difficult and even risky decisions with the direction of their lives, even if those conflicts are not drawn out too long and resolve without too much complications.
But another point that I’d like to focus more here, though, is that the subject matter of the characters’ chatter in Asteroid in Love can be more substantial than what have been described about the genre. They involve pretty serious discussions on astronomy, geology, or geography, even if kuuki-kei mode of storytelling can still be at play with the characters going off on a tangent every now and then while discussing these topics in accordance to the conversing characters’ traits.
Details such as the night sky or equipment are also presented with accurate precision, and the series even cooperates with institutions such as Japan’s aerospace agency (JAXA) and astronomy publisher AstroArts. Such detail can be considered still within the standards of kuuki-kei works, of course, which often combines idealistic girls’ relationships with realistic setting materials (Tanaka, 2014). But overall, viewers can take more from the show than just enjoying the characters’ relationships, but also some ideas and concepts from those sciences.
But more than just communicating the sciences to the viewers, the series actually also dwells in how the main characters communicate information or knowledge about these sciences with other people in the story itself. The characters are, of course, not scientists by profession; they are just school students who have passionate interest in learning about things that are the subjects of study of certain sciences. But even as enthusiasts, the issue of communicating what they have learned about their interests to various audience who do not have as much specific interest in those subjects as they are, also becomes their concern at various points.
The culture festival that takes place midway through the anime is one situation where the club shares the subjects of the club’s activities to the public, and they settle on setting up a themed cafe to make it attractive but still informative. The club make use of this set up to not only present conventional exhibition materials such as pictures, solar system model, and boring core sample of the school grounds’ soil as cafe decoration, but they also serve themed foods that can illustrate certain objects and concepts through metaphors that give a sensual sense of what those things are (Krulwich, 2008), such as using layered sweets to simulate how the experiment of boring through soil for stratum sample works, which goes along with the core sample exhibit.
In another episode, the club is requested to organize a stargazing activity with little children. One of the children, however, is not enthusiastic with looking at what she says just “twinkling dots” in the sky. Ao then approaches the child, eventually drawing her interest when she explains that looking at the planets and stars is like a time machine, because of the time needed for their light to reach the Earth through the vast distance of space. This is a similar narrative to what my friend’s teacher has ro tell as recounted in this piece’s opening. These storytelling practices give personality to the objects of observation, creating emotional connection towards those objects. Another notable use of storytelling is in episode 2 when Mira uses her drawing school to make a comic that introduces spring constellations for the club’s bulletin.
And in this series, the issue of communicating science does not only occur with people outside of the club, but also occur among themselves because of their differing subjects of interest. Early on in a riverside outing in the second episode, Mikage gets to explain about different types of rocks to the first-year members who take part in observing the rocks there. Since the new members’ primary interest is astronomy, she takes that into consideration and adjust her explanation so as not to be too complicated for newbies. In a comedic punchline, though, Mira ends up straying away from her explanation of hachimaki stone to draw a face under the headband (hachimaki)-like stripe on the stone.
Of course, as that and some other situations illustrate, communication is not perfect, just like it does in real life (Krulwich, 2008). Not everything conveyed could just be understood right away. But what the series emphasizes more is arguably on making the process of knowing itself interesting. This is best summed up when Mikage and Inose are boring the core sample from the school grounds for culture festival, the manager of the baseball club that lends them help, who is in the same class as Mikage, comments that she actually doesn’t quite understand what Mikage is doing, but nevertheless, she thinks it’s something fun/interesting (yoku wakaranai kedo omoshiroi ne). Even if the girls’ audience’s understanding is not perfect, they still can remember that what the girls’ are interested in can be enjoyable, and it can open them to want to know some more.
Another interesting point is that the series actually also address the value of failure and negative results in research. In terms of knowledge-building, research that produce negative results or fail to prove a hypothesis are still valuable, because other research can still learn from the outcome and the process to think of other ways to approach the problem. Publishing negative results is like saying, “we tried this, but it didn’t work, so maybe we or other researchers can try something else next time.” In the final episodes, Mira and Ao finally get a chance to participate in a program to look for new asteroid. They don’t make the discovery in the end, but they don’t feel regret for participating because from the experience they now know what a real asteroid hunting is like, and they feel content that the report of their observations would still be useful data for other astronomers who would do similar observations in the future. While prior to that, Mikage’s problem when preparing the culture festival is that she initially feels reluctant to confront the possibility of the boring sampling failing and wanted to avoid doing it altogether until her friends and teacher talked her out of it.
Those two moments are interesting to think about, because there is a concern, you see, that despite their value in the process of knowledge-building, negative results are not getting sufficient appreciation and that many researchers are reluctant to publish negative result because positive results are seen to have more visible impact (and attract more funding) (Matosin, et al., 2014). It feels encouraging that Asteroid in Love can make it matter to recognize and communicate the value of failures in research by having the characters come into terms with those situations rather than avoid failure.
With all these in mind, I think Asteroid in Love can be a pretty inspiring series to think about how ideas and principles from science can circulate in the popular realm, by making them matter to characters whom the audience can care for with their charming enthusiasm and aspirations, and their lovely relationships.
Facts and Figures
|Alternative Title||Koisuru Asteroid|
|Source material||Manga by Quro|
|Casts||Lynn as Yuki Endou
Mai Fuchigami as Misa Konohata
Maria Sashide as Mai Inose
Megumi Yamaguchi as Ao Manaka
Nao Tōyama as Mikage Sakurai
Reina Ueda as Moe Suzuya
Sumire Uesaka as Mari Morino
Tomoyo Takayanagi as Mira Konohata
|Director||Daisuke Hiramaki (WATATEN!)|
|Scenario||Yuka Yamada (WATATEN!)|
|Character Design||Jun Yamazaki|
|Opening Song||“Aruite Ikou!” by Nao Touyama|
|Ending Song||“Yozora” by Minori Suzuki|
|Broadcast Date||3 January 2020 (11130 GMT, 1830 WIT, 2030 JST)|
- Tanaka Motoko. “Trends of Fiction in 2000s Japanese Pop Culture.” Electronic journal of contemporary Japanese studies Vol. 14, issue 2 (2014): http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/ejcjs/vol14/iss2/index.html.
- blautoothdmand. “The Appeal of Slice of Life.” The Artifice (2017): https://the-artifice.com/slice-of-life-anime/
- Krulwich, Robert. “Tell me a story.” Engineering and Science Volume 71, Number 3 (Fall 2008): 10-16.
- Matosin, Natalie et al. “Negativity towards negative results: a discussion of the disconnect between scientific worth and scientific culture.” Disease models & mechanisms vol. 7,2 (2014): 171-173. doi: 10.1242/dmm.015123.
The Indonesian Anime Times | Written by Halimun Muhammad | This opinion is the personal views of the author and does not represent the views and editorial policy of The Indonesian Times or KAORI Nusantara