I was wondering how Uchuu Kyoudai could possibly follow up the emotional crescendo of last week’s episode, which hit me like a freight train. I should know by now not to doubt, because between the mangaka and director this series has about as unerring an emotional radar as you’ll see in anime. As I said last week, this show just gets all the big moments right – and this week’s episode was no exception.
In real-life the moments after achieving a dream can often be an anti-climax, as the pursuit of the goal has been a companion for so long that it’s absence can leave a gaping emptiness behind. So it is with drama, too, where the moment that’s been built up to for so long can suck all the air out of the room once it’s actually happened (many shows have gone into the ditch as a result). As usual, though, Space Brothers gets it. Why is it that so many shows rush through these moments, denying the characters and the audience the emotional payoff they’ve richly earned? Perhaps there’s something of the national character involved when it comes to anime, and the fact that most series have to tell their stories in one or two cours is certainly a factor. But Space Brothers doesn’t fill the time it’s so fortunate to have with filler – it uses it to allow us into the private world of the characters, and to understand their feelings at moments like these with subtlety and complexity, rather than skipping across the emotional surface like a stone on a pond.
For Mutta, and us, this is a surreal moment. Rather than picking up where the last ep ended, with Mutta entering the press conference, we experience the trip there. The moments in the car with Hoshika-san (I dreamed about Mutta and his getting a JAXA business card this week, interestingly enough), the mundane details like the traffic jam, the meeting with the losing candidates in the green room. It’s all going by in a blur for Mutta – as I think it would for anyone. How can the achievement of a lifelong dream possibly make sense in the context of that moment? The press conference itself is classic Mutta – awkward, honest, nothing coming easy for him as it does for Hibito. But it’s also clear that he’s the star of the show – not just because he’s the Moon Bunny’s big brother, but because he looks like the answer to a “Which one doesn’t fit?” question standing on stage with the others.
There was one element missing from all this for me – one that I didn’t notice much in the emotional high of last week, but which really struck me here – and that was the other members of Team A. Those episodes were so memorable, arguably the best arc of the entire series, and that was because of the remarkable sense of camaraderie that grew between those five people. By the end – and in large measure this was due to Mutta’s self-effacing leadership – they became a family that was willing to set aside their ambitions in the service of the group’s success. By the end of that arc I felt as if I’d been living in that pod with those people, that’s how well I knew them. They were a big part of what’s happening right now, and it didn’t seem right that two of them weren’t there.
Well, as I said, I should learn to stop doubting by now – because Uchuu Kyoudai always gets the big moments right. I knew as soon as Hoshika said he had “someone else who wants to celebrate” that it would be Fukuda-san – and as soon as I saw his face, that’s when the emotions starting to well up in me all over again. He’s like Hoshika, never “one of the lucky ones” – someone who’s given up so much in pursuit of the dream he’ll almost certainly never achieve. Yet it was clear that his happiness for the others (especially Mutta) was very real. Amazingly though, it wasn’t old Fukuda but Ya-san that really gave the episode it’s biggest emotional punch. All those mails to Mutta were affection thinly veiled in sarcasm – it’s the only way Ya-san really know how to be – but it was the eleventh that really did it, both for Mutta and for me. “We’re awesome!” That’s exactly how it felt to me, too – that entire team had won by sending three of its five members forward, proving that trust and loyalty were the most important elements in the selection process.
That last email – along with the admission that it was Mutta and Nitta that Furuya would have voted to move on – provided the perfect cap to the episode, which amazingly lived up to last week’s superb example. The moment is still to come, of course, that Mutta has a chance to share this with his brother – but Hibito knows, having been tipped off by Hoshika to the press conference (and promptly gone into Moon Bunny mode, once again banging his head). And it feels as if it was that last mail from Ya-san that symbolically gave the series the blessing to move on to the next phase, where Mutta begins to live the life he’s dreamed of up until now. Where that will take the series with only 13 episodes to go is hard to say – if they continue to follow the manga faithfully, we’ll presumably (I haven’t read it myself) get to see relatively little of Mutta in serious training and nothing of him on an actual mission. Still, given the choice I believe I’d rather they do that than skip ahead in order to give us more of Mutta in space – I can’t shake the feeling that shortcuts would be the death of Uchuu Kyoudai, which has made a glorious success of itself by never cutting corners, and by understanding that the journey is every bit as rewarding as the destination.