One of the things that stands out about Space Brothers is the attention to detail – not in the animation (I love the space shots but the backgrounds do get a little fuzzy in four-cour anime with limited Blu-ray sales) but in the writing. Specifically, the fact that no character is unimportant – everyone in the cast is a little more interesting than in strictly necessary (why is a Japanese newscaster named “Nagata Benjamin”, for example?) and the recurring parts, even small ones, are given real depth and complexity.
This week the beneficiary of that is Azuma, who’s already proving himself an exceptionally interesting minor character. Now though, we really get inside his head and find out exactly what the circumstances are that brought him to this present day. “Misunderstood” is an overused term both in fiction and in life, but Azuma is a character to whom it really applies. I felt as if I understood him right away – I think that was the author’s intention – but to the world of Uchuu Kyoudai he was more like the man Jennifer describes, a remote and frighteningly stern man who was filled with simmering resentment. That never seemed right to me – frankly, his commitment to his craft would never have allowed him to be so unprofessional – but now we have hard evidence to support instinct.
The key line of dialogue in the episode, it seems to me, comes when Azuma asks his wife (Kohinata Miwa) – an American, apparently – “Why do those brothers keep turning to me?” She answers “For the same reason you kept turning to Brian Jay, maybe?” Azuma says himself that only his family and Brian understood him – but, in fact, Mutta understands him too, and is the first and only one to figure out the real reason why Hibito was the first one on the moon. Hibito’s gift in the first place is that he understands things most people don’t, but this is easy for him – he and Azuma are both men weighed down by their own neuroses watching a younger man they both love leap ahead of them because his step is lighter than theirs. It’s exactly as Brian Jay said – Azuma never wanted the responsibility of being the hero of a nation, he just wanted to do his job and be with his family when he was able. He wouldn’t have enjoyed being the first Japanese on the moon, but for Hibito – who’s lived in zero gravity his whole life – it’s a perfect scenario.
Gravity indeed – Azuma and Mutta have too much of it, and Hibito has a freedom they never will. Even if it’s better this way you can’t help feel sorry for Azuma as he watches Hibito take the step he’ll never be the first to take. That job of staying with the orbiter while the others walk the surface has to be one of the most agonizing in the world – just ask Jim Lovell – and Azuma will always wonder what might have been. It’s the curse of living with too much gravity.
As for Mutta, he stays behind in Houston to watch the landing as the others return home to await the word from JAXA, set to come a week after Hibito and the Orion land on the moon. It was almost possible to forget about the JAXA selection what with the focus on Hibito and the NASA mission, but it’s always been lurking just beneath the surface. It seems a foregone conclusion that Mutta is going to make the grade, especially given the enormous publicity boon it would be for JAXA to announce it as Hibito walks on the moon, but there’s still a good deal of suspense – though I’d guess we’re going to have to wait at least a couple of weeks to find out.