Monday, September 7, 2015

Anime Review: Space Brothers

Well this review is a long time coming, the Space Brothers anime originally ran from April 2012 to March 2014 and I did keep up with it for the first year or so but I slacked off in my senior year of college and only checked in sporadically on reviews after that. I did like it while I was watching, it was just long, slow at times, and when I fell off it was in an especially slow period and followed by a little, for-kids cartoon segment each week other folks dubbed "racist cartoon theater" which really didn't spark my interest again immediately.

But I did really like the show and that's why I always planned on coming back, since it has been three years and some change since the show aired. In the end, part of the fun for me was to see how far Mutta had come in the show and also how different my own life was since I started it. I went from being a college junior to an adult who actually has friends who work at NASA! Heck, I can say it now but my first, long-term job after college was working in the museum store at the National Air and Space Museum (which is far less glamours than it sounds, running past rocket engines to get to the bathroom is hilarious however!) so I think I can say that watching this show in the staff cafeteria, with its great view of the capitol and surrounded by photos of people eating in the space station and on planes, is possibly the nerdiest place this show has ever been watched in. And I do like space, I like harder sci-fi, and while this isn't the usual kind of hard sci-fi it's certainly one of the more realistic series I've ever come across

Space Brothers

Mutta has felt jealous of his younger brother for a long time, they got along as kids but the two of them grew apart as adults as Mutta becomes an engineer and Hibito fulfills their childhood dream of becoming an astronaut (and will be the first Japanese person on the moon!). But the universe has other plans for Mutta and so, in a not-so-distant-future, he finds himself almost accidentally starting the long journey to space and beyond himself.

I see a lot of people talk about fictional characters and say "this character reminded me of me, they had the same failings!"and I always ask myself, what do I want in a main character? Do I want someone who struggles in the exact same way as me or do I want someone who succeeds more than they struggle with those problems, someone who is more of an inspiration? With 99 episodes we get both; Mutta starts out as someone with a stable, enviable job which isn't one he wants, and choose to start over for a much more difficult job. Of course we see most of Mutta's automotive engineering job in flashbacks (as an older sibling I completely understand the urge to head butt someone when they talk crap about your younger sibling, even knowing that it will get you fired) but regardless it was a nice start to a series which is ultimately as much about being an adult as it is about being an astronaut.

Part of the reason this show works is because don't just see Mutta and Hibito's lives but we also get to know the very large, extended cast well which strengthens the realism. I do recommend not taking a large break while watching like I did so you don't forget all of the details, and I will readily admit that the new characters seemed to get weirder and weirder as the series went on (it almost felt as if the manga-ka was starting to run out of ideas by the very last arc in the anime). But for the characters who are fleshed out they all have at least one or two relatable qualities and everyone comes from such different backgrounds you really come to understand why everyone is the way they are. Like, I've been told that people who've had a lot of stress earlier in their lives tend to handle stress better later in their lives and you could see that idea in action very well. It was a huge joy to see Mutta face stresses, both unexpected and as part of training, and while early in the series he would start to shutdown and panic but later in the series we see him tackle them with resourcefulness while other characters, like his great friend Kenji, struggle more since they haven't had to deal with it as much (although Mutta still has his very relatable "Whaaaat? Huuuuuh?" moments internally). The show is very sympathetic even to the characters who fail various tests along the way, there are certainly times where failure is the end of the line but there are many other times where the show quietly says that this just means "not yet" and that you can always push forward again.

Honestly at this point there is only one thing that is holding me back from recommending this show to non-anime fans and that is it's length. 99 episodes is a lot and, even though there are slow portions, there are very few that you can outright skip (I think there were 4 recap episodes from when the show switched timeslots halfway through it's run but that's it) and no matter how you plan to watch it it's going to take a long time. But, if you want a really great story about adults who are still challenging the world or one about the glamorous and slow moments of being an astronaut, this is my recommendation above all others. I will admit I did also like the show because it wasn't a pure romance and usually even seinen and josei titles have a lot of romance in them (especially josei), here it's just one part of everyone's lives*. And I really did enjoy the science fiction parts as well, a lot of it "felt" true and JAXA is listed as an advisor to the show so while there is a disclaimer that this is fiction it's clear the story is trying as hard as it can to be about fictional characters in a real setting.

In a very bizarre twist, not only is the entire show streaming on Crunchyroll but the show was even licensed for DVD and some of it is already out in the US! I doubt that the even-longer manga will be licensed for print (based on some rumblings I've heard) but that is also on Crunchyroll to read digitally. However, even if the ending point for the series was a little rocky I think I'm going to stick with that ending for the moment and not continue with the manga. I've grown so used to the character's voices that I'd rather wait and see if there if they ever animate more of it (plus, the anime art is very solid and the manga is less so). So there are plenty of ways to enjoy the series and again, I really do recommend this. It's funny since I'm about ten years younger than the characters (in the show anyway) but yet seeing older "people" struggle with the same problems I have that I never hear vocalized around me was reassuring, that there are ways past so many problems if you have the determination, skills, and some luck never hurt anyone too.

*although we really really need to kill Hibito's romantic plotline, that subplot is not a good one.

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