Anime still has it: Space Brothers

For a while there, I stopped believing that the anime industry was capable of crafting shows like Space Brothers (Uchū Kyōdai.) When I seriously started getting into anime, there were series like Planetes, Gankutsuou, Monster and Mushishi all being released in and around the same time. These were series not influenced by other anime and not trying to pander to an existing fan-base. At the time, I seriously thought anime would take over the world.

At some point, though, the bubble burst, and suddenly the idea of a 74 episode murder mystery set not in a Japanese high school, but in mid-Nineties Germany with barely a teenager in sight, seems more like a joke. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that a series like Space Brothers is actually being made right now: the story of a bunch of middle-aged adults chasing their dreams of becoming astronauts.

It airs every Sunday at 7am in Japan, so in terms of ratings, I’ll hazard a guess that it probably isn’t doing too well. Even still, it’s said to be going beyond 26 episodes, so there’s clearly some money behind the project in the same way that there was for Hyouge Mono. Both are based on award-winning manga, which might explain their prestigious treatment.

Anyway, there’s nothing artful about Space Brothers. It’s at the opposite end of the scale to something like Mawaru Penguindrum, where everyone is pretty and scenes drip with symbolism. Most everyone in Space Brothers is ugly. There’s no directorial sleight of hand. It’s about as basic as anime gets.

Basic doesn’t mean bad. It’s just easy to follow. Try as he might, guys like Mutta are incapable of putting on airs and graces. He head-butts his boss and flushes red when talking to his crush. He’s just a messy, honest guy. The gritty (which is just another way of saying ugly, really) presentation of Space Brothers reflects the honesty of the emotion we see in the characters. After all, what’s more honest than chasing one’s dreams?

I don’t often laugh at jokes in anime, but I laughed when Serika’s stomach grumbled and all the other characters presumed it was Mutta. Their group of 5 (Serika’s the only female) are holed up in a JAXA training facility, isolated from the outside world (and sunlight!) for weeks on end, and only 2 of them can pass to the next phase of becoming an astronaut. Amongst them is a 55 year-old who has spent his life trying to reach space, sacrificing his relationship with his daughter along the way.

There’s no getting away from how sad that is, but that’s life, and it’s to Space Brothers‘ credit that while the idea of chasing one’s dreams has a sense of romance to it, the reality is often quite, well, ugly. Add to that funny, honest, sad and inspiring. Just please watch this anime!

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

10 thoughts on “Anime still has it: Space Brothers”

  1. “It airs every Sunday at 7am in Japan, so in terms of ratings, I’ll hazard a guess that it probably isn’t doing too well.”

    Actually, it’s doing pretty well, it’s more watched than noitaminA, roughly on the same level as some shonen shows, like HxH.

    It’s manga is not just award-winning but best-selling too, and it just had a live-action movie that was also quite successful.

    We could say that Space Brothers is kind of a big thing in Japan right now. :)

  2. Yeah what I really enjoy about Space Brothers is surprisingly how down-to-earth and earnest it is. I think it’s taken missteps in being a slow as it is but overall I think it’s been a pretty enjoyable ride thus far. I’ve even heard rumors that it’s gonna be a fifty-episoder. That’d certainly be interesting!

    Also Mutta is hilarious. =D

  3. Not only are the characters down to earth, so to speak, but the examinations and training are too. You get a feeling that if you want to be an astronaut this is how it really works. And the geek side of me loves to see the details. That said, all those episodes in the pod are driving me crazy! A good thing there was no JAXA camera watching MY every move as I slogged through them …

  4. As the above poster said Space Brothers is doing fairly well in the ratings. Last week it only got a 2.3% I believe which isn’t that hot but it usually generates a 3 or 4% which is very good for an anime with adult characters.

    I mean it’s not One Piece/Conan good but it often competes with Hunter X Hunter. And the manga is selling very well.

    Personally I think the idea of going back for your dreams seems to be popular in Japan. In a way those themes are also present in One Piece and look how well that series is doing.

    Also while the characters are adults there is nothing objectionable in Space Brothers so it’s a good show for families.

    Space Brothers is definitely my favorite show airing right now, although it’s probably tied with Polar Bear cafe which is also excellent in a very different way. 2012 has been slightly weaker for me than 2011 but there are definitely still very good shows to be had.

  5. @Alterego 9/Kim: Great news that it’s going so well, and just goes to show that we/I shouldn’t be so pessimistic about the potential audience for anime out there. I hope that it inspires further series in this vein, because Space Brothers is just excellent, really.

    Also, Kim, interesting note RE: the Japanese audiences enjoying stories about chasing childhood dreams. I guess there’s a lot of people over there right now feeling a little stuck in a rut.

    @Sky: I’d absolutely love it to be 50 episodes. It just seems to be getting better and better at the moment (I’m up to episode 14 as of this comment.)

    @Peter S: I adore the contained nature of the ‘pod.’ It’s almost like watching a shounen tournament arc or something: the structure is so tight, it’s just perfect to really explore the characters and their motivations.

  6. I’ve been watching Space Brothers too and quite enjoy it. I know that in recent years, with more anime being produced each season than ever before, many series just cater to the Japanese male otaku fanbase. Anime is a business, so I can understand why all these companies want to make the shows they know will earn them money, but it’s good to know that something like Space Brothers can still get green-lit. I’ll admit that I still enjoy the more “typical” style of otaku anime (as long as it’s done well that is) but I can certainly enjoy something that dares to be different, like Space Brothers.

  7. Space Brothers is definitely a good anime. I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit. The mangaka must have done some good research for the story, too (everything feels plausible). It’s also interesting that a story like this is airing now at the dawn of the privatization of space travel. Becoming an astronaut may soon become very different from what Space Brothers depicts.

  8. Actually, I just noticed that this show is on CR so I’ll probably start watching in a few days. I’ve been hearing good things.

    Even having not watched the show yet, what you’re saying about classic narratives not being common in anime anymore rings true. I have mixed feelings about it–normally, I prefer gimmicky postmodern shows that are formally interesting and toy with genre (Bakemonogatari, Madoka, Penguindrum, etc.), but a well-written classic narrative can trump all of that. I had almost forgotten what it was like to be gripped by a story and not style, genre, or any other factors, until I started watching the Game of Thrones TV show. LoGH made me feel much the same way.

    Anyway, this is good. Most “good” anime nowadays are of the Bakemonogatari variety, which is wonderful if you ask me, but even I need real stories about real people from time to time.

  9. i have been starting to watch Space brothers and i agree that this shows has a certain something about it, very different from your anime nowadays and i agree with @sky about it being “down-to-earth and earnest”.

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