It’s not often we can say that the best part of an episode is the bit after the credits – and not just that, but it’s what isn’t there that makes it the best, not what is. Yes, Racist Cartoon Theatre is finally gone, hopefully forever – in its place we did get the slightly homophobic running bit with Butler and the Ghostbusters Winston gag, though that’a gotten to the point where it’s odd more than offensive. But that’s not to say this wasn’t a good episode, and the second reason to celebrate is the return of Mutta after his longest absence.
Space Brothers isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – it’s still a ratings powerhouse and the manga is still one of the top sellers in any genre, so until the anime catches the manga sometime next fall it’s going to be with us. But I confess I’ve been taking it for granted quite a bit, and as much as I enjoyed Hibito finally getting some depth seeing Mutta again really drives home the point for me – Uchuu Kyoudai is Nanba Mutta. He’s the heart, soul and brain of this series, and it can’t survive for long in his absence without losing much of its appeal. There’s no one else who can pull off a Saturn V tracksuit like he can, or draw big laughs from watching his hair spring back into shape after a dip in the pool. It’s as good to have him back as it is to be rid of Buddy the Gorilla.
The pieces are certainly in place for the show to go in some interesting directions. We have Hibito’s ongoing crisis with the implicit awkwardness between brothers, Sharon’s decline – with its implicit race against the clock for both Mutta and Serika – and of course, the beginning of Mutta’s training for the moon. The first step in that process involves a three-week session in NEEMO, NASA’s undersea module designed to replicate conditions in a lunar base. This will undoubtedly invoke memories of the JAXA exam arc where the candidates were placed in isolation pods for two weeks, but that’s not a downside for me as I think that was the best extended run the series has had so far.
The only fly in the ointment for me (aside from the Butler heart joke, which was old when it was new) is the appearance of the shadow-eyed Andy, one of the twelve astronauts selected for the NEEMO training. Uchuu Kyoudai does have a tendency to set up characters as the ogre of the moment, and Andy seems like he might just be slotted for that role. I rather hope not as I think the show can do much better when it avoids that trap, and I’m very curious to see how NEEMO plays out. Vince and Larry themselves are part of the dozen, along with Nitta and Kenji (we got some family time with the latter) and a suggestion in the preview from Butler that there’s a hidden purpose to this training (but then, there always is).
As for Hibito, he’s obviously decided to continue to keep his troubles from Mutta, though he does confess to having feelings for a fifteen year-old girl in Russia (at his initial mention of the age difference, Mutta assumes she’s 60). Hibito also receives a very large and empty office, and more importantly a care package from Russia – all of the props for his “special training”, courtesy of Ivan. It appears he’s decided to take Lowry into his confidence, perhaps to draft him into helping with the therapy. Finding someone to help him bear this burden will be good for Hibito, but this is going to be a very tough journey for him – as far as NASA and JAXA are concerned, the burden of proof is sure to be extremely high if they’re to seriously consider him fit for space travel again.