Thank goodness for carryovers? You bet – and while Uchuu Kyoudai may not be coming off its strongest couple of months, it still blows through like a blast of fresh air clearing the stink of the room (but not, alas, the elevator – sorry, Karl-kun). And it has been on an uptick of late, with its wandering eye returning to the elements that really matter to the story, which happily if not coincidentally are also the ones that make it most entertaining to watch.
This was, in a sense, a slice of astronaut life episode. We have a bunch of characters in transition at the moment, with Mutta, Hibito, and Kenji/Nitta each headed in different directions. Hibito’s situation is addressed only briefly on the bookends of the ep, with quite of bit of focus on the two “losers” of the moment. But then Space Brothers has always paid a fair amount of attention to those who don’t win, and recognized the fact that every time the hero wins a competition it means somebody else has to lose.
It’s not surprising that Mutta followed up his nonchalant reaction to Hibito’s bombshell by staying up all night researching his brother’s problem. The entire situation has been classic Mutta – self-deprecatingly playing down the situation to make Hibito feel better, offering practical advice, then obsessively worrying about it. He plays a skillful double-bluff the next morning, passing off his exhaustion as having “slept too long” – knowing the lie is obvious, but also making it seem as what he’s covering up is a hangover. The last thing Mutta can do is let Hibito see that his big brother is worried about what he’s just been told and he’ll do anything to avoid letting that fact come out.
In fact there’s already been a major bombshell that’s been skipped over, which we only see in flashback – Mutta has been chosen as the next Japanese astronaut to go to the moon. This is handled in low-key fashion even by Uchuu Kyoudai standards, considering how huge it is in the context of the story, but as usual Watanabe-sensei gets the emotion right by not trying to oversell it. Probably the most sentimental moment here is when Mutta – assigned to be Vincent Bold’s backup as the final training step towards his own future mission – gets to sit in the Orion for the first time. It’s hear that we see the boy with big dreams fully emerge once again. So much of this series plays out by watching Mutta’s face, and this is one of those watershed moments.
As for Kenji and Reiji, they’ve been let down gently by Butler – but it’s a letdown just the same. He tells them “when you eventually get to space, you’ll see why we chose these assignments.” It’s a bit of a cryptic message – does he mean they’ll see why Mutta was chosen to go first when they see what’s required to succeed on a space mission, or is it something in themselves Butler expects them to see? The fact is they’re still astronauts, a dream that only a tiny minority of aspirants ever achieve, and it appears there may be an ISS mission in their future – or at least, something that required them to undergo zero gravity training with haste.
And then there’s Hibito himself, who seems much less agonized over the prospect of his test after his talk with Mutta (which of course was exactly the point). It seems pretty clear that in terms of the story, Hibito pretty much has to pass this test. The question, as Butler says in the preview is “Where do you go from here, Hibito?” I think the answer is going to tell a lot not just for Hibito’s arc, but the series itself. This shouldn’t be an easy thing – not convincing NASA that all is well, and not getting immediately back into the rotation when there are so many astronauts who are awaiting their first chance. Not just because I like Hibito better when he has to struggle to move forward, I hope Uchuu Kyoudai depicts the next stage in his journey as the difficult one it would surely be in real life.