“Men In Space” – Saturn Apartments (manga) – 10/10 Desks

The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in. ~ Robert Heinlein

Mangaka: Hisae Iwaoka

Genre: Drama/Sci=fi/Slice-of-Life

Review Status: Incomplete (3 Volumes/? Volumes)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US by Viz Media.

Art: It has a more light hand to it, with a few more cartoon-ish proportions, but most definitely manga style!

Summary: Far in the future, humankind has evacuated the Earth in order to preserve it. Humans now reside in a gigantic structure that forms a ring around the Earth, thirty-five kilometers up in the sky. The society of the ring is highly stratified: the higher the floor, the greater the status. Mitsu, the lowly son of a window washer, has just graduated junior high. When his father disappears and is assumed dead, Mitsu must take on his father’s occupation. As he struggles with the transition to working life, Mitsu’s job treats him to an outsider’s view into the various living-room dioramas of the Saturn Apartments. (Viz)

Review: I’m fond of sci-fi, I’m fond of slice-of-life, and this manga manages to merge them both with fantastic finesse. This is as much a study of characters in a strange environment as it is a story about living in space. Mitsu, the star of the series, is living in a highly class-driven society. There are few chances to better one’s station, and knowing that he has to earn his way, ends up in the same job his father did many years before… before his safety rope snapped and he hurtled down to the earth. Mitsu has his own reasons for checking out the scene of the crime outside the station; he wonders whether his father was a victim of circumstance or whether he gave into the allure of seeing the Earth first-hand, something that was forbidden long ago due to the damage humans caused it.

His job as window washer puts him in a unique position. Even though he’s of the lowest class, he sees and deals with the windows of the higher class most often, since they’re usually the only ones that can afford the window-washing prices. This provides unique opportunities to sort-of interact with them and even start to make friends. At the same time, the rare opportunity to clean for the lower classes lets him fill dreams. Only about half the series involves his job, though; a solid half involves exploring various parts of the space station, explaining how things work, and dealing with what it means to be a window cleaner on a space station that’s so divided.

The characters play into that a lot. They aren’t particularly deep, but they play an important part in Mitsu’s life. They are a constant commentary on how he’s like his father, each dealing with their own effects of the death. Many of the people he works there were also on the job when his father fell. That doesn’t mean he’s a carbon copy, by any means. He can’t keep his head down like the others – his friendships forged with others make him a target for alienation, both from the people on his own level and those from the higher stations. It goes from just being ignored to later on some outright hostility and prejudice. It’s becoming more obvious that his job and the class conflict will clash more often, but how that will happen and what the trigger will be is still up in the air. However, he’s still slowly becoming a liason between the classes, and his interactions and friendships are wonderful to watch develop.

Overall, this is one of the most laid-back slice of life series I’ve ever read. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions and characters, as well as a fascinating socio-economic dynamic that brings up a lot of interesting questions and ideas. Definitely a great series!

Recommended: 10+. There really isn’t anything objectionable in here except the mention of how the main’s dad died, and a mention that one of the neighbors is dying. It deals with these very sensitively.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Twin Spica (manga)

Planetes (manga and anime)

Aria (anime and manga)

Space Brothers (anime and manga)

Uchuu no Stellvia (anime)

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