I think the groundwork of this episode had been laid out to the point where there were never likely to be many surprises. We’re in very familiar territory here – the story of brothers with a shared love of space – so the only real question was really whether the story of Reiji and Kazuya Nitta was going to be able to add anything fresh to the mix. I would argue that it accomplished the mission successfully, especially as it applies to shedding new light on the most inscrutable member of the main cast.
It’s probably fair to say this is the sort of episode you’d never see in a shorter series. It didn’t offer a whole lot about the Nitta situation that we didn’t already know – the picture had already been painted, and this ep was the shading and background. We can pretty much assume we’re going to be here awhile, and it seems likewise safe to assume that Nitta is going to be an important part of the story as Mutta’s transition from candidate to astronaut comes to fruition. I’ve felt at times that Uchuu Kyoudai spends too much time on peripheral events at the expense of delaying the main story (especially in the eps before Mutta learned his exam results) but if any series can afford to do that sort of thing, it’s one with a long-term view like this one – and given Nitta’s position in the story I don’t think his situation is all that peripheral.
My big fear going into this episode was that we’d see a miraculous resolution to the Nitta brothers’ storyline, but that wasn’t the case. The hikikomori issue is a complicated one, a serious social problem in Japan, and the problems Kazuya faces can’t be solved by a phone call. He needs professional help (I’m guessing he’s had some already and it didn’t help, but either way he needs it) no matter what happens with Reiji. But there’s something in Reiji’s helplessness in this situation that’s quite affecting. Here’s a man who projects strength and even arrogance at all times, yet he admits he has absolutely no idea what he wants to say to his brother even if they talk – he simply wants to talk to him. He wants to reach Kazuya and doesn’t know how, only that he has to try – even showing willingness to have his brother live with him (a highly risky gambit, if it happens).
The irony here isn’t especially subtle, but it is effective. Reiji doesn’t know how to talk to his brother, but he’s crafted the right message anyway – and he reaches Kazuya without even realizing he’s speaking to him. The crux of the matter is that it was Kazuya’s passion for the stars that infected Reiji – his love for the “living stones” he sees when a comet gives us the gift of a meteor shower. Somewhere along the way Kazuya lost the will to move forward, while Reiji never did – thanks in part to the inspiration his brother provided. That there was a meteor shower on the very night this episode takes place is a little too convenient to be an admirable dramatic device, but apart from that I think the metaphor works very well. Now it’s really a question of where Kazuya decides his movement is going to take him, though I suspect at some point it will be to Houston.
The other major aspect of this plot of course is the parallel between the Nitta and Nanba brothers. We didn’t learn a whole lot about Mutta and Hibito that we didn’t already know, but it’s still interesting to see Mutta’s reaction to the undisguised envy Nitta has of their relationship. From Mutta’s perspective having a little brother so talented (and more crucially, for whom life seems to come so much easier) is a curse as much as a blessing, but what stands out as a difference between the two sets of siblings is that between Mutta and Hibito, there are few secrets. They compete, they fight (even with punches once) but there are no lies – and when it comes to the point where they realize they’ve hurt the other, they also realize that’s something they never wanted to do.
I couldn’t help but laugh at Mutta’s irritation at realizing Nitta wasn’t the jerk he thought he was, because it’s just the nature of Uchuu Kyoudai to show us more than what’s on the surface. With the truth of Nitta’s family status out there, of course, that puts Amanti’s mysterious prophecy back on the table – and Mutta being the fellow he is (the sort that obsessively worries about everything) it’s certainly playing on his mind. This is one of those times when I think Space Brothers can get a little too cute – I’d rather they just get this silliness out on the table, deal with it and move on. But with Team E back in last place thanks to Nitta and the end of the survival training still to deal with, I don’t expect that to happen for at least another couple of weeks.