If it proves nothing else, for me Uchuu Kyoudai proves the effectiveness of simple, honest and heartfelt emotion. There’s a whiplash derision against any anime that dares to have “melodrama” these days – if it isn’t ironic, don’t bother. But real drama, earned with real character development, satisfies in a way nothing else in anime can. This show is really so artfully simple when it’s at its best – a story of people we like facing life’s challenges and supporting each other in the process. But it still manages to achieve some of the profoundest emotional moments of any series in a long time.
There’s no doubt that the Sharon saga is the headline act this week, but there’s a lot of other stuff going on as well. I’m reassured that whenever I think something is overdue to be addressed, Space Brothers usually gets to it in short order – and Hibito’s return to Japan was a major plot element that was due to be explored. It would be hard to overstate just how big a star Hibito would be in Japan in his circumstances – the first Japanese on the moon, and a good-looking and charming young man to boot. The Japanese love to idolize the young in their celebrity ranks, like the “Bashful Prince” golfer Ishikawa Ryo (who was on the Japanese PGA Tour when he was 15) and idealize them to an almost comic extent. So the hubbub surrounding Hibito’s return, while comic, wasn’t as far-fetched as you might think.
It’s nice to see Hibito get some spotlight for his regular-guy side, and not for his exploits on the moon. Mutta overshadows him narratively and with good reason, but Hibito’s feckless innocence has a real charm to it. He has an infectious joie de vivre that makes him hard not to like, and a perfect celebrity astronaut. I can definitely see the “Hibbit” craze being a real thing here, with everyone from schoolkids to executives wearing usagimimi as a show of affection for their moon bunny. While things get bad enough that even Hibito starts to feel his dignity is under threat, he’s temperamentally as well-suited to celebrity as anyone could be. Hibito doesn’t adapt – he sort of flows, like water. And this bizarre turn is just another bend in the river to him. And he has an innate curiosity about what’s around that next bend.
Hibito’s relentless optimism seems like a perfect antidote to Sharon’s growing malaise, but it’s not that simple. Sharon’s situation could easily have turned maudlin in less capable hands, but Watanabe and Koyama never seem to let that happen when it really counts. As I’ve said before they get the big emotional moments right, and so it is here. Mutta and Hibito both are worrying for her in their own way, seeing in her letters that Sharon’s buoyant spirit is starting to sink as the hard realities of her life begin to assert themselves. The symbol of this is the piano, which becomes a greater and greater struggle for her even as she learns how to write with a “limp hand”. Sharon seems to love music almost as much as she loves space – indeed, the most enduring memories of the Nanba brothers’ boyhood visits seems to be those that involve music.
I love the payoff of this episode – both brothers end up choosing the same gift for Sharon, an electronic keyboard with a light touch (Mutta sends his via “Hot Dog Mail”). Mutta’s simple note – “Give it a try” – is strangely affecting. Hibito hand delivers his, having been given two hours out of his precious schedule to visit before he goes to meet the PM (“She’s way more important to me than some frequently replaced politician”). The moment got to me, I admit – especially when it was revealed that Mutta had already sent the same keyboard. It’s really just an expression of the love two guys have for a woman who inspired them with her intellect and her kindness – but it’s special, nonetheless. This is the sort of deep emotion we don’t see in anime all that often, but Uchuu Kyoudai has made it seem easy over and over. As much as anything, this show is a weekly reminder about what it feels like to be a human being, with human emotions, and as simple as that sounds it’s a very special quality.