As I said last week, this training arc is a pretty good zone for Uchuu Kyoudai. Group dynamics and Mutta’s internal conflicts are the meat and potatoes of this series – it’s this sort of material at which Koyama-sensei seems most adept, and most comfortable. In a sense it almost feels like a cheat because Space Brothers makes this sort of thing look so easy, and there’s no denying we’ve covered some of this ground already in the JAXA arc. But competition is a continuing part of being an astronaut and the stakes are certainly raised here in more ways than one, and I’ll never be the one to criticize a series for knowing what it’s good at.
I’ve also made note of the fact that Kenji, for all his good-guy calm demeanor, doesn’t seem to fare too well under duress. It’s not that hard to look good when everything’s going your way, but when things go off the rails a bit we’ve already seen Mutta step up his game and Kenji put off his. In the JAXA pod he visibly folded under Mizoguchi’s asshat provocation – he tried to turn up the nice guy charm and went into Neville Chamberlain more, all the while looking like a guy who’d been constipated for a week. The situation is different here – it’s Kenji’s best friend in the program he’s been cast against, and no one has been remotely confrontational with Kenji – so his reaction is understandably different. But it still doesn’t reflect well on him.
Mutta has a pretty familiar process he goes through when adversity happens. He questions himself and questions his luck, internalizes and clams up for a bit, then something snaps him out of it and he quietly assumes control of the situation without letting the others feel like they’re being steamrolled. We saw it here when Kenji turned cold and distant, then tried to make Mutta look bad by undercutting his design plans and bullying him into dropping them from the moonbase plans. I think there are two plausible explanations for why Kenji took this approach: first, perhaps he understood that what he did with Mizoguchi didn’t work, and tried to do the opposite. Or, he simply reacted differently given that Mizoguchi was an enemy and Mutta a friend, perhaps feeling that if he didn’t distance himself from Mutta he wouldn’t have the heart to crush him.
It’s certainly clear that Kenji made a calculation that Mutta could be easily bullied, and for a while that’s exactly what happened. Obviously it was wrong for Mutta not to fight for the telescope immediately, but George’s bombshell clearly crushed Mutta’s mojo in a big way. In effect by giving up on the telescope he was giving up on the moon, ceding the field to Kenji, and he knew it – but as it often does it took Mutta some time to overcome his self-doubts and arrive at the right course of action. If I were Butler or one of his fellow deciders I would certainly be concerned at this: while Mutta is at his best in difficult situations he doesn’t always get there right away, and on a manned space mission that could be a real problem – there just isn’t time for a crisis of confidence if you’re a crew member on Apollo 13. yet when the chips are down and there are decisions to be made, it’s hard to imagine Butler is going to find anyone better suited to make them wisely than Mutta. Those decisions are why Butler gets the big bucks, I suppose.
All this, I’m sure, is part of Love’s calculus in choosing to see how the Ants react to knowing the truth. Everything is a test, like it or not – and while it took Mutta a little while and a timely school of barracuda to get there, he got to the right place in the end, as usual. What will Kenji do now that Mutta isn’t going to roll over and defer to him? I don’t see this getting truly ugly – Kenji is pretty plain-yogurt and not at his best under pressure, but he’s not the type of guy who’s going to succumb to true douchebaggery I don’t think. In any event his comeback looks as if it’s going to be the main focus of next week’s episode, which I confess doesn’t thrill me – I don’t think the guy is interesting enough to carry an episode on his own, and I can do without ten more minutes of him playing with his kid and her mugging for the camera.