Uchuu Kyoudai – 99 (End) and Series Review

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It truly is the end of an era – at least for now.

This is a bit of a historic moment for me as a blogger – I’ve never done a series review post on a show that’s run for anything like two years (though in fact it’s obviously also an appetizer for one I’ll be writing later this year).  How can you sum up the experience of watching 99 episodes of a series like this one?  It’s not such an easy thing, especially given that there have been ups-and-downs over the course of those two years, times when Uchuu Kyoudai waxed and waned in my esteem.

To begin with, it should probably be noted that Space Brothers as a franchise isn’t going anywhere.  The manga continues to be a superpower.  There’s an anime film coming this summer, on the heels of two live-action films that fared well at the box office.  There’s going to be an Uchuu Kyoudai “Come to the Moon With Me” exhibit in May at Mitsukoshi Ginza – by the square foot, the most expensive retail space in the world.  And there was a tweet from the official series Twitter today to the effect that the anime would return once the manga had rebuilt its lead, though no specific timeframe was given.  This series is very much thriving – it’s just not going to be a weekly visitor on our TVs for a while.

That said, this is an ending of sorts, and endings demand acknowledgement.  In the first place there’s the ending itself, as in the final episode – how did it do?  On the whole I’d have to say very well.  Uchuu Kyoudai ended the way it spend the best weeks of its run – dignified, emotionally resonant, low-key but powerful.  When the show cranks up its haymaker BGM in key moments – something it hasn’t done all that much lately – it never fails to impact me.  This was a finale that was largely free of the distractions that have sometimes marred the last few cours, and focused on the themes that are at the heart of the series.

We certainly didn’t get the kind of ending where things are neatly tied up in a bow, but with the manga ongoing and the anime likely to return, there’s no reason we should have.  There was nary a mention of Aunt Sharon – that was the only thing I would call a surprising omission – and I wouldn’t have minded seeing Deneil Young or the gang from the JAXA isolation pod in the montage of reactions to Vince’s launch. But in broad terms the finale was about two things – brothers and space.  And as I’ve always said, this series more than any I know is truth in advertising when it comes to the title.

I was very pleased to see that Nitta played a role in the resolution, because after his character was nicely advanced in the desert survival arc, I’ve felt that his character was rather wasted (and far more interesting than Kenji).  Yes, there’s a bond that he and Mutta share, and yes, Nitta could see it – especially given that he’d heard the rumors about Hibito (I imagine few at NASA hadn’t).  Asking Mutta out for pizza was a nice touch, and it gave Mutta and ourselves the chance to hear what’s been happening with Kazuya, Nitta’s hikikomori younger brother.  And that amounts to progress, but not miracles – Kazuya has left the house and started to pursue his own dream, but faces a skeptical world in trying to prove himself.

There are limits as to how far I’d take the analogy between Kazuya and Hibito – if someone hires Kazuya and he relapses, a bunch of people aren’t going to face the risk of death.   But the larger point is valid – it’s a long hard road back once you’ve been to a dark place inside, and it may mean seeking a fresh start in greener pastures.  Coming to America is clearly the right thing for Kazuya – hikikomori face a horrendous social stigma in Japan.   And for Hibito, it seems, the right thing is leaving America – apparently for a joint mission to the moon with JAXA and Roscosmos.  It’s a bit of a bitter pill for Butler, but there’s no argument he can make that it’s the wrong move – he can offer Hibito nothing more than he already has, and it wasn’t enough.

Of course the truth is, Hibito’s disappearance has been especially hard on Mutta.  It was incredibly selfish for him to leave without a word knowing that his brother was facing a crucial time in his own career (at least when he finally does mail Mutta, Hibito has the decency to apologize).  And it’s had an impact – Mutta is screwing up as CAPCOM and he knows it.  Vince has lost whatever confidence in him that he had.  This is a dilemma for Mutta, who’s always tried to live by his old motto that the older brother should always be in the lead – yet he’s lived a life where he’s always been chasing Hibito, and in some way that’s surely more comfortable for him now.  After having spent so much of his life defining himself in terms of his relationship to his brother, it seems it’s finally time for Mutta to forge his own path.

Vince isn’t the most likable guy in the world, but it’s hard to fault him here – Mutta takes this on himself for not being able to compartmentalize his mind and focus on the job at hand.  “Treat training as if it’s a mission and treat missions as if they’re training” – extremely sound thinking, especially in Vince’s line of work.  Naturally Mutta falls back on his strengths to work through this – building a personal connection to Vince to allow him to truly act as his alter-ego on the mission.  It’s classic Mutta – I would actually have liked to have seen the process play out over a couple of episodes, but that’s a minor complaint in the larger scheme of things.

