A 60-episode prologue, in an era when most anime are 1/5 that long in total? Yeah, an awful lot has happened (though no one will ever accuse Uchuu Kyoudai of being fast-paced) but I think a strong case can be made that all of it has been setup for the real story – that is, if you believe this is ultimately Mutta’s personal story. The childhood flashbacks, the training sequences, the systematic exploration of Nasuda’s “Hito” analogy and the people that make it happen, Hibito’s trip to the moon – all of it is stage-setting for Mutta’s own journey into space, helping us understand both what drives him and the practicalities of the dream he’s chosen to pursue.
This last part of the story, in fact, has arguably been more Pico’s story than Mutta’s. While I could have done without the overlong and heavy-handed flashback sequence, there was a lot of power in the story of Pico himself – a man who blames himself for the deaths of three astronauts although he’s not responsible, and the enormous weight on his shoulders as he waits for events beyond his control to unfold. No one could possibly have been more relieved when those chutes opened than Pico was, not even Hibito’s own family – as much as they love Hibito (and Karen and Damian’s families love them) this is a drama that Pico has been living with every day since he lost the contract with NASA for Brian’s mission.
I was planning to type that I was glad the show didn’t try to insert any forced drama into the moment, because there was plenty of organic tension and Space Brothers always seems to do better when it lets the big emotional crescendos speak for themselves. But it did cave, just a little, giving us some business about malfunctioning sensors and the re-entry capsule entering the atmosphere too steeply (and overheating as a result). It seemed that the folks at home had no idea of this, but the ASCANs in the command center and the invited guests (like Pico) presumably heard every word. It was an odd moment, because just as soon as it was introduced it was resolved, and everything was fine. On a side note, it’s interesting that NASA seems to have adopted a preference for terrestrial splashdowns, when in the past ocean landings were very much the norm.
Making a welcome return to the scene this week were the Nanba parents (and Apo, who’s been gone almost as long). They’re great characters, always contributing some of the funniest material in the series (“That was a shocking docking!”), and this week was no exception. However, the dynamic – his parents’ arrival, Hibito’s imminent return and the uproar it’s causing in Japan – cause Mutta to once again reflect on how always being in his otouto’s shadow makes him feel. This was once the overriding theme of the series, but hasn’t been much in play of late. Mutta’s envy of Hibito may not be admirable, but at least he’s self-aware enough to acknowledge it.
With Hibito back, it seems as if we may finally get an answer to just what it was that Amanti saw in her fortune-telling of Mutta (which I’d almost allowed myself to blissfully forget about). There are hints it may have something to do with Sharon. There was also a quite conspicuous moment where Mutta swooned upon meeting one of the physicians on Hibito’s mission, Olivia. Another crush on another female doctor?