This is a series that’s taken a somewhat PIECO-like route to get through 60 episodes. There are definitely times when it’s slowed as if bogged down in the mud, and the path has been full of detours and meanderings. But it always tries its little heart out, and so it is even now – the Rocket Boys homage was a bit of a bust and as side-plots have often done with Uchuu Kyoudai, it went on way too long. But one it returns its attention to the main character and his story, the series invariably finds the proper course.
One of the things I really admire about this show is that it has a long memory. When things happen and characters enter the story for a while, it matters – they change the course of the plot and the landscape, and their presence isn’t forgotten after a while. We’ve seen over and over again that Mutta’s ability to see the big picture is something that sets him apart from his fellow ASCANs. It’s the skill of an engineer to be sure, as we see on display when he has to step back and factor every element of the Comeback Competition into the design of Team E’s rover while the rest of the team focus on one element at a time. But it goes much deeper than that, because Mutta sees the ways people fit together in a manner few people do. And he has a knack for understanding the meaning behind the seemingly obvious that’s enough to satisfy the average person.
I couldn’t help but think of Apollo 13 – a film that’s certainly already been fetishized by Uchuu Kyoudai more than once – when watching the drama of the comeback competition play out. Specifically, it was when the astronauts – or rather, the engineers on the ground back in Houston – had to work with whatever was available to jury rig a way to filter CO2 out of the air inside the lunar module on its return journey to Earth. This involved a mad scramble by Mutta and Serika to the hotel to find anything that might help, and Amanti being drafted (another slightly dodgy turn in terms of stereotyping) to try and draw a lucky slot for the launch. I like Mutta’s thinking – head straight for the janitor’s closet, that’s where the good stuff is going to be. And indeed it was – the rather ingenius solution of using caulking to “seal” the sponge tires. This was made possible in part by the fortunate coincidence that Serika chose a hair dryer as one of her items.
As usual, Mutta boiled the entire enterprise down to its essence – it all comes down to Nasuda’s example using the Kanji for “hito” back in Tokyo. The purpose of the entire exercise was to force the ASCANs to do the job of everyone that will eventually support them – engineers, accountants, manufacturing workers, flight controllers. It was a NASA mission in miniature, a lesson in empathy – though if it felt that way to those less perceptive than Mutta it’s hard to say. It even boils down to the little LEGO astronaut Mutta discovered in the hotel Lost & Found and used to turn PIECO into a “manned” mission. As Pico (whose own name is the foundation of the one given the rover) says, names are important because they’re a reminder that as engineers, you’re responsible for astronauts’ lives. And the name he chooses – Hibito – could hardly be more appropriate given Pico’s own role in the story at this stage. It’s hard to imagine he wasn’t thinking ahead, a huge knot in his stomach, as he watched that chute open (and Hibito’s return to Earth looks set to take center-stage next week).
The competition itself showcases Space Brothers at its unabashedly sentimental best – it was hard not to cheer right along with Team E when the chute opened and PIECO landed safely. A 5th place finish overall – and 2nd among the ASCAN teams – is nothing to sneeze at, especially given that without the freak shower the rover would likely not have run out of juice 200 meters from the goal. The winners? “Sea Diver” of course – which turns out to be a Japanese company. And the Director of the project is none other than Fukuda himself, now pursuing a dream of building a rocket to send Japanese astronauts to space on a Japanese rocket. It’s Mutta he asks to speak to when he calls to congratulate his own team, of course – It probably wouldn’t be unfair to say that every member of that team was closer to Mutta than any other member of the team, which says a lot about Mutta’s understanding of human nature.