Uchuu Kyoudai ends as it began – with “Feel so Moon”, with two young boys seeing something remarkable and making a promise for the future, with a rocket blasting into space.  Space and Brothers are what this series is and always will be about – it’s only the circumstances that change.  Hibito’s message to his brother is “See you on the moon”, and I’ve no doubt that it will happen (though let’s not forget Mutta’s original pledge – “I’ll go to Mars”).  No matter how many times Sharon tells him so, it won’t be a piece of cake – it never is for Mutta, and Hibito is learning that lesson too.  But sometimes the hare – even a moon bunny – has to take lessons from the tortoise.

So there you have it – almost a hundred episodes, two years of anime, what does it all boil down to?  There have certainly been stumbles, most troubling mangaka Koyama Chuuya’s weakness for stereotypes and caricatures.  Buddy the Gorilla is a part of Space Brothers’ legacy too, as much as we’d all like to forget it – but it’s only a small part.  The real legacy of this show, I think, is that along with Gin no Saji (indeed, it’s a real blow to have them ending within a week of each other) it’s the most realistic character drama anime has seen in the last couple of years.  It’s an example of the way anime can be used to enlighten the human condition when it focuses on elemental human psychology and relationships, and does so with wit and intelligence.

While I’d certainly admit that the second year of Uchuu Kyoudai wasn’t as great as the first, there were still some great moments.  For me, though, the highlight of this series will always be Episode 37, “Two Men in the Park”.  It’s no exaggeration to say it’s one of my favorite anime episodes of all time, and the emotional payoff it delivered for all of Mutta’s struggling and hard work was nearly unmatched for me.  It was beautiful in its simplicity, letting the moment speak for itself as director Watanabe Ayumu so often does.  Any anime that can soar to that kind of height will always be special in my book – and it’s the sort of moment the series has delivered many times over these last two years, if never quite at that level.

It would also be no exaggeration to say that Uchuu Kyoudai is one of very few anime (or any work of fiction, in fact) that truly inspired me in my personal life.  Mutta is the heart and soul of this series, and the fact that he perseveres and takes risks despite nothing ever coming easily to him emboldened me when I was agonizing over whether to move to Japan.  He’s a great man, the kind of great man we can all aspire to be because what makes him exceptional is something we can all aspire to, his decency and his persistence.  Hirata Hiroaki is delivering one of the all-time great seiyuu performances ever here, providing the solid base upon which everything in this series builds.  Mutta’s journey will continue, albeit not in anime form for a bit – and as my own journey continues, he’ll continue to be a source of inspiration and encouragement that nice guys can finish first sometimes.  And any anime that can provide that is truly exceptional, just as its main character is.

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  1. l

    Sad that this has to take a probable long stop to allow the manga to rebuild its lead. Happy to have had a satisfying anime adaptation for the manga.

  2. b

    "though in fact it's obviously also an appetizer for one I'll be writing later this year"
    Ooh, cryptic…Which series are you referring to?

  3. Do I really need to spell that out? 😉 Find the one I'm blogging that's been running even longer than Uchuu and you have your answer.

  4. F

    Shedding a tear as I think about it . . . .

  5. S

    Hm, I lost track of this series during the deep sea moon training arc, definitely time to pick it up again!

  6. c

    this was always my little saturday goodie: mutta has also inspired me!! He has a funny dorky side that makes me really smile so much, and then that side where you only have a warm warm feeling cause he really is a great guy, super smart but always for the right cause!! Well ofcourse i want to see Mutta and Hibito on the moon together!! so hope we won't have to wait too long; Enzo, thanks for this review!!

  7. t

    in the anime world, once in a while does come a masterpiece series. uchuu kyoudai (or space brothers) is definitely such series, at least for me.
    if I need to sum up space brothers, then it would be "feel so moon". the opening song and ending theme here (remember a few eps ago when Mutta wore a shirt with the type "feel so moon" HaHa). it's true that there is so much in this series more than meets the eyes and more than just space and astronauts. but above all, this "feel so moon" phrase is like one of the foundations of all space bros elements.

    looking back a little, first to space brothers start. it was good with all swinging between Mutta past and present, but back there, you don't get space brothers. in order to truly grasp the essence of this show, one should advance significantly in the show. and damn what we had besides the exam?Hibito goes to space and we had one of most tense arcs with his accident. and Mutta keep advancing to be an astronaut with great interactions with training with so much people. but space brothers also shows that it's not all so bright in life – the stuff with Sharon's illness and Hibito's PD (it's Pretty Dog, don't get the wrong idea). although it was kinda harsh, it was so realistic. they took it little by little and walk through this with.
    finally, Mutta is able to go to space and in this very ep, we see how much the relationship between the brothers so tied together with space. as Sharon said, Mutta can't without Hibito, and for Hibito, Mutta is like a light there when needed. of course I understood that when I progressed with the series, but with the ending it's very nice.
    so, although space didn't hook me much at first, it managed to do so (and even more – as I said – masterpiece for me) . there is so much wrapped here – great and realistic SoL and character development, even the secondary characters.
    space brothers is so simple but still utterly brilliant and funny when needed.

