A Galaxy Next Door, Vol. 1
Written And Illustrated By Gido Amagakure
A sweet, seinen slice-of-life starring a stellar sovereign and the scribbling supporter of a set of scheming siblings! Hey that was pretty good!
As mentioned in the Comics Haul where this title first appeared, Japan seems to have a different relationship with manga than the West does with comics, resulting in a SHIT-TON of manga about people who make manga (and anime!) and how they do their work, and I am prepared to take a brave and original stand and say: yes please I would like all of it.
Most of them wear a hat of some kind: Time Paradox Ghostwriter (as you may remember) involves time-travel, The Transcendent One-Sided Love Of Yoshida The Catch is an adorable love story full of shippers on deck that reverses the typical male-female adoration-obliviousness dynamic;, Yoshi No Zuikara features a socially-inept artist drawing inspiration from his childhood hometown, and A Galaxy Next Door is about a mangaka whose new assistant is an alien princess and AS IF YOU HADN’T GUESSED YET, he accidentally proposes marriage to her. What a thing to happen! We’ve all been there, we all know this classic way. Thereafter follow fairly well-trodden will-they-won’t-they and rushed-relationship tropes, providing a foundation that makes this series feel if not necessarily original (the Accidental Marriage as storytelling device going back to The Aeneid if not earlier), at least fresh and used with the understanding that they are merely the skeleton of a story, requiring meat with a life of its own to be slarbed on top like a overcoat with teeth in order to start walking around doing anything interesting. In that context, AGND has a couple of distinct and powerful things working in its favor:
It’s a staple of the mangaka-centric genre that the protagonists are usually impoverished scrappies (sadly for good reason), and Ichiro Kuga is no exception, being the sole provider for his wee (possibly twin?) brother and sister. In a lot of series they would be a millstone around the story’s neck but, given that the author’s previous work has successfully centered on children as actual developed characters, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Machi and Fumio are delightful and easily on par with the protagonists. They’re aware of the financial straits they put their brother in through no fault of their own, and in the small-child ways they’re capable of they’re frustrated by their inability to pull their own tiny weights and actually help him.
This manifests itself in their implicit trust in his ability and support of his efforts to succeed in an extremely fickle industry, contrary to social and financial pressure to get a ‘real job’ for the sake of his siblings. They also appoint themselves his tiny editors and bosses because he’s a mess and can’t take care of them and himself, although this is mostly used for comic relief.
But what makes Machi and Fumio great isn’t just their selflessness (although admittedly ‘selfless’ implies a level of agency that kids don’t really have, but, vague gesture) but the way their character traits exist in a reciprocal ecosystem with Ichiro the way real-life siblings do: for example, it’s established VERY early in the series that Machi has an interest in fortune-telling, and she is later revealed to have a Tarot deck that Ichorio, being an artist, actually made specifically for her, filled with symbols from their life together and characters from her favorite anime and manga; this elegantly allows a thing that is unique and specific to her to also exist in a living system with her brother, lending an air of realism to the family dynamic.
The other huge strength AGND has to offer is that the princess, Goshiki, is an enormous manga nerd but, being a sheltered royal, takes it 10,000% seriously and intentionally, knowingly moves through the shapes and phases of comic-book romance as her relationship with Ichiro develops, and meanwhile he, being a shojo manga creator, sees what she’s doing and attempts to resist it, to varying degrees of success. Complicating matters is the aforementioned accidental proposal, so there’s a balancing act of them already being engaged and maybe??? trying to find a way to annul that or maybe just leaning into seeing where this goes and enjoying themselves and look they’ve got a lot on their plates okay, let them figure it out on their own timetable.
It’s sweet, and it’s funny, and there’s low-level drama in keeping with the story-shapes that the characters are actively aping, and while I hope it eventually develops some depth and stakes, for right now it’s a light, breezy, warmhearted and blushy introduction and it’s exactly what it needs to be at the moment.
I have long since given up trying to figure out which manga are a long-term series proposition and which ones are destined for shorter runs; AGND doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that could run for 16 volumes to me, but that’s the beauty of slice-of-life: as long as the life keeps happening, you’ve got more lifeloaf to slice, and I for one will be here ready to butter every new one up. (Seriously I’m mad that I have to wait until June for the next volume, it’s not even up for preorder yet, what’s the deal.)
Score: 8.5/10 Times The Artist Left The ‘Blush’ Setting On Maximum And Went To Town
I’ve been living next to you, my friend
But what kind of friend are you