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Uchuu Kyoudai – Feel so Moon


Uchuu Kyoudai   99   Large 00

Life changes – promises don’t

This is a bit of a historic moment for me as a blogger – I’ve never done a series review post on a show that’s run for anything like two years (though in fact it’s obviously also an appetizer for one I’ll be writing later this year). How can you sum up the experience of watching 99 episodes of a series like this one? It’s not such an easy thing, especially given that there have been ups-and-downs over the course of those two years, times when Uchuu Kyoudai waxed and waned in my esteem.

To begin with, it should probably be noted that Space Brothers as a franchise isn’t going anywhere. The manga continues to be a superpower. There’s an anime film coming this summer, on the heels of two live-action films that fared well at the box office. There’s going to be an Uchuu Kyoudai “Come to the Moon With Me” exhibit in May at Mitsukoshi Ginza – by the square foot, the most expensive retail space in the world. And there was a tweet from the official series Twitter today to the effect that the anime would return once the manga had rebuilt its lead, though no specific timeframe was given. This series is very much thriving – it’s just not going to be a weekly visitor on our TVs for a while.

That said, this is an ending of sorts, and endings demand acknowledgement. In the first place there’s the ending itself, as in the final episode – how did it do? On the whole I’d have to say very well. Uchuu Kyoudai ended the way it spend the best weeks of its run – dignified, emotionally resonant, low-key but powerful. When the show cranks up its haymaker BGM in key moments – something it hasn’t done all that much lately – it never fails to impact me. This was a finale that was largely free of the distractions that have sometimes marred the last few cours, and focused on the themes that are at the heart of the series.

We certainly didn’t get the kind of ending where things are neatly tied up in a bow, but with the manga ongoing and the anime likely to return, there’s no reason we should have. There was nary a mention of Aunt Sharon – that was the only thing I would call a surprising omission – and I wouldn’t have minded seeing Deneil Young or the gang from the JAXA isolation pod in the montage of reactions to Vince’s launch. But in broad terms the finale was about two things – brothers and space. And as I’ve always said, this series more than any I know is truth in advertising when it comes to the title.

I was very pleased to see that Nitta played a role in the resolution, because after his character was nicely advanced in the desert survival arc, I’ve felt that his character was rather wasted (and far more interesting than Kenji). Yes, there’s a bond that he and Mutta share, and yes, Nitta could see it – especially given that he’d heard the rumors about Hibito (I imagine few at NASA hadn’t). Asking Mutta out for pizza was a nice touch, and it gave Mutta and ourselves the chance to hear what’s been happening with Kazuya, Nitta’s hikikomori younger brother. And that amounts to progress, but not miracles – Kazuya has left the house and started to pursue his own dream, but faces a skeptical world in trying to prove himself.

There are limits as to how far I’d take the analogy between Kazuya and Hibito – if someone hires Kazuya and he relapses, a bunch of people aren’t going to face the risk of death. But the larger point is valid – it’s a long hard road back once you’ve been to a dark place inside, and it may mean seeking a fresh start in greener pastures. Coming to America is clearly the right thing for Kazuya – hikikomori face a horrendous social stigma in Japan. And for Hibito, it seems, the right thing is leaving America – apparently for a joint mission to the moon with JAXA and Roscosmos. It’s a bit of a bitter pill for Butler, but there’s no argument he can make that it’s the wrong move – he can offer Hibito nothing more than he already has, and it wasn’t enough.

Of course the truth is, Hibito’s disappearance has been especially hard on Mutta. It was incredibly selfish for him to leave without a word knowing that his brother was facing a crucial time in his own career (at least when he finally does mail Mutta, Hibito has the decency to apologize). And it’s had an impact – Mutta is screwing up as CAPCOM and he knows it. Vince has lost whatever confidence in him that he had. This is a dilemma for Mutta, who’s always tried to live by his old motto that the older brother should always be in the lead – yet he’s lived a life where he’s always been chasing Hibito, and in some way that’s surely more comfortable for him now. After having spent so much of his life defining himself in terms of his relationship to his brother, it seems it’s finally time for Mutta to forge his own path.

