I really do have to keep this one short, but it’s no reflection on the episode, which was really stellar. Uchuu Kyoudai for me is really about the simple pleasures a long-running series can deliver like no other. When a show has time to really develop its characters, episodes like this are possible – the entire focus being on reflection, self-doubt, priorities and the basic joys of family. There was nothing spectacular but every moment was true to life, and had something genuine to say. In anime or otherwise, that’s pretty rare.
I especially loved the way the episode gently reminded us of what astronauts lives are really like. “Hero” is one of the most overused words in the English language (especially when it’s confused with “victim”) but astronauts really are heroes. Space Brothers took pains this week to show us what they sacrifice for their jobs, and the risks they take. They’re “taking one for the team”, these folks – yes, they do it because they love it but they’re also away from their families for extended periods, and taking risks no amount of technology and preparation can totally eliminate. Mutta’s reference to the accident in 2023 that killed three NASA astronauts – including the “Brian” Hibito mentioned last week – was a quiet but forceful reminder of the many astronauts who’ve already died in service of their vocation. The image of the lonely astronaut Eddie Jay (Arimoto Kinryuu – presumably Brian Jay’s brother, offering a nice parallel – though hopefully not foreshadowing – for our main pair) on the ISS waving down to Earth was a powerful reminder of the loneliness of life in space.
The allusions to family were strong here. I love Mutta’s parents for their relentless cheer and sheer goofiness, and it’s clear they’ve come to terms with Hibito’s (and now Mutta’s) decision to risk their lives in space. But when Mutta mentioned Hibito’s will there was a moment’s hesitation before they became irreverent again – how could there not be? And then there was Kenji’s wife and child (it’s not enough for Swashiro Miyuki to play Serika, Apo and boy Mutta, she needs to play toddlers too?), a reminder to Mutta of what’s missing in his own life, and what Kenji is risking if he goes to space. Finally there was Serika, longing to go to space to complete the dream of her father, searching for a cure to the disease that claimed him. She’s hoping to do so aboard the “worn-out” International Space Station, which provides both a link to ourselves and between Mtta and Serika. These two seem to have a sentimental side in common that will serve them well when they finally settle into a relationship.
The little touches in this episode were what made it special, as usual – the drop-down tray on the airplane being a keyboard (interesting that the jet itself looked no different from ones in use today, reflecting that very little progress had been made in this area). Mutta putting on lipstick to kiss Hibito’s autograph paper. And Hirata Hiroaki’s great (as always) work, especially his “Ka-pe!” to Kenji as they said goodnight after their “Ganbatte!” party. I can see that the two young studs are going to provide some tension in the third phase, being as they’re jealous of Mutta’s family connections, but I hope they don’t become two-dimensional villains – I think Uchuu Kyoudai is best when the foes Mutta fights are his own self-doubts and the vagaries of chance.