Uchuu Kyoudai – 56

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Clearly, being alive is not a prerequisite for being a main character in this series.

It’s hard to believe that – not counting the flashbacks to boyhood days – Brain Jay has been dead for the entire timeframe of Space Brothers.  The man – and especially the events surrounding his death – continue to reassert influence through every arc, through every twist and turn and character thread.  In many ways Brian is the framing device that ties the entire series together – if you were of a morbid frame of mind, you could even say he haunts it like a ghost.

Certainly, “haunted” would be an accurate description of what Brian’s memory does to Pico Norton.  It was obvious enough from last week’s events that there was more to Pico than the crude and obnoxious buffoon we were presented with.  Don’t get me wrong, he is a crude and obnoxious buffoon – but he’s also one of the top engineers at Denver, the contractor working with NASA on the parachute system that’s supposed to get Hibito and the Orion crew back safely to Earth.  The engineer in charge of that very system, in fact.

That’s an obvious and very neat tie-in to the Comeback Competition that the ASCANs are involved with at the moment.  I suppose it’s not unrealistic that Pico would be pegged to be a part of it even with the astronauts preparing to return to Earth – his work is effectively done and that’s out of his hands, so he’s got the time.  It was interesting to hear the dilemma of the parachute problem presented the way it was – does NASA really have a potential “parachute gap” because their program has been based on glide landings and all the Apollo engineers are dead?  A cynic would mention the dozens of unmanned craft that have had to land safely on their respective planets and moons using a parachute system – some of those bodies having an atmosphere requiring a safe entry for the probe – but for purposes of the story, I suppose it’s a suspension of disbelief thing.

There’s a bit of an edgy portrait being painted of NASA here, considering that they’re cooperating with the series (just like JAXA is).  First of all there’s the fact that NASA and the Russians refuse to cooperate on their respective space technologies – which is mostly true, though it’s more for strategic reasons than the foolish pride Uchuu Kyoudai suggests.  But then there’s the kicker – Brian and his crew are dead because NASA bailed on Pico and Denver to go with a cheaper contractor for the chute system after Pico went over budget with one too many stress tests than ended in a crash.  It’s not entirely unrealistic but damn, it certainly casts a pall over everything that happens at NASA in this series.

In that light, Pico’s current state isn’t too surprising.  He’d made a promise with Brian to go drinking after the crew returned safely to Earth – one Brian planned to keep even though Pico was off the project – and Pico blames himself even if his chute wasn’t the one that failed.  Why?  Because he lost the contract for being too careful, and for using failure as part of the process.  But when Mutta (seriously – why are you eating a peanut you found in your hair?) exercises the same impulse on the CanSat project, it’s the first time Pico really seems to be paying attention: this will certainly be the trigger that “turns his switch to on”.  Team E isn’t just working with a seemingly disinterested engineer because they finished last – they get less money too, $600 – less than the higher finishers in the desert hike and a full 25% less than Team A.  Serika has found a blueprint from last year’s competition on the internet and the team is using that as a framework – an obvious parallel to what happened at NASA with the Orion parachute program – but Pico is quite certain (before Mutta asserts his will) that this approach will fail.

This episode finds Uchuu Kyoudai on solid footing in many respects – pathos, team dynamics, scientific geekery – and Mutta likewise.  This is his bailiwick – design and engineering – and he’s the only one on the team who realizes that blowing the entire budget on one prototype CanSat is a losers’ game.  Mutta is certainly the proverbial tortoise in the symbolism of this series – compare to the “space hare” that’s his brother first of all, but also compared to most of his teammates and competitors.  He’s never fast out of the gate but he always manages to get to the core of the matter, never makes a good first impression but always impresses.  He caught skeptic Vince’s eye with the way he handled Nitta’s crisis, and he caught skeptic Pico’s with his insistence on designing a CanSat with the intention of seeing it fail, and learning from it.  If there’s a metaphor for Uchuu Kyoudai – and certainly for Mutta’s life at the very least – it’s that first isn’t always best, and slow and steady wins the race.  If I were planning a space mission (and most certainly if I were a part of one) that’s the sort of guy I’d want on my crew.

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  1. i

    I actually thought the pragmatism from NASA was very realistic, especially considering how NASA right now is. They don't really do too much of note anymore do they. Lack of funding is their biggest problem right now with America carrying a couple of trillion in debt, so its actually normal for them to find the lowest bidder like how GM outsource their work. They'll probably have to do something I read in Dan Brown book once and get sponsorship, so the next space shuttle will have Chrysler, Fly Emirates and Telmex on it.

    I really did think that Pico and Vince were brothers considering how this show goes but I guess the brothers the Nanba pair emulate is the Jay ones. Here's for a hero's return for Hibito

  2. Yeah, I'm not saying the budgetary choice to drop Denver was unrealistic – but it's a pretty damning indictment nonetheless. Basically, NASA killed Brian Jay and his crewmates because Pico's testing was too expensive. That's pretty harsh stuff right there.

    For the record, NASA has outsourced much of their technology since the very beginning, including on the Apollo missions. A great deal of that and everything since has been contractor work.

  3. i

    What about the sponsorship stuff or worse (better in some perspectives) the privatization of NASA?

  4. Most of that is new, yeah, but that's economic reality.

  5. S

    "They don't really do too much of note anymore do they" That's a bit harsh. I mean, I think Curiosity was a pretty big thing, but I'm in the space industry though, so maybe my opinion differs from the public opinion.

    You can also check out this if you're really interested:

  6. l

    It is coincidental. The manga volume (#11) which this episode of the show is pegged to was released in September 2010.

  7. A

    To think that the peanut that was in Mutta's hair came from Pico-san's nose…

    Brian Jay does loom on every arc just like you said.

  8. G

    I have a different theroy regarding Pico… I think he is probably the top engineer (skill wise) and his appearance (and attitude) is all a swerve so that the top teams skip choosing him so he can help the team in last place. He may be unhappy and acts like an asshat but I think Mutta's team is going to be very lucky to have him.

    The fact that he met the other guy for a drink in a bar and they bumped fists like they are old friends makes me think even more its a setup.

  9. A

    I definitely got the impression from him that "you don't judge a book by its cover".

  10. That's certainly possible. I'm not sold on the theory, but I won't discount it. I'm just not sure Vince is the sort of guy that would necessarily be looking for ways to help the last place team – he seems a lot more Social Darwinist than that.

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