Vince isn’t the most likable guy in the world, but it’s hard to fault him here – Mutta takes this on himself for not being able to compartmentalize his mind and focus on the job at hand. “Treat training as if it’s a mission and treat missions as if they’re training” – extremely sound thinking, especially in Vince’s line of work. Naturally Mutta falls back on his strengths to work through this – building a personal connection to Vince to allow him to truly act as his alter-ego on the mission. It’s classic Mutta – I would actually have liked to have seen the process play out over a couple of episodes, but that’s a minor complaint in the larger scheme of things.

Uchuu Kyoudai ends as it began – with “Feel so Moon”, with two young boys seeing something remarkable and making a promise for the future, with a rocket blasting into space. Space and Brothers are what this series is and always will be about – it’s only the circumstances that change. Hibito’s message to his brother is “See you on the moon”, and I’ve no doubt that it will happen (though let’s not forget Mutta’s original pledge – “I’ll go to Mars”). No matter how many times Sharon tells him so, it won’t be a piece of cake – it never is for Mutta, and Hibito is learning that lesson too. But sometimes the hare – even a moon bunny – has to take lessons from the tortoise.

So there you have it – almost a hundred episodes, two years of anime, what does it all boil down to? There have certainly been stumbles, most troubling mangaka Koyama Chuuya’s weakness for stereotypes and caricatures. Buddy the Gorilla is a part of Space Brothers’ legacy too, as much as we’d all like to forget it – but it’s only a small part. The real legacy of this show, I think, is that along with Gin no Saji (indeed, it’s a real blow to have them ending within a week of each other) it’s the most realistic character drama anime has seen in the last couple of years. It’s an example of the way anime can be used to enlighten the human condition when it focuses on elemental human psychology and relationships, and does so with wit and intelligence.

While I’d certainly admit that the second year of Uchuu Kyoudai wasn’t as great as the first, there were still some great moments. For me, though, the highlight of this series will always be Episode 37, “Two Men in the Park”. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s one of my favorite anime episodes of all time, and the emotional payoff it delivered for all of Mutta’s struggling and hard work was nearly unmatched for me. It was beautiful in its simplicity, letting the moment speak for itself as director Watanabe Ayumu so often does. Any anime that can soar to that kind of height will always be special in my book – and it’s the sort of moment the series has delivered many times over these last two years, if never quite at that level.

It would also be no exaggeration to say that Uchuu Kyoudai is one of very few anime (or any work of fiction, in fact) that truly inspired me in my personal life. Mutta is the heart and soul of this series, and the fact that he perseveres and takes risks despite nothing ever coming easily to him emboldened me when I was agonizing over whether to move to Japan. He’s a great man, the kind of great man we can all aspire to be because what makes him exceptional is something we can all aspire to, his decency and his persistence. Hirata Hiroaki is delivering one of the all-time great seiyuu performances ever here, providing the solid base upon which everything in this series builds. Mutta’s journey will continue, albeit not in anime form for a bit – and as my own journey continues, he’ll continue to be a source of inspiration and encouragement that nice guys can finish first sometimes. And any anime that can provide that is truly exceptional, just as its main character is.

March 23, 2014 at 1:47 am
15 comments »
  • March 23, 2014 at 2:26 amCrunchie

    Space Bros was an anime I never thought I’d like, but it turned into a beautiful, emotional journey where everyone Mutta met was important and helped him grow and achieve his dream. I’m so happy I picked up this anime all that time ago. It has truly inspired me and I’ll be supporting it for a very long time to come!

  • March 23, 2014 at 2:32 amSkins Thunderbomb

    Space brothers speaks to me on so many levels, and to others, too. I’ve encouraged nearly everyone I know to watch it. I screamed at the screen when Hibito ran out of oxygen, and him being saved by Brian, and cried my eyes out when Mutta succeeded in his dreams.

    It’s a series I think I’ll rewatch time and time again, to remind me to work hard, and that dreams can come true even if you’re the underdog.

  • March 23, 2014 at 2:32 amUngas123

    This anime is full of “The feels…”

  • March 23, 2014 at 2:58 amlorenzo

    I had no idea it was going to end this season…
    I still have to watch the final episode, but even now I can say that this is one of those stories that stick with you for the whole of a lifetime. Sure, it wasn’t really astounding on the technical side of things, and at some point it looked kind of repetitive, but the characters and storytelling are some of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to pick a favorite moment among so many good ones, but if I had to, I’d say Hibito’s landing on the moon, and Mutta’s reaction.
    Absolutely beautiful.

