I still suspect that how viewers enjoyed the JAXA exam arc – especially the isolation pod sequence – is a pretty good barometer of how they’re likely the current one. I know that exam phase wasn’t a hit with everyone – a lot of folks seem to feel it went on too long – but it was one of my favorite stretches in the entire series. So it’s really no surprise that I’m finding the events playing out on screen right now just my speed. I love Space Brothers when it really digs into group dynamics and gives Mutta a chance to show how exceptional he is in his own self-effacing way, and these situations always seem to bring out the best in him.
I’ve also been someone who’s been clamoring for development for Nitta Reiji, who’s been the mystery man in the cast. I always felt there had to be something roiling under that too-serene facade of his, and it was only a matter of time until something caused it to crack. It seems as if there was good reason the series was biding its time in getting to that, and that’s another reason why I’m pleased with the way things are progressing. Nitta the iceman had to have an Achilles heel somewhere, and – as is the case with many such types – it appears to be his family.
Training exercises like this one are always interesting for the way they force the hand of the “victims” in showing their resolve and their priorities. Fact is that every one of the ASCANs is a ruthlessly ambitious person – I don’t think there’s any way they’d be in the position they’re in if that weren’t the case. But Vincent seems to be rising above and beyond the guidelines of the training he’s executing in turning into as much of a competition as he possibly can. There’s no hard evidence that the way the candidates rank in this training (if indeed they’re ranked at all) has any impact on how quickly they make it into space. But Bold has them convinced that every moment lost in the desert is a rung further down the ladder they’ll need to start from, and that they can only move up a place at the expense of knocking someone else down. It’s a very popular motivational technique – not one I consider effective in most cases, but often the easy refuge of the poor leader. In effect, Bold is testing himself as a leader as he tests his trainees, and so far I would argue he’s failing.
It’s interesting that this particular exercise may be pointing up an issue with Kenji’s leadership style. It was on his watch that Team E fell into last place, which (partly thanks to the fraternity-caliber punishments he inflicts upon a member of the last place team every night) they’ve since been unable to escape. Kenji might in fact be too nice – too eager to always get buy-in and get everyone to be on the same page – to effectively lead a strong-willed group of astronauts. It’s worth noting that despite their odd mix of personalities Mutta’s group fared much better in the pods than Kenji’s group did – he ended up advancing himself while leaving all his teammates behind. We don’t know how the first two women to lead the desert march fared (or which two) because we skip to Nitta on the fourth day, but his reign is predictable – he drives the group as hard as he can. not paying much attention to their condition as he pushes forward. But it’s effective enough to lift Team E into 4th place, freeing them of the punishment cycle and giving them a little extra burst on the fifth day, when Mutta takes over.
It appears that Mutta’s big challenge is going to come fron Nitta, who announces in the middle of that fifth day that he needs to go back. I’m not sure what the logic of that is, given that they’re already well over halfway to their destination – but the reason is clear enough. It seems very likely indeed that the problem child in Nitta’s family is the little brother he doesn’t admit to having (which may partly explain his relentless mockery of Mutta as “Onii-san” – jealousy), and what’s more, there’s some evidence that Nitta is partly to blame. It seems as if his stony facade hides a temper, and one he’s unleashed on his brother with enough severity that his sister needs to warn him not to do so again when the brother calls Nitta – “if he feels up to it“. The details will probably come out next week, but it’s pretty clear that this is a bad situation. It also seems likely that this will be the catalyst to finally force Nitta to open up to his teammates – I’m not sure how he can avoid it under the circumstances – and give Mutta the opportunity to do what he does best.
With Mutta’s turn coming on the fifth day we’re left to wonder who might be the leader for the final push – I suppose it’s most likely to be Serika from a dramatic standpoint. If so that will be an interesting development, as we’ve seen very little from her in terms of leadership up to this point. That Nitta would choose this moment to come clean suggests that things really must be pretty bad, because it’s hardly ideal. In addition to the time pressure the team is dealing with rattlesnakes, handguns (something which the Japanese members at the very least will have no comfort level with) and and sheer exhaustion.