Uchuu Kyoudai – 37

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That was definitely a three-hankie episode.

I’m still not happy about the way the moment was teased and delayed, which felt a little bit beneath Uchuu Kyoudai’s usual standards.  But if there’s one thing I have to say about this show, it’s that it gets the big emotional moments just right.  This one has obviously been building for 37 episodes to it had the weight of a steamroller behind it, but Watanabe-sensei once again proves his worth as a director by letting the moment speak for itself.  As he did when Hibito’s ship safely launched and when the lunar module safely touched down, he gave us simple long-shots and cuts to Mutta’s face – no soaring music (as wonderful as this series’ music is) or camera trickery.  Just the honesty of well-earned emotion.

I felt the tears welling up for several minutes before the actual words left Hoshika’s lips that Mutta had passed the exam.  Was it ever really in doubt?  No – but there’s that sliver of doubt that never leaves you, and the need to finally get the actual reward for all that patience (both from Mutta and the viewer).  I knew as soon as Hoshika-san said he wanted to meet Mutta personally that the news was good, and there was a point with about 7 minutes left in the episode when I was sure the news was coming this week (I don’t know why I was sure, but I was).  The last two eps were at least one episode too many of stringing it out, but I wouldn’t have changed a frame of this one.

This is certainly a triumph of good writing, because the bond between the audience and the characters has been constructed with patience and hard work.  But it’s a triumph for the actors too, starting with Ryuzanji Shou as Hoshika-san.  He hasn’t done much anime but what he has been memorable, and he was a brilliant choice for Hoshika.  From the first appearance Ryuzanji-san made Hoshika special, not just a side character but an emotional anchor for the show and the audience’s proxy inside JAXA.  The long-standing relationship between Hoshika and Mutta-san – even if Mutta had forgotten most of it – made the triumphant moment that much more emotional, because it was almost as big a moment for Hoshika as it was for Mutta.  Hoshika proved there was a place for heart and passion in the selection process, and that there’s nothing wrong with making a big decision a personal one.

As for Hirata Hiroaki, there’s not a whole lot that needs to be said at this point.  Simply put, there’s no seiyuu in anime who can communicate the innate sense of decency and humility that Hira-Hiro does.  Every character he inhabits becomes a real person of astonishing depth, and he’s delivered two of the best performances in anime in the last two years, as Kotetsu Kabaragi and Nanba Mutta – a role that I think surpasses the great work he did in Tiger & BunnySpace Brothers is a great series, but it says something about Hirata that I can’t possibly imagine anyone else playing Mutta.

There were some nice touches in the episode that surrounded the big moment.  My favorite of these was the band-aid – not only did it connect Mutta to Hibito, but also to the boy who memorized the presentations at JAXA.  That’s fitting, because both of them are as much a part of this story as the adult Mutta himself.  It was also nice to see Nanba-mama finally break down and act unabashedly proud of her eldest son.  Of the other candidates, only Mizoguchi was given a chance to be told he’d failed on-screen (the preview spoils the fact that someone else we know passed).  He’s arguably the least likeable character in the series, but I thought his moment was handled with a lot of respect and dignity.  It’s not easy to watch someone you feel you know well get their heart broken, and Moziguchi surely did – that in itself was a surprisingly emotional moment, and I’m glad Space Brothers took the time to show at least one rejection on-screen because that’s the other side of the happy moments we’ve been seeing.

In the end, though, all of the other moments pale in comparison because the name of the show is “Space Brothers” after all.  What happens to Mutta and Hibito is what this series really is, and ultimately it’s Mutta whose story is being told.  He reacted to the news exactly as I expected him to – quietly, fighting back tears (especially when Hoshika-san said “You’re one of the lucky ones” and Mutta realized what that meant for both of them) but not breaking down completely, a little awkward and discombobulated.  That’s the essence of the man – a very real person with very real feelings who accomplishes the remarkable feat of being completely normal and exceptional in every way at the same time.  That he pulls it off is a tribute to the mangaka Koyama-sensei, the director, and the actor who breathes life into the character they created.  Thank goodness for all three.

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11 comments

  1. e

    Mu-chan <3.
    The facial expressions and the voice… just perfect.
    I had to laugh a bit at the pink bicyle girl moment. She saved my tears from spilling over. But really, it was a great episode. And I loved how in the background during the handshake in the park we could see a rainbow made by the kids playing with water. The whole park sequence was full of lovely little details.
    Also, band-aid united XD!

    I admit I rewound the episode to have a better look at Mizoguchi's Italian wine bottle label. Doesn't look like anything I know from my area but they got the motto at the top right. And how ancient Roman of a brand name they picked for the label :). Ahah.

  2. K

    I didn't even notice the little girl was riding a pink bike until Mutta thanked her.

  3. A

    You are very right, and that's the strength of how a great anime can have all the little details constructed and weaved in together — it's like a beautiful art that can move our heart.

    What an awesome episode…the long-awaited joy has finally come.

    ~Ronbb

  4. K

    I'm glad the very last shot of the preview showed the rest of them that passed. In particular someone thats very special to Mutta.

  5. A

    I just loved the bit where Mutta was told he had passed and they just killed the soundtrack and carried the whole scene on Mutta's facial expressions as the news sank in.
    Some directors might have gone for the big swelling music, or the overstated reactions, but not here. For me that worked perfectly.

    I'm not ashamed to admit I had a few tears.

  6. l

    This episode got to me. Even though the outcome was obvious, that scene of Hoshika telling Mutta that he made the cut and that he is one of the lucky ones made me tear up. This show has in spades what the rest do not have – the time available and the careful nurturing of our empathy with the lead character (Mutta) to feel for him and savour the moment with him. For me, this is the best anime of the entire year.

  7. D

    hmm. I've got 4 out 5 final astronauts right, so not bad. Not bad at all, me.

    They chose one of the women instead of Moziguchi and that surprised me a little. Having him next Kenji could have brought more of the intense dynamic between them, but oh well. The writer chose to dump the only character that is close to a villain in this show this early in the game.

    And not sure why they're saving Nitta's backstory for later. I also think having Mutta fail could've worked out, arguably better. Failing him could've showed us a) that not everything works out exactly the way you want in life b) a new opportunity to shed some light on the "unsung heroes", those on the control centers by having Mutta a part of that team like Hoshika. Mutta could have lead the team at the control center, which is probably more impressive than the work of astronauts themselves for the success of any given space mission, while his brother, Hibito leads in the space. But I guess it might've been too risky to fail him now.

  8. D

    wait, I should add that I'm assuming the final 5 astronauts based on the preview alone. That last shot looks too magnificent not to be the astronaut group shot.

  9. Oh yeah, why would any of the losers be at the presser? That`s gotta be them, and there were no big surprises in that group for me.

  10. J

    I think it's quite telling that 3 of the 5 were from Mutta's group as well. It might be just coincidence, but I'd like to think it was because they worked so well together.

  11. B

    Been spending too much time arguing with people about bad anime in the last day, seeing an episode as unimpeachably good as this one does my heart a lot of good. They way they handled Mutta getting the news was perfect. If I wasn't an old hand at this I just might have forgotten for a moment that what I was watching wasn't really happening, Mutta's reaction was so dead on. I did think the episode spent a little too much time on Mizoguchi's background, since I really didn't care much about him one way or the other, but since they managed to get it in while still doing the big reveal this week and doing it so well it's hard to actually complain. Big thumbs up for me on this one, pretty sure this show is going to easily be my #1 of the year.

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