  • March 23, 2014 at 6:09 amKF

    Majestic!

  • March 23, 2014 at 6:44 amJ Jay

    I do hope (expect) the anime to cover some of the 6 month gap between the last two scenes – so we get to see a bit more of Vincent and Mutta’s fellow backup crew, as I would think Sharon’s deteriorating condition is guaranteed another spotlight. One of the delights in watching Space Brothers is the sheer number of unique characters and how memorable they all become. Yes we’ve seen many of them come and go as Mutta advances, but in almost all cases they never felt left behind, we had come to know them well enough to be reassured with the direction their lives were taking.

    In an anime watching culture where “3 episode” metrics judge every new show and plot developments are expected either side of the ad breaks it has been a treat to watch this show develop almost in real-time. It has felt like two years watching Space Brothers, and I don’t mean that negatively. For me this has a part to play in how the show has motivated people to reach for the moon, as they can not only relate to the characters easily, but the pace of change in their lives is also realistic (perhaps a little too realistic during the Hibichov/underwater training arc, but YMMV as always).

    A special note goes to the sound/music staff for their incredible use of a good but relatively limited soundtrack to best effect by not fitting the entire OST into every couple of episodes. Less can be more if you know when to use it, please take note fellow anime directors.

    See you space cowboys brothers, for now at least.

  • March 23, 2014 at 11:05 amTre

    IMO, nothing beats episode 43, “Brian”. Tears started rolling down my face during that episode, something the likes of Clannad and AnoHana failed to accomplish.

  • March 23, 2014 at 11:45 amthedarktower

    once in a while, in the anime world, does come a masterpiece series. agree or not, uchuu kyoudai (or space brothers) is definitely such series, at least for me.
    if I need to sum up space brothers, then it would be by “feel so moon” – the opening song and ending theme here (also, remember a few eps ago when Mutta wore a shirt with the type “feel so moon” HaHa). it’s true that there is so much in this series more than meets the eyes and more than just space and astronauts. but above all, this “feel so moon” phrase is like one of the foundations of all space bros elements.

    looking back a little, first to space brothers start. it was a good start with all swinging between the brothers past and present. but back there, you don’t truly get space brothers for what it truly is. in order to truly grasp the essence of this show, one should advance significantly in the show eps. and damn what a journey we had.. besides the exam, Hibito goes to space (YAY) and we had one of most tense “arcs” with his accident in space, while Mutta keeps advancing and struggling (more than just a little) to be an astronaut with great interactions and training with so much people. each one of the space brothers characters is unique and not wasted, the show pull out everything it can, even from secondary cast. be it for something wise or just a good comic relief (Lowery LOL. I want one of his made shirt too. really). also, the anime shows that not everything is rosy. with Sharon’s illness and Hibito’s PD (it’s Pretty Dog, don’t get the wrong idea). although it was kinda harsh, it was so realistic. they took it little by little and walk through this. finally, Mutta is able to go to space and in this very ep, we see how much the relationship between the brothers so tied together with space. as Sharon said, Mutta can’t without Hibito, and for Hibito, Mutta is like a light there when needed. of course I understood that as I progressed with the series, but with the ending it’s very nice.

    so, although space brothers is kinda seems slow-paced usually and it didn’t hook me that much at first, it managed to do so (and even more – as I said – masterpiece for me). there is so much wrapped here – great and realistic SoL and character development. an infinite perspective for life.
    in short, space brothers is so simple but still utterly brilliant and funny when needed.

    the final episode was of course very good in space bros style. I like it when Nitta came and helped Mutta, also giving some more info on his brother who hasn’t give up (it warmed my heart). it’s so smart but simple to bring Nitta to help (I thought Kenji would help too, but Nitta is wonderful).
    in addition, Hibito has gone to Russia, well, it was something I thought would happen. it seems very reasonable to go there and trying go to space while currently in NASA things are too difficult for him. it’s very reasonable and bears analogy for things in real life. while NASA and Russia-space-agency probably collaborate and all, they are still some sort of..rivals.

    watching the series ending was kinda painful. not that it was bad or something, on the contrary, it was good. it’s just.. I like space brothers so much and seeing a series you like so that hasn’t truly reached its end…it’s tough, especially with such..”timeskip” showing Vince going to space and even more grown Mutta. how do I say this…?well, it’s just that it wasn’t the natural ending. of course it was a good one and fitted very well. but I guess the ending also says that it’s not a total goodbye and has so much more to tell. as you said, there is still anime-film and the manga keep going super. and I also guess space brothers anime will return, probably not this year, but it will later on.

