Having scene the Space Brothers live-action film I sort of knew what to expect this week, but the anime version definitely exceeded the film – and my expectations.
In some ways, this is the moment Uchuu Kyoudai has been building up to for 30 episodes. It sounds funny to say about a four-cour anime in this era of the primacy of one-cour series, but four cours simply isn’t long enough to tell this story properly. We’re 30 eps in and we’ve just hit the first major climax, but Mutta’s tale has really only begun – and he is the main character, after all. At this point Space Brothers hasn’t seen space at all, bar a few short flashback sequences of Azuma and a brief conversation between Hibito and Eddie Jay on the International Space Station. Yes, this is primarily a human story and the “Brothers” half of the title is probably top dog – but the Space is pretty riveting, too, and I’d really like to see the show have a chance to bring some closure to the story.
That said, the anime surely has a much better chance of doing so than the live-action – which had to accomplish whatever it was going to accomplish in roughly two hours. And it has – the world of the anime is naturally much richer and the characters more fully fleshed-out, though the movie did well with what it had to work with and in fact made a boatload of money – maybe enough to buy a little more time for the anime, who knows. It certainly did wonders for manga sales.
One of the scenes from the live-action that really imprinted on me was the sequence depicted in this week’s episode, where Mutta meets retired NASA employee Deneil Young (Ishida Tarou). Maybe it was for the wrong reason – the very bizarre spectacle of an American actor speaking Engrish in a Japanese film, something I don’t quite get – but the spectacle of Mutta staring across the expanse of the Kennedy Space Center at that slender and fragile-looking rocket about the convey his little brother into space is seared into my memory. And the anime managed to make that an even more compelling story by sharing more of what was happening in Mutta’s head, and by the way the final scenes of the episode were shot.
The whole scenario was set up, of course, by a runaway Apo (my favorite Sawashiro Miyuki performance of the season), which briefly made me wonder if chasing around the space center after a runaway pug 20 minutes before Mars I launched would reflect poorly on Mutta in the eyes of Nasuda. Nasuda didn’t seem to think ill of the situation though, apart from ominous warnings about crocodiles (actually Florida has alligators), more concerned with the fact that “Sunny” Tsurumi had saved the day again. The final thoughts of the astronauts and the quick cuts to the various affected humans – the parents, the children, the ground staff – as the launch approached were very effective at creating a really tense atmosphere that highlighted the magnitude of what was about to happen.
Ultimately, though, this was the story of Hibito, strapped into his tin can, and especially Mutta, watching helplessly from the roof of an abandoned blockhouse with a very eccentric old man and a pug. Young was a nice reminder of the history that had built up to this moment (Uchuu Kyoudai takes about as good-hearted and positive view on American-Japanese relations as any anime I remember), but what really sold the ending for me was the very simply straightforward way it was filmed. Mutta from the back, with the rocket in the distance, Mutta’s astonished face as he watched what was happening, the BGM fading away until there was nothing left except Mutta’s face – telling the story of a million emotions playing out behind it – and the rocket carrying Hibito to the moon. It was simple and powerful, and will surely be remembered as one of the defining moments in Space Brothers.