2014 starts off on a very strong front for Uchuu Kyoudai, which is nice to see because it’s 2013 was a step down from the first three cours. This is a big year for the series – we’re getting the first theatrical anime release (we’ve already had a live-action, and will likely get more) and this is the year when the anime will catch up to the manga and hard decisions will have to be made. Space Brothers still draws excellent ratings (which matters for a prime-time show like this) and the manga is a powerhouse, but it seems unlikely that the anime will continue with original episodes.
If indeed this is the last year for the anime – at least for a while – it would be nice to see it go out with a bang (for goodness sake, that’s just an expression) and it’s off to a very fine start. We had no annoying recap to start the ep, instead getting a very clever New Year’s greeting from the Nanba brothers and Apo (who joined them in bowing). And we got a completely on-point episode, which was teed up perfectly by the finale of last season.
As much as I like Brian Jay’s almost Adachi-like role in this story, I was a bit concerned that there seemed to be so much focus on him as a mentor to Hibito, and not enough on Mutta. There’s certainly nothing wrong with keeping the spirit of the departed alive inside you and relying on your memory of that person for guidance, but Azuma got it right – though it took him longer than I expected – Hibito has someone alive who he should be relying on. That, of course, is the real issue behind this episode and a major theme of the series – relying on his big brother is not something that comes naturally to Hibito, and that’s a bigger deal in Japanese culture than it would be in the West.
Over the course of the series I’ve certainly come to realize that I like Hibito much better when he’s vulnerable than when he’s in “space bunny” mode. One of the most endearing things about him is that he gives away everything with his face – not just in the obvious moments like when he’s having a panic attack in the taxi (he seems to have medication, which I believe we’re seeing for the first time), but when he’s sitting at the bar talking with Mutta, too. This is incredibly awkward and uncomfortable for Hibito – not just admitting his own weakness, but admitting it to Mutta. It seems as if allowing himself to be the little brother is something Hibito has never been comfortable with, and indeed there are really no prior occasions in the series that can compare to this one.
For his part, Mutta nails the moment exactly as you’d expect. He nails the essence of what’s happening – as soon as Hibito reveals the nature of his problem Mutta flashes back to the photo shoot and puts all the pieces together. He nails the nature of his relationship with his brother – he’s the “sensitive” one, and Hibito the “carefree” one. The most astute thing he says is that there “something definite” inside Hibito that will drive him to take the test even if he’s scared. And he nails the response that will give Hibito the most help. He doesn’t puff out his chest and go into full Brian mode – there’s too much water under the bridge between these two for that. He’s self-deprecating, casts the problem as one he should be more worried about than Hibito, and casts no judgment on what’s happened. He also doesn’t make the whole thing out to be a big deal, and works on defusing the seriousness of the moment while his remarkable brain casts about for the right practical advice to offer.
When it comes time to offer that advice Mutta nails it one more time. He offers it as a casual aside on the way out of the bar, and presents it as if it’s so obvious anyone would have thought of it. Having an attack in a taxi is a good thing, because it means the problem isn’t with the spacesuit itself – it’s just an issue that could happen anywhere, and Hibito will have to deal with it. And Mutta offers Hibito a little relaxation technique – when the “P.D.” starts to hit, remember than P.D. stands for “Pretty Dog”, the cartoon with a pug in a dress (Apo is a big fan, not surprisingly – it’s pretty silly but not remotely offensive, so I consider it a huge upgrade over “Mister Hibbit”). Great reductive thinking by Mutta, and a perfect solution for his carefree, straightforward brother.
It’s great to see Uchuu Kyoudai really focus with laser-like precision on the unique sibling relationship at the heart of the story. These two are a fascinating pair, so utterly different in the way they approach the world. One of the lessons of this series, I think, is that there’s a place in the world both for people who think things through meticulously, and for those who just plunge ahead and do them. Life is surely easier for the latter, but there are times when only the former can get the job done. Everything for Mutta has always been about struggle, a series of advances and retreats, while Hibito has always known what he wanted and not bothered to consider what might derail him. But when he got derailed, it took Mutta to set him right because he sees the nuances of the world that Hibito chooses not to see. And in plain and simple emotional terms, it’s good to see Hibito finally relying on Mutta as a big brother. I don’t think the fundamental disconnect of their relationship will change – Hibito (like Brian) will likely always be the younger brother who provides the goal for the older. But humility is a good thing for Hibito, and perhaps this will give him a greater appreciation for Mutta’s unique gifts and a willingness to rely on them once in a while.
ED 8: “Anata ga Ireba OK!” by Serena