Astra Lost in Space
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Astra Lost in Space ?
After all the near-death experiences and Yunhua's confrontation with her own self-hatred, I suppose the crew of Astra deserves a little vacation, even if it seems like we've wasted no time getting to the requisite beach episode. Anime is as anime does. Before all the sun and swimsuits, however, the show has some business to take care of, both terrestrial and celestial.
First, I'm glad to see we get a little postscript to Yunhua's arc last week, as the rejuvenated Team B5 praises how the beauty of her song tethered them to this mortal realm. The episode makes a point of showing everyone thank her, in order to completely dispel the lies both her mother and her brain have told her for so long. It's a little sappy, but in line with the heart-on-its-sleeve dramatics that Astra Lost in Space has relied on before. There's just something nice about emphasizing these kids' determination to be kind to each other. Yunhua decides to demarcate her newfound strength and support with a patented Character Development Haircut™, most notably chopping off her bangs as a sign that she's no longer hiding herself from others. Go Yunhua.
I was surprised to see the narrative then take a detour away from the lost-in-space Astra to check in on how the search for the missing kids is going. I hadn't considered the possibility of a terrestrial B plot, but with the evidence of foul play and the still-mysterious motivations of the traitor, it only makes sense that this conspiracy has roots winding all the way back to Earth. While we still don't have many answers, the focal point of this segment rests on Aries' mother Emma, who opens the scene rewatching her daughter's final transmission for the umpteenth time, nearly 50 days after their disappearance. It's a sad sight, taking place in an unlit corner of Aries' bedroom, as if her grief is keeping the light from the window at bay. A similarly dark scene unfolds as she and the other parents gather at the high school to discuss what prospects they have left.
The ensuing roundtable is uncomfortable, to say the least. I know everyone processes grief in their own ways, but every character besides Emma struck me as way too calm and resigned to the fact that their children were officially going to be declared missing and possibly dead. Fifty days is a long time, but it's not that long. Only Emma seems to possess some fire inside of her as she correctly (unbeknownst to her) posits that the team could still be out there somewhere in space. Of course it's struck down as denial and wishful thinking by the others, but it's just weird to me that she's the only parent who actually emotes through all this. Then again, the prior impressions we've gotten of the other parents haven't exactly been glowing. Yunhua's mom verbally and emotionally abused her daughter. Quitterie had very little interaction with her parents. Her sister Funi was adopted only because of some shady G-man pulling strings. Kanata's dad was making him carry a torch for his own failed dreams. Ulgar really doesn't like his dad. Maybe these parents are just that shitty. And with the revelation that Luca's dad is a controversial politician, I'd guarantee that some of them know more about this disappearance than they're letting on.
Conspiracy theories can wait though, because it's beach time! The next planetside pit stop on Astra's journey is the oceanic world of Arispade, which turns out to be a real paradise for everyone. And don't feel bad if you didn't pick up on that anagram, because I only just realized while writing this that McPa is an anagram of Camp, and Vilavurs is one of Survival. What kind of malevolent linguist named these planets? Anyway, with the wildlife easily caught and highly scrumptious, and the water situation obviously taken care of, most of the crew uses the opportunity to kick back and treat themselves to an impromptu tropical getaway. I can't blame them, but this half of the episode is consequently slight. The camera's gaze is the most leery it's ever been, with the girls having an open conversation about their bust sizes and relative levels of spiciness while out of the boys' (though not the audience's) earshot. It's definitely unnecessary, but my fanservice barometer has already been broken this season by a certain mom-centric isekai series, so Astra's attempts at gratuitous titillation are tame by comparison. There's also some gentle ribbing about their respective crushes, with Quitterie in particular pushing Aries to go after Kanata, who like most teen boys, is tragically too dumb to pick up on Aries' hints. This is all very silly, but it's endearing, and the resignation in Aries' voice as she faces a wall and says, “Due to personal reasons, I am going to bed,” is one hell of a mood.
The cutest thing in this episode, and perhaps in the entire story up until this point, is the burgeoning friendship between Ulgar and Luca. Even Ulgar's preternatural prickliness stood no chance against Luca's rustic hospitality, although Ulgar at his most affectionate only amounts to an exchange of terse sentences and a begrudging acceptance of the other person's existence. Still, it's an improvement over his default non-interactions with everyone else, and it hurts even more when Ulgar points the barrel of a gun at Luca's forehead. It's one hell of a cliffhanger, and all we have to go on is that Ulgar has some kind of vendetta against Luca's father. Everyone is quick to conclude that they've finally found the traitor, but I'm not so sure. Ulgar is too obvious of a suspect, and if he was in the dark about Luca's father up until this point, it seems unlikely that he was privy to whatever machinations are developing in the background. Throwing a gun into the situation is going to be a tough act to walk back from, but I'm equal parts excited and anxious to see how the Astra crew resolves this next week.
Astra's follow-up to Yunhua's arc unfortunately lacks the sympathetic focus of the previous entry, instead splitting its time between fleshing out the conspiratorial elements and indulging in some classic beach episode clichés. It makes for a perfectly fine episode, but one that's more transitory than compelling in its own right. I also felt the visual downgrade this week, with some noticeable animation shortcuts alongside some more puzzling directorial decisions that seem steeped in replicating manga layouts rather than employing more cinematic language. Still, Astra's charming cast of lovable kids remains the key to its appeal, and those characters are as strong as ever.
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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