Swans in Space
written by Lun Lun Yamamoto
Corona isn’t just any sixth-grader. She’s the class president, an honor student, and the fashion leader. Although she has a little clutch of admirers who follow her around, she isn’t afraid to stand up to them when they put down a nerdy classmate, Lan. In fact, Corona goes out of her way to befriend her. Lan is a fan of Space Patrol, a sci-fi show, and when she gives Corona a Space Patrol wristwatch, Corona feels obliged to put it on.
That night, Corona is beamed out of her bed into a strange world where all the native creatures look like babies—and a giant baby is running amok. She resolves the situation using simple common sense, and then all is revealed: The world of Space Patrol is real, and Corona has just passed the test to become a trainee. She will now travel through the universe with Lan in a swan-shaped spaceship, keeping the peace and doing simple chores like rounding up spilled Martian papayas.
The twist here is that the Space Patrol TV show is produced by the actual Space Patrol; the shows are reenactments of actual incidents, and real Space Patrol members portray themselves. The shows are supposed to train humans in proper behavior so they can “take their place as productive members of the universe,” whatever that means. However, the show has low ratings, so they are having trouble recruiting new trainees.
Corona soon learns she has an even bigger problem: She’s caught between two slackers. Lan, despite her initial show of enthusiasm, turns out to be hopelessly lazy and only in it for the uniform, while their instructor hides in his office playing video games all day. This, of course, gets Corona fired up. Although she was dragged into Space Patrol against her will, she decides that she and Lan must work hard to become the best trainees.
Along the way, Corona must figure out how to balance her schoolwork and extracurricular activities with her new space chores. She also learns to trust in others a bit and not assume she is the only one who can get things done.
The space adventures are simple and never scary; even when a giant flower eats her instructor and his greedy little boy, the situation is played for laughs and all ends well.
The weakest part of this book is the dialogue. Corona talks like someone in a self-help book: “I’m constantly worried about what other people think of me,” she confesses to Lan. “I get so happy whenever someone asks me for a favor, and I often go too far with it.” This sort of self-conscious self-analysis is particularly unfortunate in a comic set in sixth grade.
Fortunately, Swans in Space has plenty of redeeming features. The story is funny, and the art, which Udon has wisely decided to reproduce in full color, has a funky ’70s vibe that fits nicely with the sci-fi-light theme. With its gentle humor, bright colors, and cute outer-space swan boats, this book should be attractive to younger readers.