I can’t help but feel something like the Grinch on a bad day for what I’m about to do, but if I’m going to be honest I wasn’t completely thrilled with this episode as a wrap to the current arc. I’m guessing that’s probably a minority opinion, and maybe I’m just too much of a cynic, but while it was undeniably a nail-biter it was all just a bit too much for my tastes. The strength of Uchuu Kyoudai has always been the subtlety it brings and the way it maximizes the emotional high points by soft-selling them. This was something quite different, and it’s not a change I wholly like.
If I were to sum up this last arc generally and especially this week’s episode, it was like a very good storyline in a different series. It just didn’t feel like Space Brothers to me, though generally that was all to the good, as it’s been a very exciting and nerve-wracking ride. But given how predictably everything ended up, the way the series went about it feels pretty shameless. I’ll give the show credit for instilling the tiniest bit of doubt in me there at the end about whether Hibito was going to make it, but it’s been telegraphed pretty hard for a while now that Brian-3 was going to arrive and save him – and there was never any real possibility he was going to die anyway, truth be told. The countdown to the last second, Brian’s specter appearing everywhere, Hibito standing up and walking despite having been out of oxygen for what seemed like at least a minute – it was pretty heavy-handed by Uchuu Kyoudai standards. For me, there was enough drama built-in to the moment that it didn’t need to be milked to that extent. The ultimate reveal of Mutta’s fate in the JAXA selection (while the preamble was certainly two eps too long) was a study in how this series usually deals with the big moments, and I definitely prefer it.
But I’ve probably kicked enough puppies for one post, so let me acknowledge that as the last few eps have been, this one was certainly gripping. If I’m going to be emotionally manipulated I’d at least like to to have been done well, and this was done very well. The most poetic moment of the ep for me was when Hibito picked up “Little Brian” and saw the photo of the Jay brothers on the back. My initial reaction was, “Wait – why is there a picture of Mutta and Hibito on that thing?” and then it clicked. The connection between brothers is probably the most powerful theme in the series, and this image reached across time and connected the Jay and Nanba siblings beautifully. Nothing Hibito could have seen in that moment would have been more heartbreaking for him, I expect, as it brought home just how much was about to be lost. I also liked the fact that the Brian model ended up having no direct link to the Brian-3 at all, but was a red herring in the practical sense, and it was nice to see a different side of Brian himself in Hibito’s flashbacks – a wisecracking, cocky bastard as well as a genius astronaut and father figure.
The funny thing is, Brian was just like Hibito in that he was a younger brother that surpassed the older. He and Hibito shared the same dream – to see their elder brother join them in space, preferably on the moon. It’s interesting to speculate on Eddie Jay, and why his younger brother had so much more glory in his career before it was cut tragically short – perhaps he was simply better at his job, or perhaps as is the case with Hibito he possesses an easy confidence that allows him to motor past the speed bumps and potholes that the elder brother always seems to struggle with in life. It also makes me wonder if Mutta might have the opportunity to talk with Eddie in the future – I suspect they’d have a lot they could connect over.
Telegraphed ending or no, Space Brothers was certainly willing to dance right up to the edge of the cliff to try and make us doubt – and pulled no punches in its depiction of what looked like Hibito’s last moments. It wasn’t easy to watch him struggle like that, right down to the capillaries bursting in his eye sockets as his oxygen ran out. It can’t be an easy way to die, running out of oxygen and being poisoned by your own carbon dioxide – one wonders if, in Hibito’s place, they’d be tempted to throw open their suit and let the moon’s vacuum finish things in a few agonizing seconds. It was agonizing on Earth, too – agonizing for Hoshika, who I’ve never seen unnerved as he was, and who had to decide whether to tell Mutta his brother was about to die. And for the Flight Director, who didn’t want to hear Hibito’s life counted down and had to live with the knowledge that JAXA had told him where to send the Beetle, and he’d (correctly, under the circumstances) declined to agree. About the least agonized person seemingly was Mutta, though that was an act at least in part, and he didn’t know the immediacy of the crisis. There was a touching faith in his refusal to believe anything could possibly happen to his little brother, the one who was always racing ahead of him in life.
In case you missed my post earlier in the week, Uchuu Kyoudai has been renewed for a second season of unspecified length, starting in April, and been promoted to a highly coveted Saturday evening timeslot where it will share a block with Detective Conan. That’s obviously fantastic news in its own right, and I confess knowing that made the torture of this week a little more bearable. What was happening on the moon was obviously urgent, but knowing that there’s now plenty of time to see Mutta takes his first steps as an astronaut meant not having the count the seconds as they ticked away not just Hibito’s life, but the chance to see those first steps on screen. The anime has covered a little less than half the manga, so it seems a pretty good bet that Space Brothers will be with us in anime form for quite a while longer – and hopefully, prove that anime can succeed commercially in a different way than anime is usually measured, and in a timeslot where anime of this seriousness rarely venture.