Astra Lost in Space
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Astra Lost in Space ?
In the wake of everyone working together to survive the meteoroid strike last week, Kanata makes the executive decision to stop investigating the traitor. It's perhaps a naïve decision, both in terms of putting everyone at the mercy of the traitor's agenda, and in light of the fact that people are definitely going to remain wary of their peers regardless. Nonetheless, it's more importantly a show of good faith, and an acknowledgment that teamwork is the most vital tool they have if they want to survive. Many a castaway story like this has been undone by cabin fever and paranoia tearing people apart, and the Astra crew's salvation could be Kanata's determination to prevent that fate.
This unfolds into another planetside episode of Astra Lost in Space, with the crew scavenging the surface of Shummoor for enough food and water to last them to their next stop. Viewers with anagram aptitude will be unsurprised to see that Shummoor is a world ruled by tall, tree-like mushrooms. I really appreciated the attention paid to making Vilavurs' ecosystem feel both alien but grounded in the realities of how organisms evolve into complementary relationships, which is even more strikingly realized in this episode. The mushrooms, moss, and alien chocobos are each integral components of each other's' life cycles, not unlike how lichen on our planet is the result of a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungi. Luckily for the crew, Charce's biology background lets him figure out how this works, which proves invaluable when they all end up poisoned. Now, you'd think that his background would also tip him off that breathing in unfamiliar mushroom spores might not be the wisest idea, but it's worth remembering that deep down, they're all still dumb teens.
The real focus of this episode, however, turns out to be Yunhua. Her defining trait up until this point had been her shyness—she barely speaks, hides her face behind her bangs, and constantly apologizes when she's forced to interact with one of the other crew members, which she tries to avoid. It's clear she has problems making friends, which is troublesome in its own right, but even more so in their life-or-death predicament. She's an outsider, and people instinctively grow suspicious of outsiders, so any hunt for a traitor would naturally place her in their sights, regardless of whether she was guilty or not. It's easy to imagine that Kanata's broad decree to ignore the traitor for now may have been a direct lifeline to protect Yunhua from people's suspicions.
Unfortunately, Yunhua's troubles don't end there. A verbally abusive mother brutally stomped on all of her ambitions of standing out, and she internalized that by drawing completely inward. To not be noticed was her own survival technique. She must have felt like the victim of a cosmic cruelty when adolescence decided to make her noticeably tall in a society that delights in fixating on women's bodies, picking apart any features outside a thinly defined norm. Her own teammates callously throw phrases like “big girl” at her and cruelly joke about how she needs more food than the rest of them. She's already grown up feeling utterly useless, but in this survival situation, the implication that her existence is actively harmful to her peers is just too much for her to handle. Self-loathing is insidious and will latch onto any perceived evidence to justify self-destruction, so she runs away. The crew will be better off without her.
My heart aches for Yunhua. Her depression and the walls she puts up around herself can be felt both from Saori Hayami's careful performance, and the way she's consistently framed as existing outside of the group. As the audience, we see that Luca's words are in jest, and we know that Ulgar is crappy to literally everybody, but to Yunhua, their words and actions reinforce the horrible things she already believes about herself. Thankfully, Aries and Kanata make up the crew's moral backbone, with Aries immediately noticing Yunhua's absence and Kanata running after her. I also like that when Kanata catches up to her, he still respects her space and offers to talk to her through their helmets' communications link. It might seem like a small gesture, but it's a touching acknowledgment of the hurt she's experiencing, while also being a sign that he doesn't plan on leaving without helping her. This could be construed as part of his life philosophy, where every person and their contributions are important to the survival of the entire team, and that's certainly not untrue. But more generally, the emphasis is placed on Yunhua's worth as a person, no matter what her family or society believes of her.
Of course, Yunhua does end up proving herself to be a valuable member of the team in her own unique way. Her love of music survived as a private coping mechanism despite all the poison her mother dripped into her ears, and while she's feeling hopeless, surrounded by her dying teammates, she starts singing. At first it seems like she's trying to comfort herself again, but her song also ends up piercing the half-conscious haze of the entire Astra crew, giving them something intangible yet firm enough to hold onto. As her voice grows more confident, Yunhua is shown standing on the stage her mother dragged her away from, now singing loudly and directly under the spotlight. The letterboxing disappears and her performance takes up the entire screen—she's no longer trying to be as small and invisible as possible. She's allowed to not only exist, but even be the center of attention. She saves her friends' lives.
Kanata also deserves a lot of credit for running outside and literally poisoning himself in order to draw out the antidote mushrooms everyone needs, but that's the kind of guy he is. Yunhua's growth and assertion of herself is the emotional core of this episode, and it's told with both compassion and flair. It might wrap up a little too quickly and conveniently for my tastes, but the earnestness of the execution makes up for any plotting deficiencies. I love found family stories as much as I love climactic scenes backed by diegetic musical performances, and this episode of Astra pairs the two wonderfully. I'm glad the story took this time early on to establish Yunhua's character, because she's gone from the least-defined crew member to one of my favorites, and I can't wait to see how she'll grow in the future. Even if she does end up being the traitor, the bond she's formed with the rest of the Astra will certainly complicate their resolution.
If Astra Lost in Space continues to deliver its character-focused and compassionate brand of science fiction this well, I'm ready to continue loving 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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