Anyone who has read Hosuke Nojiri's 2002 novel, the award-winning Usurper of the Sun also published by Viz Haika Soru, will recognise some familiarity in the characterisation of a young teenage girl with an absent father becoming involved in an important space mission, but otherwise, the earlier Rocket Girls written back in 1995, could hardly be more different in tone from the serious detailed consideration and technical hard science-fiction of the author's nonetheless thrilling first encounter scenario.
Rocket Girls, as the title and the anime-influenced cover perhaps suggest, plays knowingly on the fun pulp elements of sending fit young teenage high-school girls in skin-tight outfits into space, the whole story playing out with all the improbability and speed of a manga book - which is by no means entirely a bad thing. The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her father on the first night of his honeymoon turn out to be strange enough, but Yukari Morita's journey to search for him in the Solomon Islands, and eventually finding him in the jungle as the chieftain of an island tribe, stretch credibility even further. All of the this is however taken completely in its stride by all the parties involved, and it should be by the indulgent reader as well.
There is however a larger Japanese presence on the island (and it's sure to be established that it's not exactly a coincidence that her father is there also) - a Space research and development agency operates there, attempting to put an astronaut up into space. In danger of losing their funding due to failures of the new technology to secure a successful test launch, the possibility of using a teenage girl as a lightweight astronaut could make all the difference, and Yukari, along Matsuri, a half-sister she has just discovered, the young rocket girls are soon put through her paces in an intensive training course.
Rocket Girls resembles Usurper of the Sun in another more relevant manner and that is in how it takes a realistic speculative looks towards man's future in space, and the psychological and social impact of further exploration and advancement in this realm. In Rocket Girls, that's looking ahead towards small private companies taking over from where the US and Russian space programmes left off and considering the possibilities of new smaller and more lightweight technology making such ventures commercially feasible.
This, it has to be said, is treated rather more realistically than the rather bizarre anime-like family relationships and the rather flat dialogue elsewhere, which are undoubtedly not Hosuke Nojiri's strengths. For all that, Rocket Girls proves to be a surprisingly fun and entertaining read, flipped through as delightfully and as rapidly as a manga book. Taken on those terms, visualising those scenes as a traditional clear-line drawn manga or a colourful anime - the stories indeed now produced as an anime series in Japan - the tone of the book makes a lot more sense and promises to provide more entertainment in subsequent instalments.