The Ninjabot

Space Brothers Review: Episodes 1-85, Full of Heart And Manly Tears

Posted on December 23, 2013 at 9:50 am by Victor Chaves

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Space Brothers is probably the most mature anime I’ve ever seen that doesn’t show decapitation or sex, succeeding exceptionally well without it. Mutta Nanba, an unemployed man trying to follow in his younger brother’s footsteps, strikes out on his own to become an astronaut. Eventually, their younger brother, Hibito, has his own story where he partakes on a mission to the Moon, which really lives up to the name Space Brothers.

After losing his job for making fun of his brother Hibito, Mutta decides to revisit his dream of becoming an astronaut after a month of unemployment. As luck would have it, Hibito had Mutta’s resume sent to JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). Mutta is accepted as a candidate and goes on to take the examination to become an astronaut. Mutta goes on to meet a wide cast of characters during his grueling examinations, all of whom have their own backstories and reasons for why they became candidates/astronauts/trainers/engineers.

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One of the Best Main Characters Ever

Unsurprisingly, Mutta is the glue that holds this show together. The man is a perfect blend of serious and goofy, hard-working and lucky, humble and self-aggrandizing. I honestly can’t help but love the guy. In one of Mutta’s more goofier moments, he’s asked to distract another teammate during a test so as to create a somewhat randomized environment. Rather than slamming a door or something else equally banal, Mutta breaks into a Bruce Lee impression, screaming and mimicking his moves. He can be silly, even when enraged, such as head-butting his boss and screaming out, “ZIDANE” upon impact (channeling the moment when soccer player Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup).

Mutta is a silly person, but he earns the respect of his superiors and coworkers because of his quick thinking and willingness to put himself at risk to help others. In a test involving an endurance race across the desert, Mutta risks his life by volunteering to help someone (whom he doesn’t even particularly like) find their phone. Despite their unfriendly history, you can see the beginnings of respect form between the two after trekking through miles of desert together. Like everyone else in the story, you learn to love Mutta for his attempts at being a good person, even when his history hasn’t been particularly rosy. Mutta wriggles into your heart, and there’s no way to stop him.

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Hibito’s character is a bit stiff, and he’s usually the quietest brother, always as professional as possible. What makes him exceptional is when he’s paired with Mutta, showing us their sibling relationship and how they get on each other’s nerves. They always find faults in each other, like Hibito misspelling “Johnson Space Center” as “Jonson,” and Mutta being so detail-oriented that he complains about scraps of UPC stickers still stuck to the bottom of a cactus pot. Their banter shows that they know more about each other than anyone else in the world, and realistic relationships like that keep the audience fully engaged in their sibling rivalry.

The Supporting Cast is No Slouch

Besides Mutta and Hibito, the supporting characters and lesser cast often have fully fleshed out backstories as well. What the show really does well is to include characters’ backstories in such a way that their past experiences fully inform what’s happening in the present. For example, Itou Serika (acandidate in Mutta’s class) passion for space stems from her father’s love for it as well. Unfortunately, his early death put an end to his dream, and so her decision to become a medical astronaut aboard the International Space Station is not only a way to escape from her grief, but also a way to help others as well. The story pulls at your heartstrings, and seeing her survive as a candidate increases the emotional impact of the show.

To follow Itou a bit further, she comes up again later when she diagnoses another character with the same disease her father had. Mutta is devastated by this news, and the character development between Mutta and Itou, as well as the other characters affected by the diagnosis, adds serious depth to the show. Moments like these demonstrate that Space Brothers isn’t carried by Mutta alone, but by the supporting cast as well. The astronaut may be the one on the rocket, but there’s a veritable fleet of people and innumerable man-hours to put him or her on said rocket. You learn about everyone from the engineers to the people who design and make parachutes.

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Another defining characteristic of Space Brothers is that unlike other shows when faced with conflict, this show treats you like the 401k-earning, job-obsessed, laundry and dish cleaning adult that you are. Not everyone moves on past the candidacy—some people quit, find another job, work in a dead-end position, or are downright debilitated throughout the show. Certainly we see some continue and succeed, but others are definitely going to fail, and it genuinely affects their lives. Space Brothers affirms what other shows don’t—that life still happens outside the story, and those people must return to it even after they fail to achieve their dreams.

At the same time, what keeps this show from being completely depressing is that there are those who do succeed, who do achieve their goals, but the tension is there nonetheless. Mutta could always fail and be parsed out, so when we see him or another important character rise up and survive, we feel the music hit our hearts, the tears well-up in our eyes, and a smile spread across our face because we’ve seen a genuine success. If you don’t feel for Mutta when he finally gets accepted to JAXA, then this may not be the show for you.

The Pacing Could Use Some Work

That’s not to say that the story is perfect, though. Episodes will fly by without much happening, and flashbacks from an episode back often makes for a repetitive experience. What should be a five episode arc on a test turns into eight, and it insults the viewer and their capacity to remember what happened less than an hour ago. Recaps before the opening sequence are fine, but when I see a flashback to something I just saw in that same recap, the show just tries my patience.

Speaking of dragging it out, there are emotional moments that hang way too long and drown out the intention. Characters will have a thought such as, “Will I ever make it to space?” and then look at the stars. The score then kicks in, and the show stays on this sequence for much too long, cutting to a different angle of the character looking up. I get waves of Star Trek: The Motion Picture from these sequences, and beg for the show to cut to a new scene. There are plenty of times it’s used effectively (I can’t even count the times I’ve teared up thus far!), but when used ineffectively, the cuddly bear of this show starts coming apart at the seams.

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The soundtrack does its job, but if there was a bit more selection in choices for moments like a sweeping happy moment, it would be much more gripping. You’ll hear the same piece each time a happy moment occurs, something sad, etcetera, and hearing that track it takes you right out of the situation. What stands out musically is the opening and ending tracks each season has. Tracks like “Feel So Moon” by Unicorn, “Kokuhaku” by Angela Aki, and “Halo” by Tacica really come forward not just because the music itself is good, but the animation and opening sequences accurately convey the emotion of the show.

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Overall, the cast is fun and entertaining, the story keeps you on the edge of your seat, and it pulls at your heart easier than a character from Mortal Kombat. It does get a bit too sappy at times, and it also needs better pacing, but the net value Space Brothers achieves is (if I may make one pun) out of this world. Watch it, love it, and I hope it continues to be amazing.

Space Brothers—Episodes 1-85: B+

Space Brothers started in October of 2012, and can be viewed on Crunchyroll.com

Follow Victor on Twitter @fake_brasilian to see him relive the 90’s.

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