    the final episode was of course very good in space bros style. I like it when Nitta came and helped Mutta, also giving some more info on his brother who hasn't give up. it's so smart but simple to bring Nitta to help (I thought Kenji would help too, but Nitta is wonderful).
    also, Hibito has gone to Russia, well, it was something I thought would happen. it seems very reasonable to go there and trying go to space while in NASA things are too difficult for him. it's very reasonable and have analogy for things in real life. while NASA and Russia-space-agency probably collaborate and all, they are still some sort of..rivals.

    watching the series ending was kinda painful. I like space brothers and seeing a series you like so much who hasn't truly reached its end…it's tough, especially with such.."timeskip" showing Vince going to space. how do I say this…?well, it's just that it wasn't the natural ending. of course it was a good one and fitted very well. but I guess the ending also says that it's not a total goodbye. as you said, there is still anime-film and the manga keep going. and I also guess space brothers anime will return, probably not this year, but it will later on.

    well done, great review!

  8. i

    Though i need to watch the series from 92 onwards, i just needed to blog this. Uchuu kyoudai has been one of the best experiences i´ve with anime, as you said, is definitely a human drama that encourages you.
    Mutta is one of the best main characters i´ve the pleasure to watch, and while the series has his up and downs (specially in it´s second year) is one of the best series i´ve seen and an emotional ride all the way.
    I won´t say anything more, you have summarize it in a great review and, of course, there´s still a second season and a movie coming.
    So, "see you later" Uchuu kyoudai.

  9. O

    Again, a great review by Guardian Enzo!
    I don't post very often but I've followed your reviews every weeks and they have been a pleasure to read, so thank you very much :).

    Space Brothers is a very special anime to me, as it has many truly great moments and characters but also some disapointing flaws. Like you said, the stereotypes were a pain to watch (albeit not always insulting) but I think Space Brothers fares pretty well in that regards when you compare it to the vast majority of anime.

    For me, the blessing and curse of this anime is it's main character, Nanba Mutta. He is such an exceptionnal character and man that the anime suffers when it doesn't focus on him. Hibito, who should be a sort of co-lead, almost seems like a flat character in comparison. Howerver, to be fair, Hibito isn't the only major character who suffers from the comparison (hello Kenji).

    In it's two year run, I've never failed to watch the newest episode of Uchuu Kyoudai shorly after it's release (a very rare accomplishement for me), so I'm going to miss it so much.

    Huge thanks to Koyama-Sensei and A1-Picture's staff for this great anime.

  10. Thanks for the kind words, Orin. Indeed, you're right – Mutta is such a great M.C. that it does hurt the series in a way, because it's never as good when he's not in focus.

  11. A

    I will miss this show greatly. I will wait for it's eventual return. Thanks for writing your review as always, Enzo. Endings are never easy.

  12. R

    Enzo, your last paragraph is moving and passionate — I'm touched by just reading it. Yes — I agree that Mutta's story is inspiring, and I can't help but smile when you shared how Mutta's story aspired you and gave you the strength to pursue your dream. I'm sure that the journey isn't a smooth ride — just like Mutta's — but resilience will pay off. What's not to be happy about doing something that is close to your heart? Ganbatte, Enzo, you have your readers' support.

    The finale is well done, in my view. It captures the strength of the show — its modest, reserved, quiet, yet emotional displays have been what tug me along and trigger me to ponder on things happening or will happen in my life.

    Uchuu Kyoudai is quite a miracle in today's anime landscape. The fact that it isn't an otaku-pandering show and doesn't come with actions or melodrama but can last for almost two years is a miracle. It is a gem in today's anime/manga world, and I'm glad to hear that it's doing well commercially and that there is an official tweet saying that the show will return. This leads me to think about Chihayafuru…wonder if we will have similar comforting news in the near future…

    Thanks, Enzo, for blogging this wonderful show. Like Kingdom, this is another show that pretty much only you pick up and stick through the course while most in the blogosphere ignore. For this alone, thanks!

  13. Well, I thank you for that, Ronbb. Abject poverty has a way of sapping one's enthusiasm, I won't deny. But I'm still plugging away at it.

  14. g

    Great review, Enzo. I will miss this series every Saturday until it returns. I discovered Uchuu Kyoudai quite by accident – I was in a hotel in Nagasaki on June 15, 2013 and turned on the TV just as Episode 62 was starting. When I got home a couple of weeks later, I did some research, discovered Crunchyroll, and the rest is history. i am also reading the manga (in English) on Crunchyroll Manga, so that will keep me busy until the anime returns.

  15. How'd you like Nagasaki? Always wanted to go there.

  16. T

    As a hardcore uchuu kyoudai fan myself. I loved this review. It resonated with my feelings of the series and gave me a few more different angles to look at it and in the end came to love it more. Thanks for the article. I will definitely share it.

  17. Thanks, Taxan – appreciate the comment.

  18. E

    the most "realistic" plot of Anime i've ever seen ahaha

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