Astra Lost in Space
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Astra Lost in Space ?
Emotions run at a fever pitch as the entire crew has to deal with the reality of one friend staring down the barrel of a ray gun being held by their other friend. The ensuing deep dive into both Ulgar and Luca's backstories makes for the most melodramatic episode of Astra Lost in Space yet, but it's a vein of melodrama that the show has proven capable of exploring with appropriate levels of compassion and theatrics.
Last week's cliffhanger left Ulgar's motives up in the air, but he almost immediately denies that he's the traitor. It's a tough pill for his frightened crewmates to swallow, but as I surmised last week, his actions are fueled by emotion rather than conspiracy. Also, it turns out he has a darn good reason to hate Luca's father, the senator Marco Esposito. If Ulgar's voice actor, hairstyle, and proficiency with guns weren't already sufficient similarities to Sarazanmai's Toi, then his big brother complex surely confirms Astra Lost in Space as the Sarazanmai AU I didn't know I wanted. Fortunately, Space Toi's relationship with his sibling is thankfully much less fraught and manipulative. In fact, his older brother was Ulgar's only true ally in a family that preferred not to acknowledge his existence. He was also an investigative journalist, and while working on a big scoop concerning Senator Esposito, he died under suspicious circumstances. While he has no proof, Ulgar has been harboring his hatred and seeking his revenge against the politician ever since then, and he now believes he's found the perfect opportunity.
As the audience, it's easy for us to see how much Ulgar's rage is being misdirected at Luca, who ironically was fast becoming Ulgar's closest (and perhaps only) friend on the ship. But the delivery of Ulgar's backstory also makes it easy for us to sympathize with the pain of his loss. Both in the present and in his flashbacks, he peels back his familiar stoicism and reveals himself to be another anxious teenager like everyone else, fighting back against his own demons and regrets. Kanata comments that awful parenting seems to be a common thread among most of the crew. Ulgar not only had to deal with his father ignoring his existence, but he also had to suffer the loss of the one person who actually acted like his family. His memories are colored in the glow of sunset reflecting off the wide-eyed stare of a kid who just wanted to grow up to be like his big brother. Ulgar had that ripped away from him, and he wants to rip something, anything from Senator Esposito in return. However, Luca is neither a deserving target, nor an effective one.
Kanata's comment about bad parents also extends to Luca. He reveals that, like Ulgar, he's been effectively abandoned by his father in favor of his brother. The Esposito family has traditionally passed its political legacy down to its firstborn sons, but Luca is not a son in his father's eyes, because Luca is intersex. Being unfamiliar with the manga, I was not expecting Astra to go in this direction, and the revelation itself is unfortunately rocky. The trope of exposing a character's chest in order to expose a gender secret is one I wish that anime didn't rely on so much. Even though Luca exposes himself of his own volition, it still comes off as voyeuristic. Fortunately, most everything beyond this is handled pretty well! Luca gives a frank explanation of what being intersex means, as well as what it means to him personally. I think what struck me the most was his acknowledgement that his body and his feelings about his body are in flux—there are a lot of “unclear shapes.” He tells everyone he's comfortable identifying as male at the moment, but he knows that might change in the future, and he's okay with that. Gender doesn't follow a rigid set of rules; there's room for fuzziness and fluidity stemming from the complexity of both biology and our own feelings about our identity. It's heartening to see Luca being accepted without judgment from any of the other kids.
Luca's revelation also snaps Ulgar out of his revenge-addled mindset, as he realizes how much Luca's relationship (or lack thereof) with his father resembles his own. Like Funi, Luca also turns out to be adopted by a powerful family looking out for their own interests. The majority of the crew at this point has been revealed to come from hard circumstances, but as Aries astutely shouts, they have the ability to alleviate their own pains by sharing them with each other. It all comes back to Kanata's original assertion that they can only survive by working together. Beyond its clear emotional implication, this credo is also literally tested when a giant tsunami speeds towards them as the hostage situation dies down. This action scene can't help but feel perfunctory when compared to the first part's emotionally-driven theater, but I guess we need Kanata to do something rash and heroic every arc. At least it's a firm refutation of Ulgar's self-destructive mindset, with Luca, Kanata, and the entire crew's efforts asserting his right to exist.
Back on the ship, everyone makes up. I like that Luca continues to act as he always has, with no qualms about teasing Ulgar to even the scales. Aries' comment about Luca feeling like “a new female friend” is maybe a little tone deaf, but the rest of the montage consists of humorous jabs at the other crew members consistent with the rest of the show's tone. The important point is that we see Luca feeling comfortable about being out as intersex, being himself, and being open to whatever the future has in store, with everyone else accepting and supporting him. I can't speak for the intersex community, but I love Luca a whole lot, and his feelings about the ambiguity of gender resonated with my own.
The rest of the episode develops the ongoing mystery of the Astra. After everyone calms down, they surmise that Ulgar's brother must have stumbled on some deeper conspiracy than your run-of-the-mill political corruption—possibly something to do with their current predicament. It's a convenient logical stretch, but what good conspiracy isn't needlessly convoluted? Also, the stinger reveals that our princely biologist Charce hasn't been entirely honest with everyone. Is he the traitor? Possibly, but I don't care to speculate on that likelihood. The added layer of paranoia has helped spice up the gang's space travels, but this episode has proven that my real investment in this show lies in the characters themselves.
Luca and Ulgar both laid their hearts bare this week, and despite the dangerous circumstances, they managed to make each other more comfortable with themselves and with everyone else on the Astra. I hope I don't have to watch either of these precious children cry again, but I'm glad they've grown closer. After last week's slight dip in quality, this episode is a delightful surprise, and I appreciate the effort that author Kenta Shinohara put into not stigmatizing or belittling Luca's queerness. While they continue to journey through the vastness of space, their most rewarding journeys continue to take place within the vastness of their own selves, and neither of these journeys are being taken alone.
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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