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
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!
ED: Subarashiki Sekai by RAKE