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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Initial Thoughts: Space Brothers

Once upon a time there were two brothers, Hibito and Mutta. Hibito, the littler brother, had been blessed with good luck since the day he was born. Mutta, the elder, had always had bad luck. One day, looking up at the night sky, the two brothers saw a UFO. This experience made them both promise to become astronauts. In the year 2025, Hibito has kept his promise and is an astronaut who is part of the first wave of people to live for an extended period of time on the moon. 

Meanwhile, his older brother Mutta has been fired from his job and is unemployed, but a message from his brother makes him decide to start being an astronaut again. Unaware of his own talent, elder brother Mutta chases his dreams to get back in front of his younger brother. 32-year-old Mutta will attempt the astronaut candidate examinations to follow his brother Hibito to the moon believing the words "The older brother should always be ahead of the younger one..." (Source: YTV English)

Spoiler warning: Review contains spoilers for the first three episodes of Space Brothers. You should probably watch those first before reading ahead!

I’ve had high hopes for Space Brothers/Uchuu Kyoudai (宇宙兄弟) since it was first announced last year. An anime about older dudes who are also brothers becoming astronauts and going to the moon? By A-1 Pictures, the same studio behind some of my personal favorite titles of recent years, including Ao No Exorcist and Kuroshitsuji? Sign me up, man. And I have to say, for a series that is totally outside the norm of this spring season’s roster of titles, Space Brothers is absolutely fantastic. It crept up on my slowly with its charm and intelligence so that by the end of the first episode, I was already in love.

Read on with the rest of my review after the jump!

Be warned, it is slow moving. The series itself is rumored to span over fifty episodes, so don’t expect the brothers to be on the moon in episode three, okay? This is a good thing, because a story like this is not one to be rushed through. After all, this is clearly a series based on character growth and meeting personal goals, not killing bosses and leveling up like a role-playing game. If the audience can’t watch the journey of Mutta step by step, there really is no purpose behind watching it.

There’s also something awe-inspiring about having an anime be about a mission to reach the moon and the courageous men and women who want to be those astronauts who get there. In a time like this, where it seems like human beings don’t care as much about exploring space, it’s nice to see characters like Mutta and Hibito utterly amped to get in a rocket and search out the stars.

Really, it would be amazing if series like Space Brothers could inspire a new generation of young folks to get into the sciences and join their respective countries’ aeronautic programs. There is so much energy and passion for space running through the core of this anime; it is hard not to be energized by it. Perhaps that is the reason such a series is being adapted now of all times. Seeing Mutta as a little kid, racing up the stairs to look through the telescope at the moon in the sky, is the kind of little kid I wish there were more of these days. We need more funding and support for science programs in grade school, people!

And for the record, I love Mutta and his fluffy broccoli-shaped hair. I love his determination after hitting rock bottom, and I love how he never truly forgot his dream of beating his younger brother to the Moon. He is really the perfect cast member to have the story centered around; Mutta is the heart of Space Brothers and he is who makes it so watchable. I absolutely adore him, if you could not tell.

My other favorite character so far is Serika Itou, doctor and the only woman also competing for the honor of a spot on the moon mission roster. I think she is absolutely wonderful. She’s earnest, hard-working, and utterly determined like no other. She’s also a good example of the sexism still present in the field of science – as the sole female, Serika has to work twice as hard as the men to prove herself worthy of becoming an astronaut. I also loved seeing her as a young girl at the space station, and seeing that enthusiasm reflected back in her current day persona as she beats out everyone else in the heart and lung endurance tests.

Plus, I love the scenes between Serika and Mutta. They are a pair of kindred spirits, having lived childhoods enthusiastic about space and are now spending their young adulthoods following that similar dream of reaching space. I don’t know if Space Brothers is going to take a romantic route, but I could easily see Serika and Mutta as best friends forever in a way being a couple can’t touch. They both know what it’s like to succeed and to fail and to work until the breaking point to make it work. I can only hope they both make the cut and get to go to space together. Fingers crossed!

Another plus for the series is the artwork. I found it nice and quirky, especially the more fantastical sequences. The opening and ending themes are very good. Actually, I really like the opening sequence, and the song really fits the animation – which also does a great job of introducing the series at large. Mutta’s character design is my favorite; he reminds me of an older Chiba Tsunemi from BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad, minus the mustache and a curlier fro. It’s not the most detailed of art (expect when it comes to things like the rockets and the space suits) but it works very well in this series.

I could go on and on about promises and relationships and everything else but I think y’all should just give Space Brothers a try. If you like deeply involved and exciting series about quirky yet realistic characters overcoming struggles and realizing their dreams, set to a nice score and pleasant animation, this is the one for you. It might be one of the best series that comes out of this season. And you wouldn’t want to miss something like that, would you?

You can watch subbed streaming episodes of Space Brothers right now at Crunchyroll!