Unfortunately, Space Brothers seems to be getting shorter. Between the increasingly long recaps at the beginning (3 minutes this week) and “Racist Cartoon Theater” at the end, we’re down almost five minutes per episode on actual material – which is quite a lot when you’re talking about a 22-minute anime. Whether there are budgetary issues or pacing ones behind it, I can’t say this is a welcome turn of events for a series that isn’t exactly fond of breakneck pacing to begin with. I love a series that takes its time to tell its story, but I do like to see all of its time used to tell it.
In between, at least, we still have interesting things happening on all fronts. Mutta is still trying to wrap his head around the buggy problem (Winston got a line this week, though not a name), and he and Hibito are gracing the cover of a Japanese business (not ponzu, though it is delicious) themed magazine, and of course there’s still Aunt Sharon dealing with ALS across the pond. But the most interesting turn this week is Hibito’s suddenly inescapable vulnerability. Much of the series has been spent building him up as a kind of carefree and fearless rock star (partly, I suspect, as that’s how Mutta sees him in his darker moments of envy) but now it seems we’re going to see the other side of the easygoing Moon Bunny.
It could be argued that this development came on rather suddenly, especially as what might have been taken as foreshadowing was only shown to the audience now in the form of flashback (which is cheating, really). The counter-argument to that is that Hibito is just a really good actor, and he’s been playing the part of the alpha-male bon-vivant for so long that when a crack in the armor appears, he’s desperate to hide it. Given just how close to death – and an especially unpleasant death – he came (it would hardly be possible to come closer) it’s hardly surprising that he’d develop a panic disorder around pressure suits in high-risk situations. But for an astronaut, that obviously presents a considerable problem.
I suspect the “training” Hibito is off to in Russia (if he’s even really going to Russia, which is hardly known as the cutting edge of mental health advancements) may be psychiatric therapy to help him fight off his disorder, which at the moment has him grounded from potential space duty. Of course Mutta doesn’t know that – Hibito is desperate to keep it from his brother – and to him, this is just another example of his kid brother racing off ahead of him. Perception is everything – I’m reminded a bit of this week’s Gin no Saji here, where Yuugo views his brother with tremendous envy and resentment, not realizing that Shingo is living a life that’s very different from what Yuugo imagines. In practical terms Hibito’s condition puts the dream at the heart of Uchuu Kyoudai very much at-risk, and in the end it seems likely that it will fall to Mutta to take the big brother role that’s too often been denied him and lead Hibito back from the wilderness.
Everywhere – like this week’s photo shoot – we’re reminded of the great difference in status between the two brothers. And in Japan, for a younger sibling to be so far ahead of an older is a much bigger deal than it would be in America. This is the albatross around Mutta’s neck that he’s been bearing for his entire life, and to see Hibito vulnerable and perhaps even broken should be quite an unnerving scenario for Mutta. And you know it’s serious, because they actually ran the ED theme over new footage of the two of them lost in their own thoughts about this, Mutta totally unaware of what his brother was going through. This is a new side of Hibito not just for his brother but for the audience, too, and I think it has the potential to make him much more engaging as a character.