Interesting news this week – a new series (Kindaichi Shounen no Jikenbo, so technically a new old series) will be taking over Uchuu Kyoudai’s timeslot in April. There’s been no announcement that Space Brothers will be ending, but a timeslot change seems unlikely at this point (it continues to deliver outstanding ratings) so it’s likely the anime will be ending after this season (perhaps with an even 100 episodes). I’m mildly surprised as there’s enough manga to go for one more season, and especially with the anime prequel film upcoming I thought the series might hang on for cross-promotional purposes, though this move may in part be to free up Watanabe-sensei and the anime staff. It seems very likely that a couple of years down the line we’ll get a sequel, as the property remains hugely popular in Japan across many mediums (and would seem to me to be a good candidate to be popular overseas), which may be a motivation not to bleed the manga dry of every unadapted chapter now.
If indeed it turns out to be the case that Uchuu Kyoudai ends this season, we’re obviously going to leave things off in the middle of Mutta’s training as part of the lunar backup crew. I haven’t read ahead so I don’t know if there’s a milestone event that would make a good stopping point, but the course of the training seems to be fairly predictable. I would assume we’re going to find out about the redeeming qualities of Mutta’s currently irritating and hostile teammates one by one (Betty seems to be first) and Eddie will slowly mold them into a cohesive unit. It’s not a criticism – that’s just how these things work the vast majority of the time.
If I do have a criticism, it’s that these astronauts don’t, well… seem like astronauts. Anyone who knows the history of the space program knows it’s filled with iconoclastic figures, but it seems a stretch to me that this group could have advanced as far as they have – even being assigned to a backup crew – as they’re currently presented. Betty is threatening and hostile to her teammates and disrespectful to her C.O.. Carlo gets drunk while on duty and refuses to run unless forced. Pierre generally acts like a half-bright child without an ounce of seriousness (which is a problem for a different reason, of course). Andy is half-believable at least – he’s a loner, but he’s obviously good at his job. It’s not an issue that these guys aren’t likeable as characters yet (though I kinda like Andy), as they really aren’t supposed to be. But if they’re not contextually believable, that is a problem.
Into this mix steps Eddie Jay. And it’s a good thing, both for the crew and the audience – because both the mission and the show need him desperately. Eddie’s low-key positivity is winning from the get-go (and it’s tinged with an underlying hint of sadness, not surprisingly). A-1 could have gone with a younger seiyuu here, to express the boyish side of a 59 year-old astronaut, but instead they’ve chosen to go with 74 year-old (birthday this week – tanjoubi omedettou) Kinryuu Arimoto (the choice having been made way back at the beginning, knowing the major role he’d play later). He’s terrific, but the result is that what’s accented is the character’s world-weary, weather-beaten side – there are no illusions that this is a freak of nature who might be 20 years younger than he is.
The milestone first meeting between the series Aniki characters is understated. Mutta has tried to establish some unity by playing the leader, and failed miserably – not surprising as he’s the new kid on the block. So he’s thrilled to step off the lunar rover and see Eddie standing there. As for the latter, he simply greets Mutta as “Brother”, which seems quite appropriate. I look forward to the first extended one-on-one conversation between these two men – it should be a fascinating and emotional experience, and I sense they’re likely to be kindred spirits for both obvious and subtle reasons. It’ll be interesting to see Mutta in this dynamic because this will be the first time he’s been isolated in a team situation where someone else will quite clearly be the leader, the core of the team – while Mutta is deferential in the way he goes about it, he’s always ended up stepping in as the de facto leader. That’s clearly not going to happen this time.
As Mutta himself says, it’s generally common practice to put a hard-ass in charge of a team of delinquents. Eddie Jay is no hard-ass – he’s a “friendly leader” as Mutta calls him. He smiles, he laughs, he frames his priorities in terms of making things fun. Eddie is what business training types (of which I was one) call a “servant leader”, and he’s someone who tries to get his charges to do things because they understand why they’re important and they want to, rather than simply because they’ve been ordered to. He’s trying to be the leader because of who he is and not what he is (as Mutta himself always is). And I can tell you from long experience, that’s definitely the more difficult path – but also the more rewarding, if you’re able to pull it off. Any manager but the most incompetent can force their staff to do something, but only a good one can get them to embrace it – which is why the true test of how good that manager is comes not when they’re present, but when they’re absent. I have my issues with the team members themselves, but it should be fascinating to watch Eddie try and mold them into a cohesive group – for the next six weeks, anyway.