Astra Lost in Space
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Astra Lost in Space ?
“Nature vs. nurture” is a debate we're all familiar with, and lots of people smarter than I have tackled this dilemma philosophically and scientifically over the course of human history. Personally, I tend to come down somewhere in the middle, because I don't believe you can ignore the influence of either side. Moreover, people are so varied and complex that I don't think any single person can cleanly untangle the web of influences that led them to become the person they are today, let alone untangle it for the entire population.
This debate has also been a central thematic concern of Astra Lost in Space, which supposes a cruel but plausible experiment where a group of selfish adults created and raised their own clones for the purpose of one day taking over their bodies. In this case, the nature part is settled; these kids are exact replicas of their “parents” (or mostly exact in Luca's case), so if our genetics were the defining factor, they'd all be on their way to becoming selfish assholes themselves. Clearly, that's not the case. They're a warm and lovable bunch who have taken risks and made sacrifices for the sake of each other time and time again. The nurture route also isn't pretty, because with the exception of Aries, all of these kids have been either neglected or abused in some fashion by their guardians. This has influenced them, some more so than others. We've already had entire episodes devoted to unpacking specific crew members' traumas, but they've also been able to move forward with care and difficulty.
If Astra's central conspiracy is an experiment, then Charce is the perfect specimen. He alone was aware of his fate as a clone of the king, and he alone had it drilled into him that his only purpose was to eventually die so that his king might live. More than anybody else, he was raised not as a person but as a purpose, and in this heated confrontation with his friends, he can't help but default to his programming. But even Charce is a person with a will of his own. Even Charce was able to find a hobby he loved, bond with another person, and mourn her loss. Seira correctly asserts that clones are people too, but more accurately, clones are their own people. The least charitable interpretation of Charce's actions is that he planned to escape to Astra with only Aries in tow, and even then, that plan goes against what he was ordered to do. However, as Kanata correctly shouts, that doesn't explain all of his actions. In the far reaches of space, meant to be his graveyard, Charce found salvation in the breadth of the universe and the embrace of his friends.
In the debate between nature and nurture, Astra Lost in Space tells determinism to bug off with an episode that's equal parts tragic and triumphant. Plot-wise, it ties up all the loose ends surrounding Charce and Aries, fleshing out the half-truths of his prior backstory with an even more upsetting portrait of the Vix royal family. It's telling that even as he lied about so much several weeks ago, he couldn't help but still blame himself for Seira's death. Consistent with the rest of Astra, the story itself is engaging—I certainly didn't expect a behind-the-scenes exposé of a staid monarchy when I started this show—but the character work is what's truly special. Pain rings both in Charce's account of his past as well as in his sadly hollow eyes; he's not fully resigned to his fate, but he's not sure what else to do. The way this further contextualizes his reactions and relationships in previous episodes ramps up the waterworks even further. In spite of his “mission,” he found wonder and companionship throughout Astra's long journey. We can imagine each new biological oddity and each new show of affection gradually deprogramming him from years of psychological manipulation and neglect. Separated from his “father” and surrounded by kindness, the Charce that Seira knew was given the freedom to grow and explore, and it changed him for the better.
Aries is understandably overwhelmed by Charce's story of kindhearted princesses and daring escapes, but it explains why she's been the outlier in the group. As if to drive home the message of nature not mattering, Emma was raised by her surrogate mother, yet her mom loved her better than any of the other parents with their genetic copies. I think we all saw the origin of her name coming from a mile away (her name alone is shown upside-down in the OP), and it seems like she's inherited Seira's kindness. I imagine Emma also helped raise the original princess, so that makes sense. But despite the fact that they share the same genes and the same maternal figure, Aries is not Seira. The totality of her life experience is unique to her, and it makes her uniquely Aries. She nonetheless empathizes with the pain her friend has been hiding this whole time, as do the other crew members. Through tears, they all process a whirlwind of difficult feelings, ranging from betrayal to pity, but none of them give up on Charce.
Only Charce can't see a way out, deploying a second wormhole out of nothing but desperation. This is where Chekhov's hoverboots come to the resuce, as Kanata rushes in like he always does whenever a friend needs help. It's an incredibly tense climax to an incredibly tense episode, with their physical struggle reflecting Kanata's selfless ideals clashing against Charce's self-centered desire for punishment. Kanata triumphs on both fronts, but no story of survival plays out without sacrifice. We're spared the brunt of the gore, but the intense physicality of the scene and everyone's reactions still had me squirming. The final shot of Kanata's arm gently tumbling in orbit around the frozen Earth serves as a gruesome but almost poetic note to end the episode on. While Charce's actions were doomed to have consequences, Kanata did what he had to do in order to ensure all of his crew could make it home. Everyone on the Astra deserves a second chance to live with the strength they've found in the bonds of their new family.
Beneath all of its great sci-fi glitz, Astra Lost in Space is fundamentally a story of youthful rebellion against the circumstances of one's birth. Charce's arc, combined with everyone else's, declares that we can determine our own fate no matter how hopeless our circumstances, as long as we support each other. I know that kind of unbridled shonen optimism can be grating in its seeming naïveté, but that unfaltering can-do spirit can just as easily prove inspiring and important. Astra strikes a solid balance, emphasizing the reality of loss alongside our ability to be resilient and give each other a hand when we need it.
Steve is lost in space, but he can still stream anime so it's okay. A communications relay has been established on his Twitter.
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