In every episode since this arc started I’ve been thinking a lot about a character who wasn’t on-screen – but it was a different one this time.
For all the high drama surrounding Hibito’s compelling but ultimately predictable peril on the moon, Space Brothers has really missed Mutta’s presence. The show is about both brothers, with certainty, but Mutta provides the pathos and the emotional pull most of the time – he’s the character I think most of the audience can relate to more than the charismatic and breezily heroic Hibito. It wouldn’t be a series without both of them, but Mutta is usually the one who takes it to the level of greatness, and it was wonderful to have him back in the spotlight this week.
It wasn’t either Nanba brother that was most on my mind this week, though – it was Eddie Jay. I kept thinking about that shot of him alone on the aging International Space Station, talking via satellite linkup to the young and popular Japanese astronaut who was about to go to the moon. It seems to me that Eddie Jay is the forgotten man in Uchuu Kyoudai – the one who has ties to the main events of the story both personal and symbolic, but whose story hasn’t really been told. Perhaps an intentional parallel is being drawn between the story of the Jay brothers and that of the Nanba – I rather hope so, because I would hate to think of never finding out just what led Eddie to his current situation. Everyone raves about Brian Jay – “the best astronaut”, the man who taught them all so much (how to pick up chicks in Russian, how to kiss ass, how to look big), the larger-than-life hero they loved. But what was it that caused the elder brother to fall so far behind the younger? What quality did he lack that led him to the backwaters of the space program (which is still a higher plateau than 99.999% of us will ever reach, mind you) while his kid brother went on to become the most famous astronaut in the world, even before his untimely demise?
It’s hard not to see the connection down through the years between those two young boys on the back of “Brian”, standing on that lonely rock on the moon, and the two brothers who memorized every presentation at JAXA and impressed a young (and coiffed) Hoshika-san. This series is as much about those boys as the men they became – about their dreams and their passions which led them to risk their lives to pursue them. It would be disingenuous, in my view, to frame the series as Mutta’s chronicle without sharing the story of the other elder brother who inspired his otouto to pursue his dreams, only to see himself surpassed. Uchuu Kyoudai is more about those who struggle for everything they get and labor mostly in obscurity, choking back self-doubt and - when the moment is right - tears than it is about the bright and beautiful men whose ease and charisma inspires others to follow them. If this series is more about Mutta Nanba than Hibito, than it surely must also be Eddie Jay’s story every bit as much as it is Brian’s.
The emotional peaks of this series continue to be the moments that are understated and underplayed, rather than the flashier scenes. Nothing in the entire arc moved me quite so much as Mutta’s reaction when Hoshika told him his brother was safe – once again simple shots of the character’s face, with very little BGM to interfere with Hiroaki Hirata’s subtly beautiful performance. I also loved the way Mutta’s face was framed in the waiting room between the portraits of Hibito and Azuma – the three principals of the current drama. If there was any doubt that Mutta had won Azuma’s respect (and I don’t think there really was) it’s surely dissipated now with Azuma’s words to Claude Azuma Kazuyoshi, ironically), the Flight Director. I still contend that Claude made the only decision he could have in the moment and there was never any doubt of what Azuma had been whispering to him, but it still nice to see him give the credit where it was due. Was it a dramatic stretch to say that Mutta would have known exactly where his brother would go, given what he was aware of what he wasn’t? Probably – but it seems an acceptable application of dramatic license in this case.
The scene that segues from this arc to the next is a simple conversation between brothers, emotional surely, but more notable to me for what a distinctly “brotherly” conversation it is. Each side is pretending that Mutta doesn’t know that Hibito has almost died, and there are no florid expressions of emotions – it’s all pretense, a forced brusqueness from Mutta and casualness from Hibito. Why should it be so hard for men – even brothers – to express how they feel to each other? Yet so it is – and a quiet expression of gratitude from Hibito is as honest as the moment gets. Both of them have to trust that the other understands, because that’s just the way it is. The promise to stand on the moon together – “that goes without saying” says Mutta – is a reminder of what has been lost in the past and what was almost lost now, and that this is a conversation that Eddie Jay will never be able to have.