That was an episode of Space Brothers quite unlike any other, for more reasons than one.
I confess I had a certain suspicion of this episode, as I felt the path taken to get here was somewhat contrived by the admittedly lofty standards Uchuu Kyoudai has set. I’m not a huge fan of the dramatic cliffhanger as it was used in episode 39 (and 40, as it happens) and I think there are some logic holes that point to the likelihood that Koyama-sensei simply wanted Hibito and Damian isolated somewhere out of radio contact, forced to think and act on their own volition – though with memories of training by Brian Jay to help along the way.
But let’s side that aside as irrelevant now, since we’re where we are, and judge things from the point this episode started. And despite what I might consider another handicap – the complete absence of Mutta for the first time in the series – it delivers a pretty darn gripping 22 minutes I have to admit. 22 minutes that felt like 5 (another SSY, in that sense) of Hibito in a bad way on the moon, trying to figure out a way to survive after the crash of the buggy into a deep crevasse – deep enough in fact to prevent radio contact with Houston or the moonbase. The spirit of Brian Jay hangs over this episode in every way, from his words to the influence he had on the men now fighting for their lives on the moon.
The fact is that given as he was lucky enough to be both uninjured and to have his suit and oxygen tanks undamaged, survival for Hibito wouldn’t be a terribly big problem. He has oxygen for 10 hours, and it will take only 2.5 or so for the others to fire up the “Beetle” and arrive at the location where he dropped out of contact. He also has a flare to let them know his location once he’s given them enough time to arrive. The problem is Damian – first in locating him (which Hibito only does after Damian sets off his own flare) and then in trying to save him. Damian is injured, but far worse, his suit’s temperature regulation system is shot and he’s rapidly freezing to death.
While I might take issue with some of the specifics with which this scenario is enacted – it’s a bit heavy on dramatic convenience and plays into the occasional problem the series has in making Hibito out to be too much of a superman – there’s no denying the raw power of the drama playing out. There’s surely few things as elementally gut-wrenching as watching astronauts struggle for their lives – it’s a reminder of just how hostile are the conditions under which they work, and the risks they take every day on a mission. This crisis is all about raw practicality. How long can one survive based on conditions, health and equipment? There’s no way for Damian and Hibito to talk, so they use “voice writers” – a very cool device that plugs into their suits and acts as a voice recognition display.
Hanging over all this are the words of Brian Jay about triage – “Once you’ve decided you can’t make it, prioritize the other astronauts life.” With the buggy unusable there seems no way to save Damian and he tells Hibito to save himself, but Hibito has (perhaps too conveniently) located the Gibson probe that was the object of their search in the first place, and he thinks he can use the intact battery from the dead buggy to power the intact but powerless Gibson with the dead battery, using it as a gurney to carry Damian to safety. Is this realistic? I’ll leave it to those more knowledgeable than me to decide – I can only say that the drama of the situation is very effective in an Apollo 13 sort of way.
We’re left with yet another cliffhanger – as Hibito climbs towards the idled Gibson the rock face breaks and he falls, puncturing his main O2 tank. This gives him 80 minutes of life – not enough to make it until the others arrive. I wonder if it would be feasible for Damian’s tank to be swapped out for Hibito’s under those conditions – if so, I expect Damian to suggest it. All this is definitely a very big change for Uchuu Kyoudai, but I do think it’s important for this show specifically to take pains to remind viewers of just how horrifically dangerous space travel is. There’s a tendency for the romance of the notion to win the day, and that’s not a flaw – Mutta and Hibito’s passion for the idea is communicated wonderfully and it’s very understandable. At the same time I’m pleased Koyama takes pains to make sure the audience understands the other side of the picture as well, and although Hibito (and most likely Damian) will surely survive, bringing death so close to the orbit of a main character is a way to really make that other side hit home.