There are times when my engagement in this series drops quite a bit. I suppose it’s only natural with a show that runs this long, though it certainly hasn’t happened with Hunter X Hunter – and I think the truth is that there are times when Uchuu Kyoudai seems to be a bit adrift itself. But it always finds its way back, and I can recall very few shows that can keenly reflect on the deeper questions of life the way this one can when it’s really on. It may not bring its A-game every week but when it does, Space Brothers packs a heavyweight’s punch.
I haven’t always felt it for the string of societal misfits that drift through Mutta’s life as he chases the dream, but Deneil Young is working for me. I think the larger point – that the space game tends to attract the unusual and downright weird – is historically accurate. But Deneil is a good character in his own right. I like his presentation, his general attitude and his blatant disregard for what anyone else thinks. One of the privileges of getting older is that you can pretty much stop giving a flip for other people’s opinions, and Deneil is a prime example.
There’s a more poignant part of this arc though, and its true form became apparent this week. It’s really a contrast between two people moving in completely opposite directions, Mutta and Sharon. As Mutta is learning to fly – literally and symbolically – Sharon is learning how to live inside the prison her body is becoming. Mutta, who’s been frustrated and plagued by self-doubt for his entire life, is finally taking to the sky – it’s a hugely important watershed moment for the series. Meanwhile Sharon, who’s lived her dreams and always followed her heart, has to disdain email and write letters so she can try and slow through hard work the inevitable decline of her ability to write. It seems only fitting that Mutta should take his inspiration from her, and he’s clearly gaining a new appreciation for just how lucky he truly is.
I especially like the new ED not so much for the song itself – which is fine – but for the succession of snapshots that accompany it. I think it’s very telling that in every one of their boyhood images Mutta is always stock-still, while Hibito is often quite literally a blur. That epitomizes the two of them – Hibito always in a rush to get to where he’s going, passing by his older brother (even in height) as the latter struggles forward in fits and starts. Deneil is the perfect teacher for both of them – for Hibito, because his years have taught him that there are some things that can’t be rushed (like pre-flight checks) no matter how much of a hurry you’re in. And for Mutta because Deniel is unidirectional, always moving forwards, and not afraid of speed. Turns out he’s using a cane and wheelchair because he figures his genes will assert themselves sooner or later, and he wants to be jouzu when the time comes.
A big theme with Deneil is control – understanding what you can control and what you can’t. And it’s this theme that dominates Mutta’s first days in flight training – the first session of which results (predictably) in a vigorous round of puking (as it did with Hibito). The thrust of the training so far seems to be to stop relying on instincts – human instincts haven’t been evolutionarily honed to the circumstances of flying a T-38 – and to rely on what the instruments tell you. Deneil’s methods seem reckless, but if Mutta wants to make up for lost time, this is the sort of training he needs. Deneil offers a great analogy – you need to trust the panel like you trust an elevator. Not an easy lesson for a human who’s spent his life with feet firmly planted on the ground, but the practicals – learning to quite literally fly blind – have deep symbolic meaning, as is so often the case with Uchuu Kyoudai.
There’s a related lesson Deneil is teaching Mutta too – and it’s one we’ve touched base with many times over the course of Space Brothers. Death is the constant companion of anyone in the astronaut program – but it’s not limited to them. “Some things cannot be prevented – the last of which is death. All we can do is control what we can control – and fly free.” In Deneil’s worldview freedom and control may not be opposites, but they’re definitely at odds sometimes – it goes way back to his introduction in episode 30 (30 and 31 make a very interesting re-watch, and are quite relevant to the current situation) where he told Mutta that the difference between the sky and our lives was that while the sky was free, we can control our lives – in a sense, I think, telling Mutta that in order to become an astronaut he had to accept the loss of that control. And of course, in order to be free accept the loss of it too. It’s a price anyone in Mutta’s position has to be willing to pay, and one which Hibito already has.