Review

by Carl Kimlinger, Oct 11th 2012

Space Brothers

Episodes 14-26 Streaming

Synopsis:
Space Brothers Episodes 14-26 Streaming
Through blind luck and hidden potential Mutta has made it to the third test in JAXA's astronaut exam. Driven blind to a secret location and locked in an isolation chamber with a carefully selected group of fellow examinees, he faces a series of tasks and secret tests designed to probe his suitability for space travel. Each group has been asked to select two of their own to advance, which means that only a third of the examinees will make it to the next stage. Does Mutta have the right stuff to make the cut?
Review:

If the drawn-out third stage of Space Brothers' astronaut test tells us anything, it's that the verve of the series' opening shouldn't be taken for granted. The test is fourteen days long, and there's practically an episode for every one of them. It's a long, slow run of episodes in which little happens beyond the testing. The breadth, speed and deep-seated oddness of the series' first episodes are nowhere to be found. It is, in short, Space Brothers as ordinary astronaut show. Good ordinary—bright, terminally optimistic, and blessed with an intensely likeable cast—but ordinary nonetheless.

The ordinariness is more a reflection of the series' presentation than anything. In truth the third exam is no more or less predictable than the rest of the series; it has always followed the astronaut rise-to-glory path with little in the way of deviation, so test three is no change. But where the series' opening was jumpy and whimsical and often hilariously subjective, here it grows deliberate and steady, more conventionally objective in its approach to Mutta's journey towards the stars. No UFOs here; no first-person tours of Mutta's skewed view of the past; no cheeky ruptures in continuity. Instead we get mission-of-the-week or problem-of-the-week episodes, each designed specifically to flesh out another member of the two main teams (one team has Mutta and Serika, the other Kenji, so the third is ignored outright). Combine that with the confined setting, consequent stylistic restrictions and steadily less interesting look of the series, and there's no other word for it than ordinary. It could be a Discovery Channel show about astronaut training for all the pop and sizzle it has.

Though it'd be a pretty darned good Discovery Channel show. And that is, very simply, because of the characters. All else aside, the third exam does give the cast plenty of room to grow or just be themselves—and that's nothing but a good thing. Mutta, loveable, afroed goof that he is, never lets the show forget its sense of humor: he fumbles and trips his way through the test, doing dumb things for dumb reasons that always end up, either through serendipity or his own cock-eyed good judgment, being exactly the right things to do. He gets his team past the first test because he's curious about the bus driver's toupee. He stumbles across the truth behind the nefarious goings-on in the capsule through dumb luck and long memory. His solution to the team's final problem is dippy and counterintuitive, but also unassailable in both its emotional and logistical reasoning. He is, as ever, just a great guy: smart and dorky and good hearted; just impossible not to like.

And he's not alone. Serika is almost as great: a beauty whose absentminded affability and quiet strangeness hide a steel spine and sharp mind. And a bottomless stomach. Her clueless rapport with the equally clueless Mutta is just priceless, especially when Mutta is sending signals that could be seen from the moon (his reactions to shaking her hand and being able to call her by name are plain great) only to have them bounce off unnoticed. Kenji for his part deepens throughout the exam as his family insecurities and leadership qualities come to light, revealing a man who's more conflicted than his Superman spit-curl indicates, but just as super.

They're supported by a sizeable cast of new comrades, who run the gamut from the scheming nasty to the autistic savant, desperate veteran, astrobiology nerd, stoic athlete, abrasively honest monkey-man, and more. Taken together they're both the obligatory motley crew of recruits (what did you expect, a dozen steely-eyed, square-jawed test pilots?) and a clear indication that the series' kindhearted humanism is perhaps moving into unrealistic territory. Some are antagonistic, some aren't, but the further the show delves into their circumstances and reasons, the more it is revealed that at heart they're all good, decent people. Everyone has deep-rooted motives for their comportment, is ultimately amenable to reason (or at least charm,) and eventually emerges hand-in-hand amid comradeship and mutual respect. It's nice for sure—watching Mutta win over his teammates is a highlight, as is the grudging respect between Kenji and his primary rival—but it doesn't exactly ring true.

