Well, so much for that whole drama surrounding Kenji. It’s a bit of a letdown in a way, that all the drama surrounding Mutta’s feelings about that was for naught, but I’ll give credit where it’s due for surprising me – I never saw it coming. The notion that one of the selections had dropped out never occurred to me, though if it was to be any of them, Teshima probably made the most sense – he was never fully on-board with the whole astronaut thing, it seemed like. As usual the series does a great job providing back story to flesh out a side character here, right down to Teshima’s domineering father naming him “Yuuri” after the first man in space Yuri Gagarin (a man so respected he was a hero to many Americans even in the midst of the cold war). And it’s certainly true that space scientists believe Europa is the most likely place in the solar system where life might exist. The message here is consistent with the themes of the series – space exploration isn’t just about the men and women who go into space, courageous as they are. It’s about the ones who design the suits, and search for life, and build the rockets – and the ones who choose who should don the suits. Without any of them, space exploration wouldn’t be possible.
I think it would be fair this was a low-key episode, a transition between one phase of the story and another. Lots of comedy, much of it related to Mutta’s part-time job as a “Mutta Claus” earning 5000 yen per day. Rid the world of asparagus? Now that’s change we can believe in – though my favorite comedic moment was when Mutta took his Santa hat off and revealed himself as a conehead (and the slow settling that followed). I’ve been wondering for a while, does JAXA pay the candidates for the time they spend taking the selection exams? If not, it’s easy to see what a labor of love this has to be for someone to want to pursue it – most of the candidates are from lucrative fields and (unlike Mutta) probably had to leave high-paying jobs to take the exam.
As for Kenji, I guess he’s back to square one – wrestling with the reality of chasing his dream, and what it means for his family. It’s nice to see the three main heroes all advance to Houston, though it almost feels a bit too perfect for me – it certainly will if all of them actually become astronauts. Kenji’s a good candidate, that’s for sure, and hopefully he learned something after Mizoguchi played him like a Stradivarius during the isolation exam. Mutta meanwhile heads off to Houston early (his GAR exit scene ruined when he runs out of money on his PASMO card) to escape his parents’ guilt trip about not contributing more financially, and to spend some quality time with Apo. The exam in Houston coincides with the launch of Hibito’s mission – and one of the examiners is to be a Japanese astronaut supposedly jealous that Hibito beat him out for a place on that mission. I suspect this is going to be another instance where Mutta’s apparent bad luck turns into good fortune.