First Impressions – Uchuu Kyoudai

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If I had to pick one word to describe the premiere of Space Brothers, I think it would be “flawless”.

OP: “Feel so Moon” by UNICORN

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Have you ever dreamed of going into space?  I don’t know if it’s the same for girls, but as a boy, I don’t think I knew anyone who didn’t.  I never saw any UFOs but I dreamed of the moon and the stars, and loved to take my crappy telescope outside at night and strain for a glimpse of Jupiter’s moons or the Sea of Tranquility while I swatted Midwestern mosquitoes.   In Uchuu Kyoudai we have a series that’s focused on dreams, and on the relationship between an older brother and a younger.  That’s pretty elemental stuff, and director Watanabe Ayumu (who’s also directing Nazo no Kanojo X) and A-1 Pictures seem to have hit the mark with an open, accessible and straightforward adaptation of Koyama Chuuya’s award-winning manga.

While the animation isn’t flashy here, the style is very cinematic, with the mostly orchestral soundtrack and voice-over narration – there’s a Spielbergean quality to it that totally suits the material.  I enjoyed the way the Nanba brothers at the heart of the series were introduced, via a series of flashbacks to the events that marked their births – in the case of elder brother Mutta (Sawashiro Miyuki age 13, Hirata Hiroaki age 35) it was disaster, Japan’s heartbreaking failure to qualify for the World Cup.  In the case of younger brother Hibito (Sanpei Yuko age 10, Kenn age 32) it was triumph – Hideo Nomo’s historic no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies (and this was before the humidor, when no-hitters in Colorado were an absurdity).  The spirit of those events seems to cast a shadow on the brothers throughout their entire lives.

Flash forward to 2006, and the boys are off on what seem to be regular naturalist expeditions into the woods surrounding their suburban Tokyo home, recording the sounds of frogs and fish onto cassette tapes.  Hibito sees something strange down by the river – a light in the sky – and literally carries his brother to the spot to show it to him.  The strange light in the sky reveals itself to be a spinning disc of some sort, which shoots off towards the moon in a trail of light and disappears.  Hibito promises on the spot that he’ll become an astronaut and go to the moon, and Mutta – already a step behind despite his stated belief that big brothers should always be a step ahead of their little brothers – declares that he’ll do the same, except he’s going to Mars.

There’s something very profound here, a statement about the way key events from our childhood shape us as adults.  Mostly, though, this is a story of brotherhood – about the odd blend of love and rivalry that drives siblings forwards.  It’s worth nothing that though Hibito was three years younger he was apparently taller and stronger, even as the boys were pre-adolescent – and blonde, and better looking, and as it happens, more successful.  When the story jumps to 2025 he’s an astronaut, the Japanese member of a NASA mission to the moon.  Mutta has graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and designed award-winning cars, but he’s just been fired for head-butting his boss when he insulted Hibito (a callback to Zinedine Zidane’s red card for head-butting an Italian in the 2006 World Cup final).  His dreams forgotten, Mutta returns to live with his kind but cynical parents (Tanaka Mayumi – “Monkey D. Luffy” – and Cho), blacklisted by the auto industry and forced to take demeaning jobs he soon quits.  Until one day, Hibito recruits their mother to help him execute a plan…

There’s an awful lot that works here, pretty much everything in fact.  For starters, Hirata Hiroaki is a perfect choice for Mutta.  The character and performance recall his brilliant portrayal of Kotetsu in Tiger & Bunny, and it’s the sort of character we don’t see much in anime – a grown man who’s been kicked around by life but had big dreams and a good heart, and a real wittiness too.  There’s also a terrific wittiness to the whole episode, great little moments like the scene in MacDonald’s that has fun with Mutta’s brillo-head and the strawberry scene at his parents’ table.  I also loved the way the story moved seamlessly between the past and the present, showing us how the boy remains in the man, yet how much has changed.  It appears that this time-leaping will continue, as we see episodes of the past and how they impact the present, and I look forward to that.

