This was kind of a mixed-bag for me, all in all – Uchuu Kyoudai showing off what it does well and lapsing into some of its annoying habits. I was relieved to see that the preview from last week wasn’t indicating that the Aquarius arc was going to end in a mere two episodes, but rather simply a flashback for Kenji. But I didn’t really need ten minutes of Kenji’s family issues – and some of them recycled footage at that. One or two minutes would have been plenty.
Here’s the thing – Kenji is pretty boring, at least for me. He’s perpetually smiling and perpetually positive and loves his family. I think his essential situation is a valid dramatic subject – a caring and loving Dad choosing a career that’s going to separate him from his family for a good deal of the time. But the man himself isn’t very interesting, and his family moments just amount to Sawashiro Miyuki vamping as Fuuka, a lot of moe and not much else. The exception is when Mutta is present, which alters the dynamic substantially, both giving these scenes some comedic punch and offering a reminder of what Mutta doesn’t have in his life. But take him out of the picture and there’s not much there – certainly not enough for half an episode. But this is a series that does tend to fritter away too much time on distractions that don’t necessarily merit it, so this is nothing new.
No, Kenji is definitely more interesting when he’s struggling – so the scenes on Aquarius were far more interesting. Kenji – as we saw in the JAXA arc – does much better when things are going smoothly than when the others around him don’t happily defer to his presumptive manner and let him be the boss. And thanks to George Love, things just got a lot more complicated underwater. It’s interesting that this was a bone of contention between Andy and George, with the tall man taking the view that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Mutta and Kenji were working well together (as they pretty much always do) so why mess with that? Love, by contrast, takes the view that Vince is right and people develop only when they’re forced to via crisis. And since he’s the one in charge, he gets to make the call.
I find this element of Uchuu Kyoudai really fascinating, in that everything is a test whenever the astronauts (or candidates) are put through their paces. Even the decision of whether to tell the rookies that only one will be selected being left to the veterans is a test of the veterans – what will they choose to do? Maybe it isn’t even true (or not wholly true) and merely inserted into the exercise as a means to see what the veterans will decide, and how the rookies will react if they’re told. This is a situation we haven’t seen Mutta put in, that’s for sure – he’s always been in competition with Kenji in the global sense, but never directly as he is here, not even in the JAXA isolation pods when they were on different teams.
What seems clear to me is that this is the sort of exercise in which Mutta thrives, because it calls for an over-arching vision that’s one of his distinct strengths. Given a chance to design a hypothetical moonbase (1/3 scale) I suspect most, even astronauts, will think pretty conventionally. There will be disagreements, such as the one in Pod II over whether to design something futuristic or realistic (this will put Nitta’s limited social skills to the test). Mutta will as always see things from his unique perspective, one that tends to be both visionary and practical at the same time. Most importantly, how will he and Kenji react to the notion that one of them is going to crush the other’s dream, at least for a while? I’m less worried about Mutta – he got pretty close with his teammates in the JAXA pod, and came through with flying colors when the tension was at its peak – but Kenji has foundered in such situations before.