I’d like to say I wondered if this episode would break me down, but I pretty much knew that it would – it was really more a question of what would be the trigger. And interestingly, it was the two things at polar opposites of the spectrum – the flashbacks to the Nanba brothers as kids, and the shots of stoic old Dad and Azuma dealing with their emotions as the moment drew near – that really did it for me, more so than the more obvious emotional crescendos (though they hit the mark too). In a medium where overplayed melodrama is often substituted for genuine emotion, Space Brothers should be held up as an example of how powerful restraint and understatement can be at communicating deep and profound feeling.
I haven’t talked about them much, but Cho and Tanaka Mayumi – too wily old seiyuu veterans of the highest caliber – are doing a fantastic job with the roles of the Nanba parents. I find Nanba-papa especially moving, because he’s such a model of Japanese restraint (and not just Japanese, when it comes to Dads) – he keeps his emotions to himself, and doesn’t turn to others for comfort in his tense moments. He simply lies awake at night, staring at the wall, worrying about his son and what he’s about to do. It was a typically unorthodox decision for Uchuu Kyoudai to make him the focus of the moments surrounding Hibito’s moon landing, and a typically wise one. His little fist pump (of course unseen by his wife and anyone else – though I suspect in RL TV cameras might have captured the moment live) and Azuma’s tiny smile said so much with so little about the universality of human emotion.
I also probably haven’t talked about Kenn and the role of Hibito in general (who knows, maybe I have). While the focus of the series is Mutta and the star performance is certainly Hira-Hiro, Hibito has really emerged as something special over this arc – a man-child with a profoundly direct and innocent view of the world. His “I feel so light” summed up Hibito perfectly – he’s not so much a person as a force of nature. His first step on the moon was a leap, and his profound first words? “Yay!!” Why would Hibito change in that moment, of all moments? He’s Japan’s moon rabbit, and he was never really anything else. Those of us (like his brother) who live with the reality of gravity can only envy Nanba Hibito.
When it comes to Mutta, his role has largely been defined as it related to Hibito over the last ten episodes or so, while the reverse was true prior to that. This is about to revert though, and even here it’s till ultimately Mutta’s reactions that define the moment for the audience. “I’ve always wondered…” Of course he has – and of course the answer was always going to be “Both”. There are some moments in life where no single emotional reaction is enough, and for Mutta, watching Hibito land on the moon is surely one of them. There’s something very real about watching these momentous events play out through Mutta’s eyes, because ultimately in life it’s only own perspective that we can ever truly feel and understand – everything is most important in the way it impacts us. It’s selfish, but life is selfish – and Mutta again represents a perfect stand-in for the audience here.
Now, at last, the focus can turn to Mutta himself, and he can finally become the star of his own story. It seems only fitting that while Hibito’s path to space should have been direct and rapid like a waterfall, Mutta’s should have been halting and meandering, like the twists and turns of a river. He’ll get there in the end, but for Mutta there will always be a weight on his legs, and on his chest – even when he’s in zero gravity. But I think that will make him appreciate the achievement of his dream in a way not even the Moon Bunny could ever appreciate it, and the crowning moment will be even sweeter for all the hardships he’s had to endure to reach it.