Space Brothers episodes 01-02: Shining Stars

Playing one’s own tune has never looked so good. Though, it’s probably sounded better.

Like The Agony of Doha in 1993 and Nomo’s triumph in 1996 were respectively moments of national misery and celebration for football and baseball fans throughout Japan, there seemed to be a strong collective reaction around the anisphere when the first episode of Space Brothers, aired. Thankfully, as Ghosty and Ryan noted at the time, the reaction was a positive one. A very positive one. To say that I was pleasantly surprised by just how good epi 1 was, would be an understatement. In fact, if you haven’t seen this show yet, I’ll just say the following: the story follows two brothers who dreamed of becoming astronauts when they were younger and now only one of them has made it, but currently down-and-out big bro Mutta is about to get a second chance to achieve his dream; the characters are mature, already well-rounded and likeable; the animation, colours and character designs are clean, vibrant and easy on the eyes; the pace, humour and overall energy are tonnes of fun; the family interactions and drama peppered throughout compliment everything well, with a nostalgic and inspiring, rather than overly sentimental, feel; and the whole thing promises to be one of the best comedy/ drama / adventure/ personal growth stories I’ve seen in ages. In other words, go and watch epi 1. If you’ve already seen it, then, clearly, we think that there are lots to love about the show so far, notably the development of Mutta.

As I started to mention above, the first episode introduced Mutta and Hibito Nanba and told the story of how both brothers, possibly or not due to the momentous timings of their births, have had bad and good luck respectively up until the point where the ‘present’ (year 2025) timeframe begins. Hibito, the younger brother and resident golden boy, has achieved his dream of becoming an astronaut, and the first Japanese one to set foot on the moon at that, whereas Mutta has recently been fired from his job as a car designer for Zidane-ing his supervisor when the latter insulted Hibito, and can’t seem to get a decent job ever since. Hearing about the incident, Hibito decides to give big bro a push in a more positive direction by reminding Mutta of his childhood dream and arranging for his application to be sent to JAXA (Japanese ver. of NASA). Evidently, the episode is an eventful one, full of regret and broken dreams, but also friendly brotherly rivalry and love, as we spend most of the time in Mutta’s shoes while he goes about figuring out just where it all all went wrong and what he should do with his life to make things better. Indeed, the sequence where Mutta goes for multiple job interviews at other car companies, only to find that he’s been black-listed, is a particularly inventive and funny series of shots, with the split screens, facial expressions and other visual gags all working well to convey the frustrating and farcical sides of Mutta’s situation. In contrast to Mutta’s current predicament, the childhood flashbacks of a more excited and hopeful time are also a treat and a great way of uniting and giving direction to all of the various elements, with the did-they-or-didn’t-they-see-a-UFO thing adding another layer of mystery to the proceedings (hopefully, we’ll find out more about this later on). Thus, not only does the reminder of Mutta’s dream and the renewed possibility of achieving it come at an opportune time near the end of the first episode, but it also sets up an almost quest-like plot that promises to be lots of fun as Mutta gets a foot in the door to JAXA…

Trust you to pick the noisiest one, Mutta.

Episode 2 is a less frenetic affair, but I also enjoyed the deeper soul-searching that Mutta goes about doing as he considers whether or not it’s even worth pursuing such a difficult dream at this stage of his life, given the odds. Again, a contrast is set up between Hibito, with whom the episode opens as he is shown giving an interview during which he reminisces about the moment where he (and Mutta) first declared their cosmic ambitions, and Mutta, who is then shown to be in a new job as a bog standard car mechanic and less than excited by the possibilities. However, we soon begin to get flashbacks of another key set of moments from Mutta’s childhood, involving an aunt, Sharon, who encouraged his love of space exloration and astronomy and to think more seriously about what he wanted to do when he was older. Here, I enjoyed the musical instruments imagery and how they are used to show both Mutta’s desire to perform just as well if not better than his younger brother, and also his passion for striving to achieve difficult goals. And thus, I enjoyed the extension of the musical metaphor when Mutta celebrates reaching the next stage of the JAXA recruitment process by recalling Sharon’s words about one’s shining stars and needing to make noise before one can make music when he then plays his own tune on the trumpet at the close of the episode. It’s a loud, expressive and assertive moment for Mutta, as he realises that it really is all worth playing for. Regarding the goings on with the interview process so far at JAXA, I also enjoyed the ‘surprise’ aspect of the interview with the dodgy chair business, and the introduction of the two other rival interviewees. While Kenji and Serika seem to be very neatly set up as potential best buddy and love interest respectively, I don’t mind the neatness so much at this stage, as it also makes sense that the three candidates that Hoshika highlighted via his chair trick would gravitate towards each other if they really are worthy of making the final cut, and I certainly enjoyed watching Kenji bromancing Mutta and Mutta’s adorably adoring faces when he was stealing glances at Serika.

