This was definitely my favorite episode of Space Brothers since the schedule change, and quite possibly since Mutta received the news that he’d passed the JAXA exam from Hoshika-sensei and shared the aftermath with his teammates (those are probably my two favorite eps in the series). There have been some excellent eps since then, and the dramatic arc highlighting Hibito’s Lunar accident was exciting in a way that felt almost like a different series, but the sort of storyline that we’re seeing right now really seems like Uchuu Kyoudai at its most natural.
I like the way the truth about Pico Norton and his background is being meted out slowly, the anime building a jigsaw puzzle for the audience one piece at a time. Certain things became clear this week – among them that when this phase started, Pico knew neither that Mutta was Hibito’s brother or that his background was as an engineer and designer. It’s not hugely surprising that Pico – an oddball to begin with and clearly and understandably preoccupied at the moment, wouldn’t bother to check. But it is interesting that Vince (another big reveal was that he and Pico are childhood friends) chose not to share this information with him.
In practical terms it always seemed inevitable that Pico would spot the qualities in Mutta that make him so interesting and become interested himself. It also seemed likely that Mutta would have a chance to really shine with this challenge, and both those seeds bore fruit this week. While Kenji always seems to presume a leadership role for himself – to be honest he’s beginning to get on my nerves a bit with his nice-guy demeanor and presumtive way of thinking – Mutta always seems to end up being the real leader of any group he’s part of. Mutta – whether he’s studied the principle or not – is clearly an agent of servant leadership, the school of management that emphasizes the group over the individual, listening to others, and a commitment to help the others around them grow in their skills and become happier people. Mutta never presumes leadership – he simply cuts through the BS and gently offers suggestions that make good sense, and it’s the weight of his ideas and his integrity that brings him authority within the group.
The funny thing is, Mutta is very self-deprecating – but then, good leaders often are. In this episode he sees himself as the Team E rover in its first incarnation – unable to move once an obstacle presents itself. But Mutta always gets there, even if he doesn’t get there first – and this example is no different. It was his statement that you should always plan for failure when designing that initially caught Pico’s attention (when the first parachute failed, Mutta sounded exactly like Pico had) but it was when Mutta suggested sponge tires that Pico really perked up and began to participate. It’s a good idea not even Pico has thought of – it seems perfect for a CanSat, and I even wonder if it might work for a full-sized rover. It’s also Mutta who suggests a simple delay system where the rover automatically reverses and changes direction if it’s unable to proceed forwards for five seconds. But what if it comes upon a hole or a crevasse? Later, perhaps…
As was the isolation arc, this training exercise is fascinating both for the science and the character dynamics. Pico scolds the group (once he’s committed to helping) that they should be thinking of their CanSat as if their fellow astronauts were riding in it. He gives them a history lesson – in the US Space Program, it’s traditional to have women fold the parachutes. Why? Possibly their smaller hands and attention to minute detail, but also for more poignant reasons: while the men were fighting in WW II, it was the “Rosie the Riveter” back home who folded the parachutes. And because they wanted their husbands and brothers to come home safe, they were damn careful. He gives the women an exacting lesson in the art, then tells them to imagine the man next to them depends on their work to land safely. This naturally holds an appeal for Mutta, as it concerns Serika folding the chute.
Pico has emerged as quite a fascinating study. Having him play with his children’s toys while the team works was a brilliant move – it provides a good sight gag and an insight into Pico’s odd nature. It only makes sense that it was Mutta he would bond with, given how similair they are in many ways – but clearly, Pico has researched Mutta now that his interest has been whetted, and seen the connection with Hibito. It’s easy to understand how the tension of the impending return of Hibito and his crew is eating Pico alive – he blames himself for Brian’s death and that of his crew, and he’s utterly helpless. All he can do is wait, and he’s a bit of a wreck because of it. It seems that in that sense finally getting interested in Team E and their project is a welcome distraction for him, something to make the endless days fly by a little faster as he walks on pins and needles.
Pico has certainly accepted Mutta – he’s invited him (and only him, from Team E) to share a drink. It turns out that Vince is also going to be there, and whether he’s accepted Mutta yet is another matter – I suppose how Mutta responds to his highly dangerous “terror by driving” routine will have something to say about that. Meanwhile Azuma and three crew-mates have arrived on the moon, meaning that Hibito and his team (and Pico’s parachute) will be leaving shortly. I suspect that conversation in the bar between these three very odd and different men is going to be a highly entertaining one.