For my entire life I’ve tried hard to be a 3D ant. I just didn’t realize it until now.
On some level I always knew that Space Brothers was an extended argument for manned space flight on its merits, but it was never as obvious as it was this week. The gloves came off, and the series uses all the weapons in its disposal, including the use of real JAXA astronaut Noguchi Shouichi making his case to the young Nanba Brothers via the aforementioned 3D Ant story. To be honest I’m as easy sell because when it comes to this argument, the series is preaching to the converted with me. But when they managed to get references to Bucky Fuller and Richard Dawkins (no, not the guy from Hogan’s Heroes and Family Feud) in there, I was helpless to resist.
This argument is a very real one and it’s taking place in every spacefaring nation, as the world faces extended economic slowdown and debt, and the romance has gone out of space travel for generations too young to remember Walter Cronkite’s tears as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface. People like the news anchor in this episode have the upper hand, and they’re not just news anchors – they’re the ones holding the purse strings in government. The premise of the episode is JAXA shrewdly trying to use the candidates as a PR device to make a counter-argument, but the reality here in the mangaka making the case himself.
And it’s not an easy case to make. When money is tight, people – who tend to be short-sighted anyway – are even less keen to be persuaded by long-term benefits over short-term expediency (just look at climate change policy). Noguchi-san’s example – delivered in a strong, compelling performance – speaks to the question of vision, which is critical to the understanding of why manned space flight is essential. But Mutta is right – you can’t make a person who doesn’t have vision see the big picture, and it’s pointless to try. Sadly, we don’t have the luxury of looking forward to the romance of a first anybody on the moon – or anybody at all on the moon – to persuade the public. What comes across in Uchuu Kyoudai is the passion the author has for the nobility of space flight, and passion is central to this whole argument – you can’t understand the pull of manned space travel without feeling the passion behind it. But again, that’s a hard case to make to someone without that passion.
In terms of the exam itself, as always, it’s fascinating to watch the group dynamics at work. Team B busily types away on their laptops (except Tomii) while Team A handwrites their explanations (except for Mutta, thinking back on Noguchi’s speech in a hilariously animated flashback). Nitta – who I pegged as an intriguing figure as soon as he appeared – takes a very logical, clinical approach. Furuya reacts with blunt anger (funniest moment of the episode was his indignant “I’ll have you know I’m from Kyoto!” when Nitta asks if this is “The Osaka way”. So true to life!) Serika falls back on her dream of her father. But it’s Tomii who comes up with the interesting spin of Dawkins’ notion of humans as genes – needing to go forth into the universe and mutate.
In the end, it looks as if it’s Mutta’s line of thinking that wins the day with Director Nasuda, and this is the advantage he has over seemingly stronger candidates like Nitta – his outlook is skewed and unusual. He’s an individual, and he has a vision. The argument for Mutta as an astronaut is like the argument for manned space flight itself – it can’t be made using numbers and statistics alone. It’s about vision and passion, and this is something that Hoshika-san understands implicitly, and why he keeps pushing for Mutta even when he can’t quantify the reasons for it. His argument for Mutta’s selection was telling – “Of course we should use our emotions in choosing the candidates. Otherwise, why not let computers make the selection?” Why not indeed – and why not let unmanned craft do the exploration? On paper it makes sense, but that’s where vision and passion play into the equation. And more and more it’s becoming obvious that Nasuda is an oddball himself, an individual with his own skewed way of looking at the universe. And for Onii-chan, that can only be a good thing.