I can see where this show isn’t going to be all that popular. There are no teens in sight, there’s no overt fanservice, and the pacing is deliberate. Stories about adult males wrestling with sibling issues and feelings of inadequacy just aren’t going to push many otaku buttons, but like many seinen the manga at least is popular. I don’t think A-1 Pictures is going to be so concerned about traditional metrics like BD sales with Uchuu Kyoudai (which is good, as I expect them to be terrible) but I do see some of the complaints starting to filter through in the public forums.
The pacing is either going to be a problem for you or it isn’t, but as to the complaints about Mutta and Serika as characters, those I don’t quite see. I see Mutta being criticized for not being exceptional enough, and Serika for being too perfect. Well, Mutta is an exceptional character for me because he’s basically a normal person dealing with all the normal insecurities and regrets that maturity brings, while trying to do something exceptional. That’s the whole point of his character, it seems to me. As for Serika, she’s hardly perfect – she just happens to be in great physical shape. She’s also not especially attractive and somewhat socially awkward. I’m not sure what faults viewers are looking for in her that they’re not finding, but we barely know her – at this stage we’re really only seeing her through Mutta’s (smitten) eyes. I think she’s refreshingly different from most anime heroines.
For me Space Brothers is, in structure and tone, closer to a Hollywood film than an anime. But it’s a good Hollywood film – think Spielberg rather than Bay or Cameron – and it takes what’s undeniably a very Hollywood premise and filters it through the very particular lens of Japanese family dynamics. That produces an interesting hybrid, and the result sheds a lot of light on both the similarities and differences between Japanese and Western families. I’m not sure what the UFO business will end up leading to, but this series is as much about the peculiar relationship of brothers as it is about space – in that way I think the title itself, “Space Brothers”, reflects the twin pillars of the narrative perfectly.
What I see when I look at Hibito and Mutta is pretty typical among siblings. You have one, Hibito, that pretty much has the ability to make his way through life without overburdening himself with unnecessary thought – he’s smart (all NASA astronauts are brilliant or they wouldn’t be such) but he trusts himself and his instincts. Mutta is a classic neurotic, always three steps beyond and three levels below the surface of everything. He can’t live in the present the way Hibito can because he’s always beating himself up over the past and worrying about the future. The fact that Hibito also happens to be younger, better-looking and stronger makes this that much worse for Mutta. He’s always measuring himself (and failing) against Hibito, without realizing that Hibito is doing everything he does to make Mutta proud. For Hibito, it’s enough grounds for admiration that Mutta is simply his big brother and the one who inspired him.
I’m glad the story is shifting to Houston next week, because I’m anxious to get inside Hibito’s head a little more than we have so far. It’s telling that Mutta was the only one he thought to invite using NASA’s support program. For all the angst Hibito’s success causes Mutta, it’s clear that it’s hopelessly entangled with love – and that’s the complicated and difficult nature of brothers. We’re not going to find out for a while if Mutta was successful in reaching the third phase of the JAXA exam, but that’s fine – life makes us wait for answers all the time. And I think it’s been tipped since the start of the exam that Kenji and Serika would be joining Mutta in JAXA eventually – or else this is one of the great head-fakes in manga history. Kenji’s confidence and flexibility make him a sort of all-around candidate, right down to his fiction/nonfiction answer to the weird Engrish “Have you noticed a change in yourself?” question. Serika is many things JAXA would want – smart, a Doctor (always useful in space), physically fit and a woman. For Mutta it’s about the intangibles and the last name, and it’s clear his candidacy is the one that the committee can’t quite neatly fit into a box.
I felt for Mutta during that interview process, and as someone who’s been on both sides of the desk many times, it was refreshingly to see how accurately it was portrayed. An organization like JAXA would obviously have the science nailed down, but every major company has a framework for how they do these things – and the goal is always to force the applicant to give an honest answer and not a pre-fab one. It’s all about putting them off-balance and forcing them to react, like a game, and the irony is that Mutta actually understands this perfectly but can’t quite bring himself to trust it. As he says, honest reactions are generally better (interviewers usually know when you’re blowing smoke up their…) and once again Mutta may have succeeded with the shampoo answer when he thought he’d screwed up. It’s all about trusting himself, and that’s something that’s hard for almost everyone – and it’s that struggle in Mutta (like Kotetsu) that makes him an incredibly appealing lead.
And for Jeebus’ sake, when you eat edamame don’t put the empty pod back in the bowl. That’s just sick.