That was another great episode for Space Brothers, but it’s hardly surprising. This show is the one I take for granted, the one that simply delivers in quiet but brilliant fashion week after week. This entire arc has been a striking example of the right way to write a character-driven series – and when I say character-driven, I mean it. The basic premise is a good one, but all of the drama inside those sealed pods has come from five people interacting with each other. There’s no safety net with these characters – if you don’t totally buy into them as people, the series doesn’t work for this entire arc. But thanks to the patient development they’ve been given, they’ve all emerged as complicated and believable individuals who feel as real as old friends. And damn, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye.
It’s remarkable how emotionally invested I’ve become in this group – I’ve had a lump in my throat for most of the last two episodes. I think the success of Team A is a testament to what happens when you go into a situation with an open mind. These candidates are obviously all different – different in terms of background, goals, strengths and weaknesses. They aren’t free of judgment – there are certainly times when their individual quirks drive each other crazy – but ultimately they’re remarkably accepting of each other, warts and all. I think it’s a fundamental question of whether you like other people or dislike them, as simple as that sounds – and this group ultimately proved that what unites them could trump what divides them. As you’d hope any astronaut would, they took a challenge and chose to treat it as an adventure and as a result, all of them not only enjoyed their isolation but ended it as better people than when they started.
One interesting moment happened early in the episode, where Mutta exhorted himself “Don’t think – focus!” and in doing so, summed himself up perfectly as a character (Aunt Sharon certainly spotted this in him early on). Anyone who carries the burden of overthinking life surely recognized themselves in that moment, and this is the essence of Mutta – the man with formidable mental skills who can’t stop thinking two steps ahead even when he needs to focus on the present (and as such, a marked contrast to his brother – and mother). And when we finally see Mutta turn his focus on one thing, we see the results – he shatters Nitta’s record of treadmill maths and finally manages to escape “Onii-san” on the very last day.
As hinted at in last week’s preview, Mutta suggests the team use Jan-ken-pon to choose their two representatives. Is this truly the fairest way? Well, it’s surely as Nitta says – JAXA will choose who they want, irrespective of what the teams decide. Still – I think, in essence, choosing this method is a kind of Kobayashi Maru method of cheating the system. The key isn’t the method, but that JAXA sees that it was the method. In leaving the selection to this they satisfy JAXA’s requirement without making a value choice themselves, and effectively state their case that all five of them are worthy and qualified. What’s interesting here is that when the moment of truth was bearing down, three of the candidates – Fukuda, Serika and Furuya – all focused on individual weaknesses, mostly their own. Furuya even secretly compiled a notebook of scores, à la Team B – and listed himself in last place (and was honest about it). Everyone surely had a reason why they might not have been the best choice, but in the end no one wanted to see what was in Furuya’s notebook. The experience the five of them shared in the pod made those scores moot (though JAXA surely kept scores of their own).
Ultimately all five of these people aren’t going to be chosen as astronauts, and it’s going to be mighty painful to say goodbye to the ones that don’t make it. Each of them shares a dream, and each candidate’s motivation is equally valid – but there are objective factors that seem to separate them. It was interesting seeing Furuya’s admission that he suffers from a complex, and that’s what’s driving him so hard to prove himself – but perhaps a bit too hard, even at that. Fukuda’s age is surely a valid concern, as he himself admits. Serika’s fixation with the soon to be decommissioned ISS might be an issue (though I don’t see it as one). And then there’s Nitta, still quite the mystery man of the group. Physically, perhaps, he’s the top candidate, and he has a sterling background. Yet he seems to have been swept along in the bow wave of solidarity that’s formed in the team rather than help create the momentum that gave birth to it. Will that count against him?
Of course there’s no drama in Mutta’s case – if he doesn’t move forward, there’s no show. Does he deserve to move forward? I would argue that he does, because in addition to his obsessive attention to detail, he’s also been the one member of the team that was consistently able to step outside the challenge of the moment and see the big picture. It was almost always Mutta who crafted solutions where none seemed obvious, and he always put the needs of the team as a whole first and foremost in his mind. For all his neuroses and self-doubt (which is a legitimate thing for JAXA to be concerned about) Mutta provides a rare combination of microscopic detail and an unorthodox and holistic perspective. He’s a unique individual, and if I were planning a space mission, he’s someone I’d want on my team.