Intense and riveting is probably a pretty good start in describing this episode of Uchuu Kyoudai.
I’ll say again what I said after last week – this was 22 minutes that felt like 5. This is not the Space Brothers I’m used to seeing, but it’s compelling and masterfully done – it’s impossible for me not to be reminded of the way I felt in watching Apollo 13. That’s a good movie, to be sure, but probably not as good as most movies would have to be to get the kind of emotional response from the audience that it did. Putting astronauts in danger is pretty low-hanging fruit from a dramatic standpoint, now as then, and you’d have to be a pretty cold fish not to be nail-biting as the events of this episode played out. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m glad this isn’t the sort of drama Space Brothers shoots for all the time, because the subtler charms of most of the first 40 episodes are much harder to pull off.
What’s clear here – as in Apollo 13 – is that when shit goes down on a manned space mission, there are a mountain of circumstances stacked against a happy resolution. The margin of error on the moon is razor-thin to begin with, and when something goes wrong (like a buggy crashing into a ravine) it drops effectively to zero. Once the crash happened pretty much everything had to go right for both Hibito and Damian to survive, and that definitely hasn’t been the case. Once Damian’s suit was damaged, that would most likely have been the end of him – in real-life, miracles like finding the Gibson probe just at the moment of desperation don’t happen too often. Add to that Hibito crashing to the ground and puncturing his main oxygen tank and it’s really lights-out – but this is manga, not real-life, and Hibito is a main character.
There are several interesting elements at play in the rescue attempt. As in reality it’s all hands on deck – everyone with any knowledge of moon missions is called in to brainstorm, and JAXA pitches in by sending Houston a 3D relief map of the area where the buggy dropped from contact. It’s Azuma who comes up with the suggestion that I suspect will save the day – send every unmanned probe within range to the crash site as quickly as possible, regardless of whether it seems as if it’s be helpful or not. It’s not an obvious move but it’s one that makes perfect sense, and there’s one particular unmanned craft that looms especially important.
We also see a bit of an issue with following orders, and the impact that could have on survival. As Eddie Jay watches on from the International Space Station, praying that his colleagues won’t meet the same fate as his brother, Hibito decides to go ahead with his bold plan despite his accident. This means strapping Damian – who’s fading quickly – to Gibson and trying to find a way out of the crater. This presents a problem because astronauts are supposed to stay put and wait for rescue – and Damian’s flare has established the location of at least one survivor and thus the logical place to head for. Mutta has arrived at JAXA HQ and, having seen the 3D map, asks that Hoshika-san tell NASA to send the Beetle to a spot some 22 KM away from the flare site, where the slope is less severe, because he knows his brother and he figures Hibito isn’t the type to sit tight and wait for rescue. He’s right, but Houston refuses to go along – and if it were me, I’d have done the same thing. Mutta’s instinct simply isn’t a good enough basis upon which to ignore the logical move – send the probe to where you know at least one astronaut was alive, and waiting for rescue.
I wondered last week whether it was possible to switch out the astronauts O2 tanks, and it turns out the answer is no (Damian regretfully thinks to himself that he wishes it were). If that had been the case it certainly would have made for an interesting decision on Hibito’s part, but as things stand I suspect he’s going to encounter the “Brian 3” oxygen generator that NASA sent over, and that will prove his life-saver. With his tank running out, without the Brian 3 the tables would have been turned – it would be time to prioritize Damian’s survival as long as he was still alive. That would mean Hibito trying to get Damian to sunlight even if there were no chance that the Beetle would arrive in time for him, and giving Damian his flare before his oxygen ran out. As it stands the Brian 3 will likely be the main character armor, but I suppose there’s an outside chance Damian might not make it – though if I were a betting man, I’d wager that he’s going to be rescued in time as well.
Barring a miraculous announcement of a second season or an extension of this one (the manga is certainly doing well enough) it now appears possible that this arc will prove the final one of the series. I think it would be a real shame if we never got the chance to see Mutta actually live the life of an astronaut for a while – if not on an actual mission, then at least through some hard-core training. After suffering through so much with him for so many episodes, I think that’s a reward both the character and the audience deserve. As riveting as these last two episodes have been, I’m hopeful that this crisis will be wrapped up in the next episode or two so we can have an ending that’s more thematically in tune with the rest of the series.