I’d forgive you if you said that Uchuu Kyoudai is repeating some familiar cycles with this arc, despite the fact that it’s our first chance to see Mutta take to the sky under his own control. Between the oddball mentor, the wry take on American culture and the way Mutta himself is developing, Space Brothers is on very familiar ground here. But there’s certainly no sin in a story focusing on what it does well, especially one that’s closing in on a year-and-a-half with no end date in sight.
Most fundamentally, I think we’re seeing a repeating pattern with Mutta. When he takes on a new task, he’s never the first out of the gate. Being the opposite of Hibito in so many ways he tends to think too much, which means he makes himself aware of all the difficulties and challenges in the task ahead before he’s equipped to conquer them. So Mutta struggles, falls behind, and questions himself. But (and this perhaps represents the way the Mutta we’ve come to know is different than the one who existed before the series timeline) because he’s stubborn and never gives up, he always reaches a “click” point. There’s a moment when everything starts to make sense, and all the obsessive analysis he does at the beginning pays off like a slot machine. When this happens Mutta leaps forward – not always ahead of his rivals, but at least close.
That click point this time came when Deneil let it slip that Mutta was going to be his final student, though in truth he was already improving by then. It was obvious looking from an overhead view what Deneil’s method is. All the dumb jokes he tells aren’t a random personality quirk, and neither is the endless stream of “what’s for lunch?” style conversation. If the aim of teaching an ASCAN to fly a T-38 is to teach them to multitask, Deneil wants to force them to do so as quickly as possible. He’s trying to force the students to be able to focus on the mechanics of flying the plane while being able to have a conversation, when in truth just trying to keep everything necessary to keep the plane in a straight line is hard enough. Overload the student early, and they’ll be ahead of the rest later.
In that sense, Deneil Young could hardly be a better instructor for Mutta – his teaching style is exactly the same as Mutta’s learning style. Like two magnets of similar charge repelling each other it’s a rough go at first, but once they’re aligned, the sky is literally the limit. It even extends to “Max” itself. Deneil’s modded it out like a sports car, skittish and overpowered and tough to handle (not to mention overweighted in the front when Deneil’s in it). Once Mutta’s comfortable flying that T-38, a standard model will be shockingly easy – like going from an old Ferrari to a sedate Lexus sedan. And it’s a measure of just how obsessive Mutta is that his “just in case” study of American joke books has paid off, as he knows the punchlines to many of Deneil’s lame jokes.
Another nice touch this week was the meeting with Pico Norton, who I never felt got the closure to his arc that it deserved. It seems fitting that he should meet with the three astronauts whose lives were in his hands, and offer them the “welcome home” he’s been saving up for years. Pico’s presence is always a subtle reminder of Brian’s death, and the notion of mortality is never allowed to slip completely out of mind in Uchuu Kyoudai. Turns out that salute Deneil gives every time he flies is to the pilots who died in their T-38s – including four ASCANs. And with Hibito scheduled for his long-awaited trip home to bask in Japan’s adulation next week, we’ll get yet another reminder in the presence of Sharon. Watching her say goodbye to the things she loves one by one is surely not going to be pleasant to see, and I’ll be interested to see how the ever-positive and ebullient Hibito deals with such an inherently difficult and uncomfortable situation.
As for the new MoDonald Triple Burger, “Oh my God!”. I can’t help but laugh at the way this series sees American culture (not that it’s completely removed from reality).