Looking back over the first 19 episodes of this series, I’d have to say this episode was one of my favorites, despite the fact that not much really happened. It’s not like we’ve been counting the days till a long-awaited udon-making ep, but like so much else with Uchuu Kyoudai there’s more there than meets the eye. I won’t deny the episode was unabashedly sentimental – in fact, I was close to misting up quite a few times – but it was totally effective for me because the sentiment was both emotionally realistic and restrained. And in no small part because I’m squarely in the target audience for this show.
Uchuu Kyoudai has a way of gently leading you along to the point where when something important happens or some important riddle is solved, you discover that you sort of knew it all along even if you didn’t realize it. In this episode I was thinking “Hmm – Mutta never said what his “dicey” question was.” When he revealed the answer in response to Fukuda’s question, I knew the answer before he said a word – although I didn’t know I knew it until Fukuda asked the question. The writing here is refreshingly subtle and smart, and nothing ever feels out of place. I’ll include the BGM in that too, which like the rest of the show is subtle and understated – but it perfectly sets and enhances the mood, those simple piano notes always chiming in at just the right moment.
Another area that this series excels is in the use of flashbacks, and we saw ample evidence of it here. So much of the desire to be an astronaut is grounded in childhood (not just in Mutta but surely all of them), and the flashbacks in Space Brothers don’t feel like memories of a distant past – they feel alive and connected to the characters in the present, especially Mutta. Who would have thought that the act of making noodles would be such a powerful emotional trigger, but it was – both for Mutta and for me. The impact Sharon had on his life is clear – it always has been – but the surprising part for me is that she had a husband. It’s not so much that we’ve never seen evidence of him, but that there were strong suggestions that Sharon and Tamura-san were in a relationship. Perhaps there’s a deeper story behind this, perhaps not.
Another interesting element that bonds me with this show is that the author is clearly a dreamer, and something of a geek. Anyone’s who’s ever had a passion that wasn’t considered cool can sympathize with Mutta’s feelings as he tried to share his enthusiasm for astronomy with his classmates only to be shot down. The entire sequence that followed was one of the best of the series, as it showed Mutta (with his bag hung from his head) slowly trudge away from school and eventually find his way to a playground, where he sat for hours and waited for darkness so he could watch the sky. And just as identifiable was the joy he felt at discovering a group of people passionate about the same things he was, who shared the same dreams he did – and even knew all about Aunt Sharon, and considered her a hero. This happened in Group B too, as things seemed to relax with the points totals erased and some of the group let their guard down and revealed their inner child to each other.
Not part of that, of course, was Mizoguchi – and it seems clear that “Heartseed” Hoshika was waiting to see whose gravitational pull was stronger within the group, exempting the two of them from green cards to put them under greater strain. As everyone in A and B geeked out over science fiction and the discovery of life on Mars (!) Mizuguchi sat by himself, working at his laptop. Hoshika wonders aloud if he’s a sadist, but it’s clear he enjoys seeing his subjects succeed more than fail. The green cards have become something of a joke now that the cat’s out of the bag, but they’ve clearly served their purpose in both groups.
As the confinement comes to an end, I find myself growing sad for the same reasons Mutta is – this is indeed dicey news. I’ve grown to quite like all of these people, and the dynamics in Group A especially are loaded with charm. Watching all of them stomp the dough as they good-naturedly bantered was one of those heart-tugging moments for me, knowing that their fellowship is about to end. While the choice of two members is clearly non-binding, they still have to make it – and from the preview, it looks as if Mutta is going to suggest that they Jan-ken-pon to decide. The message is clear, I think – all of them deserve to be astronauts, and whatever JAXA decides, no one will complain.
Lastly, please note that Hibito has switched to “Kakkoii!” for “Today’s Space Photo”…