If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that there’s a Seinfeld reference for every situation in life. Watching Uchuu Kyoudai of late I can’t help but be reminded of the “Opposite” scenario, when George decides to do the opposite of whatever his instinct tells him. The result? He ends up on top of the world, and Elaine ends up descending into a George-like morass of failure and paranoia. I don’t think it’s quite so drastic with the Nanba Brothers, but there’s no question we’re seeing a major reversal of fortune, with Mutta training as a CAPCOM for the next lunar mission even as Hibito is in limbo.
In hindsight, it makes sense that Uchuu Kyoudai was always headed towards this moment, and it makes sense that it would be a good point for the anime adaptation to go on hiatus. Space Brothers is ultimately the story of Mutta’s journey, so he always had to be on the ascendancy sooner or later – and from a dramatic standpoint, there’s just no way both he and Hibito could be standing next to each other on top (or on the moon) in the middle of the story. We’ve not seen the end of this thread, for certain – this is “Space Brothers” after all – but we’re at a point now where Hibito and Mutta’s roads were always fated to intersect.
It seems very fitting that Uchuu Kyoudai and Gin no Saji should tread such similar existential ground at the same time, because these are the two recent anime that have most successfully portrayed the emotional ups and downs of real-world relationships and personal journeys. I won’t carry the comparison too far when there are such obvious differences, but there is a lot in common here – both shows, at their best, place the viewer in the narrative in a way a more overtly fantastical scenario never could. I’ve never been to space – not even aspired to since I was in single digits – but I’ve related to Mutta’s struggles just as much (if not more, at times) as I have to Hachiken’s rough path to emotional maturation. And to both more than almost any other character in anime over the last few years.
This week’s episodes of both shows seem to be making a very similar case – that there are times in life where injustices simply happen, and no matter how much we’d like to change them we can’t. In Komaba’s words, “It can’t be helped” – heartbreaking words that both Hachiken and Mutta are loathe to accept. There’s a danger in being too accepting of that sentiment – we should never lose the drive to rail against injustice, and the resolve to try and make things better for ourselves and those we care about even if the odds are against us. But there are also times where we have to, in Mikage’s words, just let go of the reins. The trick, I suppose, is figuring out when those times are and when they aren’t.
Mutta’s frustration at being helpless is every bit as agonizing for him as Hachiken’s, but fittingly it manifests in a quieter, more inward-looking fashion. For Mutta, his greatest crime is in not finding anything to say when Hibito was at his low ebb, staring up at the moon on New Year’s Eve knowing he’d never go back there. Because for Mutta, it’s his duty as the big brother to say something, to help, to be wise – it’s what Mutta has always clung to, even as Hibito raced past him in accomplishment. The problem here is that he instinctively knew anything he said would sound hollow, because Hibito knew in his heart that he was fighting a losing battle. Sometimes, in life, it can’t be helped.
Hibito’s situation is especially painful, but I find myself in the somewhat unlikely position of being relieved on some level at this latest turn of events. Why? Because to do otherwise would have been a major lapse of realism (just as having Hachiken fix Komaba’s problem will be, if GnS goes there). Gates is behaving like an arrogant SOB, no doubt about it – he’s not a likeable fellow. But while I despise his metaphor – Hibito as a spoonful of poison added to a barrel of wine – I don’t think he’s wrong. He asks Butler an impossible, unfair question – “Can you guarantee Hibito won’t have another attack on a mission?” But it’s exactly the question he should be asking. Life isn’t fair. Hibito deserves another chance, and he’d probably be fine. But can anyone guarantee he would be? And is it worth risking his life – and that of his fellow astronauts – to find out? Especially when there is, as Gates crudely and cruelly notes, so much good wine around?
It really is a sad, unfair, painful situation. But at the very least, Hibito should be tested much, much more vigorously before being allowed to return to space. I believe Butler let his emotions get the better of him to an extent that borders on incompetence here, his personal story clouding his judgment. He even protests to Gates that “That test was to help Hibito!” – proof of his bias. No, that test wasn’t to help Hibito – it was to test him. And all those steps Butler took to make it easier for Hibito were doing nothing but undercutting his own case and calling his judgment and impartiality into question. As terrible as I feel for Hibito – and Mutta – I’m pleased Uchuu Kyoudai didn’t let Butler off the hook here.
As for Hibito, my growing suspicion is that he knew all along that he was screwed, and he was working so hard to beat his disorder largely to prove to himself that he could. It’s sad to see the moon bunny grounded, his boyish and carefree mien clouded with adult regrets, but let’s not forget what a very lucky man he is – he’s already achieved something almost no one will ever achieve. There are plenty of other good astronauts waiting patiently for their first opportunity to do what Hibito wants to do for a second time.
I suspect Hibito’s disappearance is a chance to clear his head, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return with a renewed energy to pursue his dreams through other means – perhaps to prove his fitness by going to space again as part of a mission for the commercial space industry (which we haven’t heard much about in Space Brothers, but I presume is still burgeoning). As we’ve seen over and over in this series, even if our dream is deferred or denied, there are other means by which to pursue it – just look at Mutta’s isolation pod teammates Furuya and Fukuda. As for Mutta himself, this is yet another obstacle, another test – can the greyhound continue to race forward, even if he no longer has his brother the rabbit to chase? He’s already carrying Sharon’s dream, and now for a while at least he’ll be carrying Hibito’s as well. It’s a heavy burden, but Mutta has proved over and over that he thrives under duress and I have no doubt he will once again here.