Let’s all dance with Mutta wigs!
OP2: “Eureka” by Sukima Switch
After endless and irritating viewer references to Mutta as “middle-aged”, we finally have a real middle-aged man to worry about as Fukuda takes center stage in episode 14. He’s been an interesting figure dancing around the edges of the narrative, an oddity among the candidates at 54 years of age, likable but a sort of non-threatening sidekick, someone we knew had no chance of actually being selected. One of the luxuries of four cours, though, is that it gives the director time to flesh out all the characters and it’s nice to see someone who in a lesser anime would never break free of NPC status and step into his own.
In a way this show is largely about dreams and the sacrifices we have to make to pursue them, so it’s fitting that Fukuda should have his time in the spotlight. It turns out that there’s a lot more to him than the cheerful and supporting façade he’s shown his teammates. In fact, he was the head of rocket development for JAXA once – and dedicated himself so fully to designing rockets and trying to be selected as an astronaut that it cost him his family. That certainly paints his smiling recollections about his daughter from the bus in a whole new light, especially as we learn his ex-wife apparently cut him off from their daughter altogether eventually – and we see what this did to him.
Fukuda makes an interesting parallel with Kenji, who we’ve seen is torn by what his decision to become an astronaut will do to his own relationship with his daughter. Kenji is a generation younger, seemingly the most centered and serene candidate we’ve met – but inside he fears that what happened to Fukuda could happen to him. And we have to ask ourselves, what is it about the dream of space travel that would make someone risk what for most people is the center of their lives – the love of their family (not to mention their life itself)? As we saw last week, this isn’t such an easy thing to quantify in logical terms – there’s something of the purely emotional about the connection to space travel, and I suspect you either feel it or you don’t. And if you do, it’s so ingrained in your very being that it can prompt you to do things that to the average person seem illogical and even foolish. But neither Fukuda or Kenji are average people.
The vehicle for a lot of this introspection is the accidental breaking of Fukuda’s glasses by Monkey-boy Furuya, who steps on them after they fall to the floor. Truth is it really wasn’t Furuya’s fault, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be sorry anyway – but he’s so innately stubborn that he can’t bring himself to apologize and rationalizes it away by claiming it merely levels the playing field because Fukuda is an insider. As you’d expect, Director Nasuda sees this as a perfect opportunity for social experimentation and declines to replace the glasses, instead opting to see how the team reacts. Fukuda for his part soldiers bravely on despite not being able to read for the typing test, and the additional stress makes his already weary body even more of an issue. Furuya wrestles with his own guilt until finally asking Mission Control for a replacement pair of glasses in the dark of night, and Mutta plays the role of peacemaker as best he can.
Meanwhile there’s not much mention of the other teams, though we do hear that Team B is “gloomy” and C is “Quiet”, while Mutta’s team has gotten the reputation for being the genki bunch. Every aspect of the candidates is being monitored, including their cumulative movement – and once again, the sense is that this exam is probably 90% about group dynamics and only 10% individual achievement. The new OP does nothing to dispel the notion that Kenji and Serika are a fait accompli to pass along with Mutta, but I can’t bring myself to root against Fukuda – I already liked him as the real underdog of the bunch, and knowing what he’s sacrificed is only going to make his eventual defeat that much more heartbreaking.
ED2: “Kokuhaku” (告白) by Angela Aki