Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyoudai)
Number of Episodes: TBA
Production Company: A-1 Pictures
Brief Overview: When they were children, brothers Mutta and Hibito witnessed an event that led them both to become interested in going to space. The younger Hibito succeeded... but Mutta ended up working for an automobile manufacturer instead. Having lost his job, Mutta makes another try at his dreams.
Episode 1 Summary: When Nanba Mutta and his younger brother Hibito were children, they witnessed something that they could only describe as a UFO. This inspired them to take an interest in space travel and aim towards becoming astronauts someday. Hibito fulfilled that promise by becoming one of the astronauts assigned to a Moon colonization mission. Mutta, on the other hand, turned his talents towards automobile design. Unfortunately, his career is cut short when he head-butts one of his superiors and is terminated.
Back at home with his parents, Mutta tries unsuccessfully to find another job, having been blacklisted by his former supervisor. Defeated by his failure, he begins to give up hope. It's a call from his younger brother and the memory of their promise to one-another that keeps him going. When he's mailed an application for JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), his passion to travel to space is reignited.
Thoughts: Ah, humanity's dream of space travel. In the years since the first Moon landing, the mystique of space has worn off to some degree, and many people seem to lack interest in the science and wonder of exiting the Earth's atmosphere and exploring the great beyond. This series seems poised to try and reignite some of that interest by telling a story about space travel that also contains a lot of heart.
I think that one of the best choices made in the creation of this story was the choice of protagonist. While this story is idealized somewhat from the get-go, this clearly isn't the tale of a person whose path towards his goal is definitely assured. Mutta lacks self-confidence, especially as a result of his age; while no oldster by normal standards, at thirty-years-old he's ancient as far as anime characters go. His distress at being outpaced in life by his younger brother is palpable and distressingly familiar, also; as an older sibling myself whose myriad emotional issues have caused quite a bit of pain and frustration and whose younger sibling is more traditionally "successful," Mutta's angst tends to hit home just a bit too hard at times.
That said, this most certainly isn't a show that I'd describe as angst-ridden. On the contrary, this episode manages to maintain that magic ratio of dramatic and comedic content that appeals to audiences who prefer to avoid an overdose of either. Mutta's situation is tragic in its way, but his reactions to being kicked to the curb are just slightly over-the-top and help to bring humor to something which might otherwise be too much of a downer. Mutta's nostalgic memories of his childhood with Hibito manage to avoid coming across as too sappy or manipulative. Refreshingly, Hibito is clearly not meant to be seen as antagonistic towards Mutta; the two maintain a good relationship, and Hibito wants nothing more than to see his big brother become as successful as he is.
While the story of nice characters being nice to one-another might spell doom due to lack of conflict in some cases, in this series I suspect that much of the dramatic content will come as a result of Mutta's internal emotional conflicts and not as part of some direct antagonism by other characters. The series seems to have its feet on the ground as the story of an adult navigating a set of adult goals in an adult world. When the majority of anime is concerned with the trials and tribulations of being a teenager, that in itself is something special.
Follow-Up Episodes: One notable thing about this series is its pacing, which is surprisingly deliberate. There are several episodes devoted to Mutta's interviews and examinations for JAXA, and the series appears to be laying quite a bit of groundwork for later by introducing a few of Mutta's "classmates" during those episodes. This may prove frustrating for viewers who are more used to something that's faster-paced and features more immediate payoff, but I enjoy the way the series slips in extra details about the different tests that the applicants undergo and information about the various space missions and what-not. I'm not entirely sure how many episodes this series is supposed to be (obviously more than 1-cour because there's no conclusion in sight at this point), but as long as the narrative won't end up feeling rushed later on, I don't mind the fact that there's a bit of waiting involved.
On the other hand, what the series lacks in fast-pacing it makes up for in cliffhangers. It seems as if almost every episode so far has featured some kind of "what if?" moment at the end, especially in regards to the state of Mutta's application. Without spoiling too much, there seems to be quite an element of luck on Mutta's side, and while his actions at his former company hold him back to some extent, there are people willing to look beyond that to see the person he really is. There seems to be a strong thematic undercurrent of good things happening to good people (in this case, people who work hard and have aspirations).
The only really minor quibble I have with the show at this point (which is several episodes in but not quite caught-up), is that, while the female doctor who applies to JAXA with Mutta is portrayed in a pretty well-rounded manner, the reactions of the other characters to her presence is pretty goofy and ridiculous. Both the other applicants (including Mutta) and some of the examiners get a little googly-eyed over the fact that a nice-looking woman is present, which honestly causes the realism of the show to take a hit. In the near-future (or heck, even in the present) stuff like this really shouldn't be a big deal anymore.
This show is what I watch when I want to feel good. It's got enough drama that I rarely find it boring, and it incorporates humor and heartwarming drama without causing the tonal whiplash that so many other anime are famous for. I also appreciate that the protagonist is an honest-to-goodness adult dealing with the type of issues that many people I know are familiar with, rather than yet another kid trying to navigate adolescence.
- The series manages to stay interesting without any overblown conflict.
- The characters are all nice, well-meaning people.
- There's a good blend of drama and comedy to appeal to a wide audience.
- The pacing may be too deliberate for some viewers.
Recommended? I find that this is one of the series I look forward to each week. It's fun, I like the characters, and it makes me feel good, which for most people is probably good enough reason to tune in.