    I already said most of it on LiA (though I edited some stuff), but really well done, great review Enzo!
    next big mission would be HxH when the times come(though silver spoon isn’t an easy one too). that would be incredibly hard. hopefully we will have some other great long-term shows!

  • March 23, 2014 at 12:37 pmBridget

    Nooooooo!!!!!!!!!

  • March 23, 2014 at 1:20 pmPega

    Space Brothers was a great ride over two years. There were only a few weaker eps in the late twenties and thirties (I can’t remember exactly), but mostly it made me want to long for the next episode.

    I can’t wait to watch more of it someday.

  • March 23, 2014 at 2:16 pmDelta

    I really didn’t think too much of the show when I first read about if of the AniChart but decided to give it a shot – and well damn, I was not disappointed. What seriously made this anime extra special to me is that pretty much after all the JAXA selection processes in Japan, the rest of the story really took place in Houston – my hometown to which I still reside at this moment. It’s a really epic feeling to see them doing that considering how most anime generally take place in Japan or if they ever venture to the US, it would always be NYC or California, so this was especially special for if to be in Houston; plus it was pretty fun to see how they depicted Houston – pretty accurate for the most part (well done Japan). Its really sad to see that the anime has come to an end, even though the manga is still ongoing, but it is what it is. Hopefully some day down the line, they will pick back up where they left off (wishful thinking), but nonetheless, it has been an amazing two year journey with Mutta and the gang. This anime will surely live out to be a legend.

    • March 23, 2014 at 3:45 pmTre

      I love how whenever Mutta is shown shopping in Houston, they always show actual products that are sold in the US. I remember seeing some Pillsbury Toaster Strudel in the supermarket freezer in one episode.

  • March 23, 2014 at 3:46 pmGuren

    Space Brothers will be happily remembered by me as: the first show that made me REALLY root, with all my strenght, for Mutta and Kenji, and also Hibito, though not as much as the older one. Also I’ll remember as the first show that made me cry watching the opening (Feel so Moon, It got me the chills listening to it again). It depicted exactly what we always wanted to become, sometime in our lives, an astronaut. Following your dreams, whatever hurdles might get in the way.

    It’s funny to realize that I was going to drop this, or give it some time, if I hadn’t know that it was going to end. Now I think that I’ll miss my weekly dose of those characters.

  • March 24, 2014 at 1:33 amhwighting

    the first 50 episodes were too sweet for words, but the next 30 had its valleys and peaks. all in all, very good and i cannot wait for it to resume sometime in the future.

    it’s too bad that they left some storylines wide open. I would have loved to see the mutta-serika loveline develop. and the olga-hibito lovelife too for that matter even though it’s illegal in most states. there’s the entire eddie jay arc that only just started. And lets not forget about dear sharon and the fate of her telescope project.

    For those of you who want to get their uchuu kyoudai fix, I highly recommend that you do NOT watch the 1st live action movie. It does not do the anime any justices, and glances over the length of 60 episodes all in less than 2 hours. it’s really upsetting. if you weren’t already familiar with the anime, you’d be confused and unimpressed. they casted mutta alright, and serika is utterly babelicious but she doesn’t capture any of the charm of the original serika. and the guy who plays hibito comes off as arrogant. just not good.

  • March 24, 2014 at 12:10 pmSingerOfW

    Space Brothers make me feel sorry for not watching it as often as possible: skipping one episode means skipping 10 of them, and before you know it, you have a whopping 70 episodes to catch up to. On the other hand, I get to watch anime with my brother only so often, and how could I ever watch it without him?

    I think the time is right to (re-)watch this beautiful music video for Feel So Moon. Never before have I seen a music video with so much love for the manga and anime it belongs to.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcNcYk-qYtc