As I theorized in this space last week, Dr. Sharon’s illness does indeed turn out to be the same one that claimed Serika’s father. Given that we were told (and reminded) that this illness was a “very rare disease that’s difficult to diagnose” I do have some issues with this development’s feasibility. It’s an extraordinarily convenient coincidence to say the least – it certainly proves useful in finally looping Serika back into the narrative as more than window dressing. I would suppose the manga is being non-specific about the disease intentionally, so we’re left with speculation, and I suppose in the end it doesn’t really matter what disease it is (or even if it’s a made-up one).
No, the relevant question is, does it work for the story? If you can past the suspension of disbelief factor I think so, at least for me. There was a powerful feeling of disquiet and sadness hanging over the episode, as we watched what should have been happy moments playing out against a backdrop of growing certainty that something was very wrong. Uchuu Kyoudai has done a brilliant job of illustrating the way human connections are the critical element of our lives, and of just how important Sharon is to the Nanba brothers. There’s a slow transition that happens in life, as the parents who cared for us slowly become the ones we care for. You can see it in the behavior of both brothers, both with their parents and with Sharon – how they want to the strong and supportive ones.
Of course with the Nanba parents (have they ever met Sharon before? It’s an interesting question I was wondering about, but it wasn’t answered here) being so genki it often manifests itself in the form of tortured patience. With Sharon it’s very different, and I found Hibito’s reaction to seeing Sharon especially poignant. You could see him slip into panic as soon as he shook Sharon’s hand, and just as quickly try to hide it. Hibito is a very child-like man in many ways but he’s also usually the one who bulls his way forward and takes care of those around him, and these two sides of him were very much in struggle here. And is it me, or should the presence of Hibito at the Space Centre museum have caused something of a ruckus?
For Sharon’s part, she’s solidly in denial – which seems to be the natural human reaction in these situations, even among those dedicated to the scientific method. Her mind is on her mission, and on a surprising romantic spark between she and Dr. Daniel Morrison, the bolo-wearing astrophysicist from the University of Hawaii who liked her idea of a moon-based telescope. They seem to share much in common, including a spouse who’s passed away, an asteroid-naming connection and an ambiguous same-sex friend who’s apparently not a partner in the romantic sense. With each new incident, though, it gets harder for Sharon to deny that something is wrong, and finally her assistant is able to convince her to get checked out (Hibito tags along), an exam which seems to verify her belief that it’s all just fatigue and jet lag.
Enter Serika – and at long last, too. My favorite moment of the episode was the shot of Serika as a girl reading Sharon’s book, transitioning to the shot of their meeting as an adult with Serika wearing the exact same goofy, entranced expression. The connection between the adult we are and the child we were is a very, very important one in Space Brothers – and this connection is brought home in a much more painful way when Serika sees Sharon’s beat-up phone and flashes back to seeing her father’s flip-phone in the same condition. Again, far too coincidental to be truly believable – but it’s an effective construction. And it’s nice to see Serika have a meaningful role in the story, as she effectively steps in and takes control of Sharon’s treatment.
This could hardly have come at a worse time for Mutta, who’s immersed in the nightmare of learning three weeks worth of Air Force material on the T-38 in three days (as is Serika). I wonder how sympathetic Vince will be towards the two of them skipping class to take Sharon to the neurologist – I don’t suppose he’d stop them going, but I don’t think he’d delay their test either. If the impact of Sharon’s developing crisis on Serika is obvious, I think it’s pretty clear what this is going to do to Mutta as well. He too is going to feel even more urgency to get to the moon and make Sharon’s dream come true, even as Serika will now have a faint hope that she might accomplish her own dream in time to make a difference to someone in her life.