Uchuu Kyoudai – 57

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If there was any doubt, this episode proves Uchuu Kyoudai is back on-form.

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.

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10 comments

  1. i

    One thing I love about Mutta, as a fellow engineer, is his ideas and while I was able to predict most of the ones used for design problems, the sponge tires came out of the blue. It truly is so brilliant in so many ways that someone from JAXA had to have come up with it.

    Brilliant episode 10/10.

  2. P

    I thought the same thing about the rover meeting a hole.

    One thing I liked is the pun with the beep (Pico Pico), when they said to "shut up and that it is not needed". Too bad it was kinda lost in translation, but the words used were easy enough to understand.

  3. R

    I was about to say something similar when watching this episode — this CanSat arc gets me excited again since Hoshika-sensai revealed the exam result to Mutta in person.

    I like how you compare Mutta to a servant leader. Thinking along the same line, I think Hibito probably would suit better as an entrepreneur. He's always a straight line person thinking about one goal and only that goal. He never lets any details or obstacles bother him but simply happily runs straight with his own belief in achieving that goal. His optimism and focused pursuit definitely has a positive influence on people around him, but as an astronaut, I wonder if Mutta is actually a better one even though he takes a longer time to get there.

  4. T

    Though that absolutely is the historical background of parachute folding, I'm beginning to see the relegation of women to support roles in this series as a trend of sexism. The only positive, empowering statement made by a character towards the women astronauts was Vince who stated it didn't matter what the gender composition of the teams was. Otherwise, we have seen remarkable insensitivities – the men going to rescue Diamian and Hibito telling the women astronauts to stay in the ship since they aren't strong enough to carry them, a male character telling one of the women astronaut on the moon to take care of Hibito because she as a woman would be naturally caring…, and now having the women fold the parachutes like they were for their man….

    While Space Brothers is still a great show with tons of fantastic and excellent themes, this narrative thread that constantly promotes traditional conservative gender roles (in a situation where it really doesn't have to!! Women Astronauts for gods sake!) is really beginning to get on my nerves.

  5. S

    Well, Karen Jones (the person taking care of Damian and Hibito) is the doctor of the crew. Sooo, it would make sense for her to be tending to both of them.

    As for the remarks of not being strong enough, I don't remember those comments but could totally see Buddy getting heated in the moment. I think those 2 were chosen because of their close relation to the story and mainly, Hibito.

  6. I see plenty of evidence for sexism in Uchuu Kyoudai – given how paternalistic Japanese society still is, it's not surprising – but I don't think the examples here really fit. It's not sexist to say that the crew doctor should take care of wounded men. And I thought the parachute thing was an interesting historical anecdote. As superstitious as people who work in space travel are (legendarily so) it fits pretty well.

  7. T

    Fair enough. I had watched the examples I had referenced about 6 months or 7 months ago, so I could be mis-remembering them as well. Enzo, I was curious what specific evidence you would use for that charge.

    It definitely is not surprising given Japanese society, but still unfortunate to see.

  8. R

    I agree, Michael — I was slightly ticked off when Pico called out the female ASCANs to do the parachute folding. I brushed it off when he started making historic reference and thought that the folding was actually a very important part of the process. The whole gender inclusivity and equality movement has made a giant step in the past 50 years garnering a lot of awareness and acceptance from the public, but it's still not there and quite a sensitive issue even in the Western countries. Gender generalization is very common in the manga/anime — and even Western comic — world. There are certain types of female characterization with personality traits that are unbearable to me. While it's evident, Uchuu Kyoudai isn't the worst. There are many other shows portraying female characters as lamebrained, submissive…as if their existence is to glorify the male characters. It's pretty condescending. Comparing to those shows (that I usually drop), Uchuu Kyoudai isn't too bad.

  9. H

    I've been having mixed feelings on some of these little moments as well, on the one hand I'm noticing that it's normally the male characters (regardless of what part of the story we're in) that have the more active roles and the girls that seem to hang back. On the other hand, I also did really like Vince's line from a few episodes back and this show is actually making an effort to always have at least one female character in a group (who becomes as fleshed out as the rest) and now the group is 50/50, it's really damn sad that I can't say that the majority of shows out there (anime, cartoon, live action American/British television) are even able to do that. And I am happy to see that apparently I'm not the only one noticing these little details, I had been wondering if I was being too sensitive but apparently not. Guess I'll just cross my fingers and hope that it gets better by the end, especially since it doesn't have as far to go as many other shows do.

  10. B

    As a non engineer the main problem I see with sponge tires being used on a real rover is one of durability. Maybe sponge is more durable than I'm giving it credit for but I feel like when it runs over enough sharp rocks pieces would start falling off. A rover that can only drive around for a week or two before the tires start degrading wouldn't be that great, but someone who knows more about the material can feel free to counterpoint this argument.

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