Animes in my mind seem to have become badly associated with generic stories that do not have anything interesting to offer. It is a bit of a misconception though as stories like Naoki Urusawa’s Monster prove without a doubt for me. In movies, its works by Ken Satoshi, among others, which also lead me to believe that anime and animation can be a really wonderful medium for telling great and intelligent or moving stories. I do believe that good storytelling can happen in all sorts of media, that it’s not limited to books or feature films alone. This is why I ocassionally venture to explore anime and end up holding expectations for it as I would have for any regular feature film or tv show. Despite all the thrashy stories out there, there are still animes made that actually make the viewer forget they are watching an anime in the first place. Uchuu Kyuoudai aka Space Brothers is, in my mind, one such anime.
“See you on the moon!” is a promise two brothers, Hibito and Mutta, the protagonists of this story, make as children. To go together to the moon. The story of Space Brothers focuses predominatly on two brothers who dream of going to space. But whereas the younger Hibito suceeds at the speed of light because he has more determination, the older Mutta dawdles, hesitates and gets left behind. Throughout the story we follow mostly Mutta as he tries to catch up to his younger brother. At the start of the narrative he begins to (re)gain his flame for it and goes to take part in the JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) interviews and subsequent tests and examinations. The story is then about following your dreams, making good on promises and also about brothers and their relationships. It has many arcs as Mutta goes through next stages of his candidacy. From an intervieweee full of doubts through an examinee at the JAXA base and…so on.
As much as the story is about brothers, it’s also in general about people who share passion for space and space exploration. Mutta and Hibito aren’t the only ones. Other characters also get their backgrounds explored. There are other brothers with a strained relationship and other people who experienced disappointment and accidents and personal tragedies which left them either exra cold or extra careful. And others who really live pursuing their dream of going to space. There are characters who have a lot to stake by chosing to become astronauts. The story is detailed, has a great flow and is fairly realistic. It is very involved and very involving as it explores a lot of aspects connected with going to space, as Mutta proceeds to learn about the aspects of his dream that actually make it work. It is a bildungsroman of an astronaut of sorts; the odyssey of two brothers. It is also a tale about holding fast to dreams and making them happen, no matter the obstacles along the way. It also has its fair share of humour.
In other words Uchuu Kyuoudai is not just another shallow fluffy anime. It’s also not just another seinen anime (=anime targeted to adult males between 17-40 years of age) about big dreams of big boys, although it is predicated on such a notion and has all the makings of what seems to be a standard seinen. Apparently, though, it does something right if non-targeted audience can enjoy it as well. And what it does well, in my opinion, is precisely that it is so comprehensive in the themes it covers. But all anime should learn from stories like this one, in my opinion, as it is both accessible and rich in themes and sidestories, entertaining and involving. The story flows very well. Uchuu Kyuodai is definitely a cut above most mediocre anime I had the misfortune to see. And mediocre anime, for me, are stupid stories like Sword Art Online: offering no depth whatsoever but shallow cliches on cliches with terribly generic art that lacks any personality and individuality. It is these sort of animes that are the bane of the brain. In contrast to them, Uchuu Kyuoudai is indeed a very satisfying story that can offer different things for a wide range of viewers. It is well balanced on all aspects and has it all, really, to make me as viewer satisfied and involved. And I really need to stress the issue of art again. The art is realistic, which is a plus. I have very limited patience for generic art these days. It’s always a delight for me to watch anime with art that has some personality, rather than the same old generic silly art that’s used in the worst, most contrived kinds of anime. Even keeping in mind that a story like SOA is targeted to a different age group…it’s still a very poor story, of the kind that can, in fact, raise concerns about the validity of anime.
Mutta is such an underdog character, too. I really root for him. He doesn’t seem to realise his own strengths, whereas others and I see in him a sort of inner strength that has both wisdom and empathy. He has a certain honesty about him but sometimes tends to bend reality to suit his needs to an extent. His mind is very analytic and he has great eye for detail. He is dependable but knows when to rely on others too. It’s a really satisfying journey that he ends up undertaking.
He’s endearing, quirky, serious, in other words has depth. To me he emerges as a person much stronger than Hibito and a person who would definitely make good in any situation. He is resourceful and clever, if a little clumsy sometimes but that clumsiness makes him rather endearing. He constantly worries that he’s not a good older brother, yet his actions show me something else. He’s also a source of much of the show’s hilarity. Furthermore, the people he encounters and befriends along the way, the people who help push him onwards, also highlight how he is connected to the dream and to them. It’s people with whom he shares common language…so he’s no longer alone. The manga is not yet finished so the series is not yet complete, probably. But the final episode of the anime is satisfying enough for me. It feels complete enough and definite enough, though Mutta has only barely begun to realise his dream..and even though there is a bit of loose end with Hibito. There certainly is room for exploring more of the side characters and sidestories as well. All in all, however, the anime closes on a promising high note, and I have a good feeling about what may happen afterwards. It’s a pretty good ending as far as I’m concerned.
There is a live action version film, released in 2012 as well. It stars Oguri Shun and the young Masaki Okada. In terms of appeareance, the resemblance to the anime Afro and Spike is definitely there.
However, Oguri Shun does not even begin to cover what a great character Mutta is. His partner, also known as Mr Win-Win from Legal High, has suddenly sprung into idolhood but he is an overall unconvincing actor for me. Maybe because he’s still young so I’ll give him a chance. The live actions hardly ever do justice to anime and Space Brothers is no exception though visually it is appealing. Although, to be perfectly fair, to squeeze the content of a manga this long into a 2-hour film is also a feat in itself, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too strict with it. On its own, the live action is probably worth more than a bunch of other live actions I’ve seen. Still, I do not believe Oguri Shun was a good choice. He may bear physical resemblance to Mutta but Mutta, in the anime, has far more depth than this film begins to even cover. Maybe it is more the fault of the movie rather than Shun-san but either way I was not satisfied with the live action version, especially with Mutta’s character. Or maybe I just have little patience for a live action which, storywise, absolutely cannot do better than a long-running and far more in-depth anime. And the manga is not even finished yet. Still the live action tried to wrap it up in a manner which may seem more definite, but it’s not really any more definite than the last episode of the anime.
I really don’t like incomplete stories- and in this case nothing cannot be complete as long as manga is not finished… But for stories like Uchuu Kyuoudai it may be worthwile to make an exception and continue the journey with two brothers from this point onwards.