In short, while there’s so much more to say about the other warm and humorous elements in the show so far (not least of all that mum, that cat, and Dat Hair), I love the character of Mutta and the direction in which his story is going, and, as with Tiger & Bunny, I also love the fact that we have the promise of another great show featuring mature adult characters. Clearly, the idea of finding oneself doesn’t begin and end in High School, so it’s great that such anime is dealing with these themes, and (more importantly), in a such an entertaining and charming way.

Crusader’s Life After 30

This show had me at hello, the Agony of Doha is something I couldn’t care any less about, however referencing that bastard, Hideo Nomo’s no hitter against the Rockies is something I remember. It is nice to have one of those rare 30 something protagonists in anime, it is all too rare given anime’s fondness for High School as the high point of life. Certainly if you have every lived passed 17 you can start to relate to Mutta. I am an elder brother and I have also been unemployed after a fashion for a period of my life. Mutta however does not have a wonderful Uncle Sam who would pay him generously to travel and run errands for him and as such Mutta ended up in a real nadir both financially and emotionally. The journey to adulthood is a perilous one and more often than not people lose sight of their dreams and instead settle for what pays or whatever ever pays well. As stupid as Mutta was for pulling a Zidane on his boss, if you have ever worked in a company you probably have had aspirations to give the boss what for. Few of us would ever do what Mutta did since the economic fallout is enough to dissuade us. While black listing is illegal, I know enough HR people to know that they will call your old boss to see what you did and they will ask you why you left your old job.

In these trying times moving back home is not out of the ordinary anymore given how home ownership can be a trap and fortunately for Mutta he did not have a family that would have to suffer with him. It’s good to see that Mutta was not becoming a shut in after losing his job. If anything this was a sort of forced midlife crisis and given that Mutta is single he has a real chance of a fresh start even if youth has passed him by. I am sure that people who stick with this will likely skew older given how the older you are the more you can relate to Mutta who would otherwise seem like a cautionary tale. His drive to always stay ahead of his younger sibling is a very Asian thing given how the elder sibling is always the one who has to live up to greater expectations and responsibilities while the younger are often given much more slack when it comes to parenting. Mutta measures time through national disappointments and triumphs but even if Nomo had one day of glory at Coors Field, Nomo was a dumb LA Dodger who never won a World Series with that shitty team. Success is relative and every dog has his day. Nevertheless it will be fun to watch how Mutta is going to reinvent himself as an Astronaut. As silly as that loose screw test may seem to some it is important for astronauts to be detail oriented as mechanical failure can have tragic consequences as in the shuttle disasters of Challenger, and Columbia can attest. I doubt that they are going to go all out on the space exploration front, more likely this is going to be about Mutta finding a new path and a life after 30.

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  1. Posted April 13, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Nice highlights of these first episodes. The writing in Space Brothers is great so far with it’s tone and intricacies, and I love seeing how different viewers are grabbing at different details and perspective. I’m hoping this show has something for everyone in the end. That’s what it’s looking like at this point.

    • Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      The writing is defo impressive so far, with a good balance of plot, comedy and pathos. The ‘something for everyone’ vibe is certainly not easy to pull off, but I’m glad the show has managed it and I’m also hoping it continues to do so. This might largely depend on whether or not Mutta makes it as an astronaut, but I imagine that it’ll be more about how he goes about doing so and what he learns along the way – his journey – that will provide the most satisfaction.

  2. ectholion
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    i keep telling myself im gonna start this show tomorrow….

    • Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      If you have the time, then I would certainly urge you to do so. It’s the best show of the season so far (though, I’m also enjoying Kimi to Boku, and Sakamichi no Apollon and Tsuritama also had excellent first episodes).

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