The thing I like best about Astral Project (CMX) is that it’s only kind of about any of the things it’s purportedly about. The first two volumes introduced the mystery of the death of the protagonist’s sister, the protagonist’s newfound ability to leave his body behind to float above the city, the fellow astral travelers he meets there, and his budding romance with one of them. In the third volume, author marginal (also known as Garon Tsuchiya of Old Boy fame) sustains all of those elements while adding new ones in the form of deeply cynical conspiracy theories and, better still, deeply cynical conspiracies.
This addition might lead you to suspect that the series is building in momentum. I’m happy to report that Astral Project has maintained its feeling of apparent aimlessness. It’s one of the least aggressive stories I’ve read, particularly in the suspense genre. It’s more absorbing than arresting, and the pleasure of it is in seeing marginal drop a new bit of absurdity or outrage without really raising the narrative’s volume. That’s an awfully neat trick.
Though we learn a bit more about the characters, they still aren’t especially sympathetic. Mashiko, the lead, is still no closer to figuring out the cause of his sister’s death. His romance with another young traveler garners investment without that visceral feeling of wanting them to be happy together so much as the vague sense that it would be nice if they could be less unhappy. And while astral travel may have been the story’s trigger, it’s telling and a little perverse that Mashiko’s most trusted astral advisers encourage him to give it up to focus on his equally aimless earthbound existence.
Writing about Astral Project is strange. The things I want to praise about it – its ambling storytelling, increasingly bleak world view, and generally flat emotional affect – aren’t things I’d automatically consider praise-worthy. They cohere into something very intriguing here, though, and I’d really recommend this odd, offbeat series.