Forget Space Brothers – this is the cartoon I want to watch.
I’ve remarked before that JAXA seems to take its cue from the Hunter Association when it comes to examining its candidates. If anything is clear, it’s that nothing should ever be taken at face value, and this episode certainly continued that theme. I think there’s a general assumption that any candidate that gets past the first round is physically capable of going into space, and all the rest of the phases are a winnowing process based entirely on evaluating their mental and emotional fitness for the rigors of space travel. If this series demonstrates anything clearly, it’s that team dynamics are absolutely critical for astronauts – that, and the fact that most of what JAXA does is really designed to see how the candidates behave when they’re forced to react to a situation, rather than what they’ll when given time to prepare.
Before all that, though, the always hilarious Mutta parents arrive on the scene. Uchuu Kyoudai really excels at delivering dialogue-free comedy – Most of the humor in this series is based on sight gags, in fact – but when people talk you’d better pay attention. I could look at stuff like Mutta’s father (in his “Pretty” t-shirt) making kissy faces at “cugly” Apo and the constantly skewed takes on American culture all day. Still, I get the sense that the parents are overcompensating a bit for the anxiety they’re feeling about Hibito, and we may see that come out next week.
Enter Murasaki Sansei (Katsu Anri), one of the team of JAXA astronauts evaluating the candidates. He’s a live-wire, this one – he even decides to pay a prank on poor Mutta by loosening the screw on his chair, having heard what Hoshika-san had done earlier. Of course this goes all wrong when the chair collapses – doubly painful for Mutta, whose legs are killing him after his “half-assed” 216 squats the day before. It’s only on his way to the floor that Mutta notices Azuma, sitting off to the side and impassively watching. I suppose it could be said that it was fortunate for Mutta that this entire interview round is a sham – a ruse designed to make the candidates think the decision has been made, and that they can relax and treat the rest of the trip as a vacation.
I think a reasoned person could argue that JAXA’s approach to these exams borders on cruel. They make the candidates think they’re done, then get them drunk at a roadhouse and make their real decision based on how they react to leading questions from the astronauts (including real-life JAXA legend Noguchi Souichi, again appearing as himself). But the specter of death hangs over these people, for all the levity the series introduces – when the stakes are that high, I suppose you want to do everything humanly possible to discover how people will react in situations that you’ll never truly know how they’ll react to until they actually happen. It’s Murasaki who seems to take a special interest in Mutta, playing yet another joke (coffee in a coke bottle) but getting some very detailed answers from him about the other candidates. Mizoguchi, meanwhile – a wallflower during these festivities – responds to a similar question from astronaut Miyata Atsushi (Ohba Takeshi) about Nitta with an entirely non-committal non-answer.
It’s interesting to speculate how these totally different responses reflect on the candidates. Mizoguchi’s cautious response could work in his favor, but it seems too guarded and mistrusting to me. Mutta might have said too much, but he impressed Murasaki with his eye for detail – and none of what he said was judgmental, or malicious – it was all factual (kitty wallpaper, Nitta?). I think Mutta wins this round, personally, and again we see as people get to know him well, his unique charms win them over. His answer to “Who would make the best astronaut?” is totally honest and very revealing – “Kenji would make the best astronaut. Serika-san is the one I’d most like to see as an astronaut. But the one who wants it the most is me.”
It really seems as if the decision will be made this night – as we see through a very cleverly staged scene shift to Hoshika in Tokyo, where it’s time for morning coffee while the candidates are getting buzzed in Houston. Perhaps the key will come down to Mutta’s conversation with Azuma after all, as Mutta approaches him despite Murasaki’s well-intentioned advice not to. I think Nasuda’s face as he eavesdrops on the two of them is both very funny and very revealing, and I think the Azuma connection is going to be yet another case where what Mutta perceives as bad luck turns out to be good luck after all.