Once the isolation test has run its course, the show picks up again. Mutta flies to Houston to hang with his brother, once again bringing their strange but generally great relationship back into rotation. Mutta and Hibito's nutty parents re-enter the picture, as does Kenji's adorable little family. The story bounces from Mutta striving yet again to find employment (which he does, as Santa Claus) to the exam's non-passers putting their lives back together again after their failure. The art picks up color—thanks mostly to the larger number of settings and characters—and some measure of its odd visual rhythm returns. Even the series' comic timing (always good in its offbeat way) seems to be trending upward. Of course, Toshiyuki Watanabe's score still lets its emotions hang out too far, especially when director Ayumu Watanabe decides to ladle on the team-bonding sap, and continues to repeat itself with exhausting frequency. But even so the show shows every sign that its mojo's coming back. These episodes are quick and funny, heartfelt and yet not sappy. And when the final exam rolls around, it's a surprise both in the form it takes, and in the suspense (and humor) it raises. The isolation exam episodes were fun, sure, but that doesn't stop us from rooting for the episodes that come next to be as good as the last of these.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : C

+ Still fun, even when it bogs down in astronaut-testing minutiae; picks up once the isolation test ends; continually great cast.
Test episodes are slower, more confined and generally less lively and unique than the rest of the series, and go on for too long; score wears out its welcome.

Director:Ayumu Watanabe
Script:
Yuuko Kakihara
Yoichi Kato
Chūya Koyama
Touko Machida
Shigeru Morita
Toshizo Nemoto
Makoto Uezu
Kenichi Yamashita
Storyboard:
Haruo Aozora
Koji Aritomi
Shinpei Ezaki
Takahiro Harada
Satoshi Kimura
Yuu Kou
Hiroshi Kugimiya
Takahiko Kyōgoku
Tomomi Mochizuki
Tomohito Naka
Yoshihiro Oka
Tomotaka Shibayama
Hiroaki Shimura
Daiji Suzuki
Shigeru Ueda
Hideaki Uehara
Ayumu Watanabe
Mitsuharu Yoshida
Episode Director:
Koji Aritomi
Yukihiko Asaki
Matsuo Asami
Shinpei Ezaki
Takahiro Harada
Yusuke Kamata
Hiroshi Kugimiya
Takahiko Kyōgoku
Fumio Maezono
Tomohito Naka
Hiroki Negishi
Tomotaka Shibayama
Nanako Shimazaki
Hisatoshi Shimizu
Jun Shishido
Daiji Suzuki
Yoshio Suzuki
Yoshinobu Tokumoto
Hiroaki Tomita
Yasuro Tsuchiya
Daisuke Tsukushi
Shigeru Ueda
Hideaki Uehara
Shigeru Yamazaki
Unit Director:
Haruo Aozora
Shigeru Ueda
Ayumu Watanabe
Music:Toshiyuki Watanabe
Original creator:Chūya Koyama
Character Design:Koji Yabuno
Art Director:
Izumi Hoki
Hiroshi Kato
Saho Yamane
Art:
Izumi Hoki
Kuniaki Nemoto
Saho Yamane
Chief Animation Director:Koji Yabuno
Animation Director:
Masao Ebihara
Yūichi Fujimaki
Takato Fukuyama
Masato Hagiwara
Yuichi Hirano
Miyuki Honda
Yumiko Ishii
Akiko Itagaki
Yusuke Kamata
Mayuko Kato
Akio Kawamura
Koichi Kikuchi
Satoshi Kimino
Shin'ya Kitamura
Shigetaka Kiyoyama
Toshimitsu Kobayashi
Momoka Komatsu
Keiichirou Matsui
Shinichiro Minami
Takuji Mogi
Yuki Morikawa
Yūki Morimoto
Ryoichi Murata
Chuji Nakajima
Tadayoshi Okimura
Haruo Okuno
Min Ryeol Park
Masakazu Saito
Takahiro Sato
Mika Sawada
Masayuki Sekine
Tomotaka Shibayama
Kazuhiko Shibuya
Yuuji Shigekuni
Senzō Shima
Yusuke Shimizu
Aiko Sonobe
Yumenosuke Tokuda
Tomoyoshi Tsuchiya
Kenichi Watanabe
Koji Watanabe
Koji Yabuno
Ayumi Yamada
Atsushi Yamamoto
Mechanical design:Koji Watanabe
Sound Director:Katsuyoshi Kobayashi
Director of Photography:Masaharu Okazaki
Executive producer:
Shin'ya Koishikawa
Masuo Ueda
Producer:Kō Nagai

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