It was certainly no surprise that this first episode was as good as it was, given the sheer unanimity of praise for the manga.  It’s a great luxury knowing that you have 51 episodes – a luxury for the viewer in knowing they’ll have time to bond with the characters, and for the creative team in knowing they don’t have to rush to tell their story.  I love the mix of humor and sadness here, an appreciation for what we lose when he grow up but also a sense of hope that dreams are never gone as long as there’s someone who believes in them – and in us.  I think Uchuu Kyoudai has the potential to be a truly great series, and Mutta Nanba one of the best characters of the year. 

EDIT: Some crap news, as all of those reports (on every site I could find, in fact) that this series would be 4 cours were apparently wrong (or A-1 changed their minds)- it’s now scheduled to be 13 episodes. Obviously, this pretty much eliminates any chance of the series rising to classic status – what a shame. Never mind – looks as if it was a case of incorrect reporting, and it’s only a contest that’s ending in June – not the series. Sokath, his eyes uncovered!

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ED: Subarashiki Sekai by RAKE

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  1. i

    I was hoping you would blog about this show. I agree. Great episode! I was surprised by all the hate i saw for this show in comments on other sites. I don't think i have ever shed a tear on a first episode before. A great start!

  2. Hate, seriously? What are they thinking??

  3. K

    People with no taste? Okay that might be a little harsh. 😉

  4. I

    Hate for a show with probably one of the best premiere episodes in anime in the last few years. Are you serious?

    What sites are they I'll have some one from the FBI shut it down.

    But seriously what a way to start a show. I guess flawless is the same as perfect, because that's what I was thinking while watching. Everything fit and it reminded of this movie I had watched just a couple of days ago "The Astronaut Farmer." That was a great movie and this will be a great anime.

    Completely in it for the long run and even managed to convince a couple of my friends who only watch Naruto(pah) and Bleach(meh) to watch this when I watched it with them.

  5. A

    Hmm … interesting series. I was kinda wondering what they would do – astronauts have never been really interesting o me subject wise, but this series looks pretty good after ep 1. And I have the feeling it will be getting better too.

    – Flower

    P.S. BTW Enzo – you have a list somewhere of the series you will and will not blog somewhere already?

  6. Well, I have my "definitely blogging" list in the Spring Preview (this show is on it). There are a lot of maybes out there still, so I don't know what the final list will look like yet.

  7. K

    You know I didn't catch the mother was played by Tanaka Mayumi so it's basically Luffy is the mother of Sanji. I am highly amused.

    Glad to see you are as enthusiastic about this series as I am. I will look forward to your thoughts every week.

  8. l

    An good thing about this is that by episode 5, no one will know what will happen, since there is only 1 volume translated in the manga.

    No one besides ones that can read kanji of course.

  9. S

    I loved the start to this show. I didn't read the manga but love the balance of humour and sadness. The idea of the series is the coolest part for me, it has a mix of the Bakuman "reach out to your dreams" idea and the perfect lovable humor that you get from Usagi Drop (not necessarily the same subjects though).

    Can't wait for more! I especially love that ending song. It is very coooooooool.

  10. S

    51 episodes? That's good to hear. Hirata Hiroaki is just perfect as Mutta and gotta give props to Tanaka Mayumi as the awesome okaasan 😉
    Not sure whose brilliant idea was it to make a series like this since it’s probably gonna bomb in BD sales but thank you so much A-1 Pictures!
    Also wanna point out there will be an Uchuu Kyoudai live-action film this summer. Pretty boy Oguri Shun as Mutta? This is gonna be interesting.

  11. You just answered your own question, Seishun. It's all about cross-promotion – help the manga, help the live-action. Seinen and jousei series very rarely do well on BD anyway.

  12. A

    Does anyone know how well great seinen shows like Monster, welcome to the NHK have done in DVD/BD sale? I think Cowboy Bebop might be considered seinen as well, but that one is much more commercial, so comparison to Moster for Uchuu Kyoudai might be more appropriate (the same long format episodes, more realistic character designs -aka dull, aka eyes big as your fists with no nose and natural rainbow color hair-, slow and boring progress -only to those who is only interested in silly moe and same old recycled gag shows-, etc. Shows like Welcome to the NHK was much shorter in length, so… And I am sure powerhouse Josei shows like Honey and Clover, Nana, and Nodame Cantabile are doing quite well with female audience.

  13. A

    I mean aka "NOT" eyes big as your fist… You get that, right? (I will let go other silly grammar mistakes like "is->are").

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