Another pretty solid episode of Space Brothers this week, as our story begins a distinct new phase. One thing that’s always impressed me with this series is the way it seems to have a firm understanding of the way office politics works – it’s perhaps even more impressive (and more accurate) that its knowledge of the space program. I think what it amounts to is Koyama-sensei being a huge space geek, and writing a knowledgeable space geek’s version of the space program – but most likely being a guy who know the corporate environment, management and group psychology not as a geek, but as a participant with first-hand experience.
The decision which fell on Mutta this week is one that many who’ve been involved in corporate careers will know well. There’s a general belief that when the bosses offer you a promotion (and to a newbie astronaut a spot on any backup crew amounts to a promotion) you should say yes, period. Why? Because if you say no, there’s a chance they may not ask you again (Naval officers reportedly face this same syndrome when it comes to being offered a command). Bosses like people who show appreciation for what they’re offered and take any opportunity that comes their way, even if it isn’t their preferred path. If you say no to any offer – for whatever reason – it amounts to taking a huge risk with your career.
We can debate Mutta’s reasoning for turning down Butler’s offer to be on the backup crew for the next ISS mission. Was it truly selfless, and he simply wanted to stand aside for Serika? Was it simply a matter of his desire to go to the moon trumping all else? I have no doubt that Mutta legitimately wanted to help Serika, but my own view is that it wasn’t his main motivation – in truth, it probably amounts to some combination of both. It’s to his credit that Mutta didn’t go out of way to tell Serika of his role in her selection, and presumably Butler (who correctly sussed out that Mutta was in love with her) never mentioned it. In any case, the first half of Operation Sharon is now pretty much in place, and it’s on Mutta to work on the second.
Vince’s role in all this is not to be underestimated. You can bet that as the officer in charge of ASCAN training for Mutta’s class, his recommendation was the most vital in getting Mutta offered the ISS slot. He was legitimately irritated that Mutta turned it down, and it’s a sure bet that Butler himself – already being a skeptic – is even more turned off by Mutta now. But Vince sees something in Mutta and hasn’t given up on him, and as usual what seems to be the booby prize for Mutta (Deneil Young, Vince, Pico Norton) is actually exactly what he needs. This buggy-improvement assignment is the perfect fit for Mutta’s talents – not only is he a vehicular engineer, but a genius at problem-solving. There’s no way NASA was going to get someone with his private industry experience to work on this project any other way, and it’s a chance for Mutta to tackle an assignment with a very specific goal in mind, and produce tangible results. Thanks once again to Vince, for having Mutta’s back.
I can’t ignore the gorilla in the room – though I may just pretend the “Mr. Hibbit” segments don’t exist from now on. Not only is this abomination beneath the dignity of Uchuu Kyoudai, it should be beneath the dignity of any series. It’s hard to believe no one stepped up and pleaded for sanity here, and this made it to the airwaves – as far as I know it’s not part of the manga, so I don’t want to throw Koyama under the bus if that’s the case. This is not a matter of political correctness – this is abject, disgusting racism – to portray an African-American as a gorilla could hardly be a more offensive stereotype. To say that I’m disappointed in the series is an understatement – frankly, I considered dropping it on principle. It’s so egregious that it bleeds over into the way I view the show itself – why, for example, was the African-American engineer the only one on Mutta’s new team who was never introduced by name, and had no dialogue? Maybe that’s innocent enough, but when you tack on a minstrel-show level display of bigotry like “Mr. Hibbit” you’re going to poison the well generally speaking, in a big way. It’s a real shame A-1 decided to go down this road because it’s doing significant damage to what’s otherwise one of the more thoughtful and humanistic anime out there.