It’s always fun to see how the Japanese perceive America, generally a curious mix of romanticized elements and condescension. I’ve been to Texas a number of times and I can tell you, it’s not normal practice for the local news anchors to wear Stetsons on the air. I have to confess that made me LOL, though, as did the hilariously random snippets of news coverage in the e-newspaper Mutta was reading over breakfast. The little details in this series are always good for a laugh, like Apo’s lunar capsule dog dish. While it’s dealing with some pretty heavy psychological stuff, there’s a sense of whimsy that’s never far from the surface in Uchuu Kyoudai that always keeps it from feeling ponderous.
As always, things always seem to fall back on exploring the difference between the brothers at the center of the series. In yet another development I find hits unnervingly close to home, we see how Mutta earned the nickname “Rollin’ Mutta” from his mother (and it’s easy to see which parent he takes after). When bad thoughts start to crawl into his mind, Mutta tries to crowd them out – crowd them with the radio, TV, the internet, magazines and newspapers. Anything to try and fill the spaces in a mind that’s always working too hard, always thinking extraneous thoughts instead of focusing on the now.
The fact that Mutta does this says much about his insecurities and the way his mind works, but the fact is that Mutta actually can concentrate on all those things at once and make sense of them – and that’s both his great strength and great weakness – and the difference between he and Hibito. For most people trying to concentrate on more than one thing is difficult (just look at the stats on traffic safety and phone usage) but Mutta’s mind is so restless than unless he’s focused on multiple sources of input his mind is free to wander – and when bad things like the 92% chance of failing the JAXA test are on his mind, that’s the last thing he wants. For Hibito, his mind is summed up in his words to his brother – “When you try and watch everything at once, you might as well cover your eyes.” Likewise for the younger brother this is a great strength and a weakness: Hibito can clear his mind of distractions and focus on the here and now, but he sometimes misses the details that Mutta’s hyperactive mind never does.
This is brought to life in the form of the blindfold exam Hibiito is struggling with at NASA. Lunar dust – regolith – is unlike earth dust in almost every way for a myriad of reasons. The gist of it is that Hibito is supposed to be able to escape from the lunar station airlock while being blinded by lunar dust, and he’s struggling – because unlike all those straight-ahead challenges where his focused mind helps him, he’s unable to recall all the details he’s depended on his eyes to tell his brain. The observant Mutta could, of course pass that test on the first try because he’d remember where every control in the airlock was after seeing it just once. It often gets in the way of his happiness on Earth but as I said last week – where a single loose screw could mean the demise of everyone in the crew, don’t you want someone in the crew who never misses one?
Surely then, this represents the turn of luck that Mutta constantly bemoans and blames on being born on the day of the “Agony of Doha” World Cup qualifying disaster of 1993 (known as the “Miracle of Doha” if you’re South Korean). In a side story you knew would bear fruit sooner or later, there’s a “Fire Extinguisher Bandit” terrorizing Houston (BOW!), blinding his victims with a fire extinguisher before robbing them, and he happens to target the diner Mutta is eating lunch at in the company of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. With the diner filling with vapor and visibility down to zero, surely Mutta’s eidetic memory will finally pay dividends here, and I see an impending act of heroism that will finally give his biggest fan, Hoshika-san, the ammo he needs to go to battle for Mutta in the JAXA committee.
I’m enjoying this run of time in Houston, both for the charming take on Texas culture and for the opportunity it gives us to see Mutta and Hibito interact directly (I’m also hoping we get to see Mr. Smith execute his plan to take Mutta to the casino – presumably as a secret weapon at the blackjack table). Part of me was beginning to wonder if Mutta’s future might in fact lie with NASA, not JAXA, and I’m still not totally convinced that’s wrong – it would certainly make for a different sort of series than what I initially expected. The amount of development Hishoka, Serika and Kenji received still makes it likely that JAXA will ultimately choose Mutta, but there are lots of reasons to think he might stay in the States as well. One way or another I think the JAXA decision has to come to a head soon, perhaps even next week.