Our long international nightmare is over – over three endless weeks of recaps, Space Brothers finally comes back with a new episode. I only hope they didn’t piss off a lot of fans so much that they lost interest in the series – bringing new viewers up to speed for a new timeslot is all well and good, but three weeks is asking a lot of the ones who’ve patiently stuck with you for a year. It’ll be very interesting indeed to see what the ratings for the series look like this week in its shiny, high-profile prime time slot next to Detective Conan.
The desert survival arc definitely had its moments, and I quite liked the scenario with Nitta as it played out. In general, though, I don’t think it was Uchuu Kyoudai at its best and I’m not sorry to see it come to an end. This show seems best when it’s fixated on the mental side of the equation, especially when we basically see the serious vicariously through Mutta’s neurotic eyes. If you think about it there aren’t many series that feature as much interior narration from the MC as this one does, and that’s not a coincidence – it’s Mutta’s eternal struggle with himself and hilariously skewed and intelligent viewpoint that really make the series special.
We pick up the action literally right where we left off, with Nitta and Mutta having arrived back in camp after trekking back for the former’s phone. Mutta, in predictable anime fashion, has gotten sick – a 38.9 fever (you’re in Texas Dudes, use Fahrenheit). However, this isn’t played for serious drama – in fact, the end of the survival training is something of an anti-climax. There are some cute moments where Mutta imagines being taken care of by Dr. Serika (“Please take your shirt off”) but in reality, she gives him a couple of Tylenol and we cut to the moment of decision – will Team E forfeit, or will Mutta soldier on towards the finish line?
If you didn’t see much suspense in that cliffhanger, you’re not alone. The interesting part of it is Bold’s reaction. Larry Bison is gently mocking him as he often does, for allowing Nitta to keep his phone, but Bold lets his guard down just for a second with a “But…”. It seems clear he’s had his first second-thoughts about his initial assessment of Mutta as a hopeless washout – most likely because he blames himself for the crisis, and because he would have handled it in the same way Mutta did (or else he simply admires the approach Mutta chose). Nitta blames himself too of course, and not without cause – so it’s hardly a surprise when he insists on carrying Mutta’s pack, and no more of one when the others insist on splitting Mutta’s gear between them. Team E staggers home in last place, but they finish – and even get a little inspiration from Lowry, who actually gets a Japanese word right this time, “Hokori” (probably because he used Katakana instead of Kanji). It means both “pride” and “dust” – and seems quite appropriate for the setting.
The next phase of the training/competition is about as much of a 180 degree shift as you can imagine – a CanSat competition. The idea of the “Comeback Competition” (a very real event) is to use CanSat technology to help aspiring students understand the nature of satellite launch and recovery, and the notion of pitting ASCANs against brainiac teens is an amusing one. There are five engineers assigned to help the teams, and they get to choose in order of finish – and Team A chooses Eric (Ishida Akira) the only one of the five who’s actually designed a rocket that’s gone into orbit. Team E gets stuck with the seeming odd-sock of the bunch – Pico (the utterly unmistakable Ohtsuka Houchuu). He’s a slob, seemingly lazy, thinks nothing of farting in front of strangers and professes to have no interest whatsoever in helping Team E before ambling off to go drinking, leaving them to their won devices.
This phase of the training promises to be an interesting one, for a few reasons. First off, there’s the fact that Mutta’s entire pre-astronaut career was spent designing vehicles, so if anyone is well-suited to this task he is. And then the fact that there’s obviously more to Pico than meets the eye – which one could have guessed even before the amusing but very odd scene at the bar where he and a bemused Vince exchange a series of very awkward fist-bumps. There’s also the continued drama with Amanti, who makes it very clear (though Mutta either misses it or convinces himself otherwise) that the fever wasn’t what made her look so worried when she told Mutta’s fortune. The whole fortune-telling thing is an element I could do without, to be honest – it feels silly and undignified for a series like this – but dragging it out interminably definitely doesn’t help. If Space Brothers has an Achilles heel, it’s the impulse to drag things out more than they ideally should be, and I’d love to see this nonsense cleared and dealt with as soon as possible.