We started to see a real exploration of the theme of space and mortality a few episodes back, when Mutta discovered Hibito’s will and final papers hidden in the guest room of his rented house in Houston. And it’s been a subtle presence every since, lurking just beneath the surface just as it must always do in the mind of real astronauts – imagery of the shuttle disasters, Hibito’s conversation with Eddie Jay (surely the brother of the late Brian Jay) aboard the International Space Station, Kenji’s reflections on what his choices would mean in the context of his role as husband and father. But this was the week when JAXA – and Watanabe-san – really brought it home to roost.
It’s known that footage of the last few minutes in the lives of the Challenger and Columbia disasters exists, though NASA has quite rightly diligently kept it from the public eye. So it’s not at all unrealistic to think that such footage might exist of Brian Jay (Ohtsuka Akio – and yesterday was an awful day for his characters, who died both here and in Fate/Zero) and his crewmates. I don’t know whether NASA or any other space agency shows the shuttle footage to their perspective astronauts, but that’s also not so hard to imagine, and even in the context of an animated cartoon, it’s not easy to watch. Whether Jay’s comment of “This data from this accident will be very useful” is realistic or not – who can say how anyone would react, knowing that their life is about to end – but it was the most cutting moment of the footage.
Maybe I was the only one, but I thought just for a moment that Kenji might take that moment to call it a day, given how much focus there’d been on his self-doubt in the last two eps. But no, in the end everyone signed their release forms – likely they’d already made their intellectual peace with the notion of what they were facing, and were too committed to back out now. With their arrival in JAXA’s secret facility (which I still suspect is somewhere in their main JAXA facility where all this started) the gang is split into three teams of 5. It’s based on the surveys the candidates filled out on the bus, but just how those rankings were used is hard to figure out. Mutta is initially pleased to be teamed up with Serika (who he’d ranked #1, ahead of himself and Kenji) but then with the reveal that each group will choose 2 members to move on at the close of 2 weeks in a sealed environment, he realizes that this will potentially put him in a very awkward position.
I’m of the mind that everything about this exam is a troll of sorts – that the tests of sorts are beside the point, and that JAXA is really only interested in the psychological reactions of the candidates as they attempt them. Director Nasuda certainly seems like a troll himself with his jolly demeanor and baka act – I think it’s all a cover for a devious and ruthless administrator. The dynamics of the groups might been based not on the rankings at all, but the psychological profiles of the team members. Mutta’s teammate in Group A, Furuya, is the loud and obnoxious guy who tries to hard as a result of his insecurity, but it’s Nitta Reiji (Hoshino Takanori, who I’d thought might be Rikiya Koyama) who seems the most interesting. He doesn’t say much, but he’s a keen observer – and his digs at Mutta (such as calling him “Nii-san”) are much more subtle than Furuya’s grade-school insults. Nitta is someone to watch closely as this exam unfolds, I suspect.
I suspect that this is the sort of environment that will play to Mutta’s strengths, as displayed in the first “test” – a simple quiz, “What time is it?” Everyone else makes elaborate calculations based on how long all of the activities since they surrendered their watches and phones took, but Mutta makes it simple – he just looked at the clock on the bus before he got off. This is pure Mutta – obsession with small details – and the others’ guesses are actually quite inaccurate. Again though, how much any of these tests really matter is a legitimate question – the JAXA examiner freely admitted that the “two candidates per team” notion wasn’t set in stone – JAXA could choose more, less – or none. The entire test is based on psychological strength in the face of uncertainty and on group dynamics. And especially in a week with no Hunter X Hunter, it makes for a vastly entertaining spectacle to watch it unfold.