This is the first time in quite a while that I’ve had a strong feeling of anticipation when an episode of Uchuu Kyoudai came to an end – starting the countdown to next week as soon as this one is over. That can’t be anything but a good sign, and after some flailing about it seems as if the show has gotten itself to a good place: we have Mutta training in Aquarius on one front, and Hibito training with Lowry and Dr. Olivia in some warehouse or storeroom on the other. Everything that’s happening is mission-critical and we’re focused on characters and events that really matter.
It’s kind of sad, actually, that it seems (based on the preview) as if the stay in Aquarius is going to be much shorter narratively speaking than the last time Mutta was in an isolation pod. This is the sort of material Space Brothers really excels at, but I suppose there’s a risk of being repetitive, since some of the issues arising here are going to be so similar. The dynamic is certainly different though – we have four astronauts (plus one pro diver) in each pod, two members of the “Monsters” ASCAN Class 22, and two of the current “Ants” Class 23. I can’t help but note that in this current dozen there appear to be no female astronauts, sadly. The pods are near Key Largo, some 20 meters down – which makes sense, since there’s not much point in planting them in deep water and substantially increasing the risk to the astronauts.
I was worried that the astronaut Andy Tyler was going to be set up as a kind of boogeyman, but happily he doesn’t seem to be a real villain – just a very big dude who doesn’t like to talk much. He and George Love are the veteran astronauts in Mutta’s team, but the real drama comes in the real reason for the test – to weed out half of the candidates as potentials for the next lunar mission. That means Mutta is, at long last, competing directly against Kenji in a competition that (at least on paper) only one of them can win. It’s kind of heartbreaking watching the two of them happily frolic together, knowing that – they’re like two schoolboys in their clubhouse on summer break.
Mutta and Kenji really are true friends, guys who genuinely like and respect each other – but I hope the mangaka sticks to his guns here and forces NASA to choose only one of them. In reality the odds against being chosen for a manned mission are so astronomically small that it’s asking a lot for even one of them to get the chance so soon. It’s an interesting question – which of them is truly better suited? Kenji has the superficial advantages – as Butler makes note of. He’s calm, highly competent, and easy-going – but we’ve seen what Butler hasn’t, the JAXA isolation arc. It seems to me that Mutta’s strengths become much more obvious with extended exposure, and that Kenji struggles when his ultra-positive approach doesn’t yield results and things start to behave unpredictably. Will the NEEMO mission yield such issues, and in doing so give Mutta the chance to show why he’s the better astronaut?
As for Hibito, it seems as if confiding to Lowry was indeed a positive step for him, though it’s perhaps too convenient that Lowry knew a doctor with the discretion to keep his secrets. I suppose in his current role it’s not as though Hibito’s presence is going to be missed – it seems as if there wasn’t a whole lot for him to do in that big office. It’s interesting to note that Astronaut Love seems to have spilled the beans to Mutta about Hibito being “left high and dry” (though I don’t think Mutta quite picked up on the implications yet) – the implication being that Hibito’s problems are a poorly-guarded secret after all.