Astra Lost in Space
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Astra Lost in Space ?
Some variant of a Fermi estimate could be used to calculate the likelihood of the Astra crash-landing within walking distance of an identical spaceship. As Zack correctly observes, the limited habitable space on Icriss meant that the odds of them coming together on that particular planet were better than they'd be otherwise. But when the vastness of the known universe is taken into consideration, the odds of this happening randomly have to be staggering, so the crew celebrates the staggering luck of finding their sister ship and rescuing its lone survivor. Nevertheless, an air of uncertainty permeates this entire episode, and even before its landmine of a cliffhanger goes off, there's a lot to second guess.
To begin, Polina tosses a bunch of new unknowns into the equation. We aren't able to learn much about her, but we do learn that she's a career astronaut who was on a mission to search for other planets that could sustain human civilization. Like the Astra, they crash-landed, and the rest of the crew died while scouting the surrounding area, while Polina, too afraid to go out on her own, decided to enter hibernation and hope for the best. It quickly becomes obvious, however, that she's not telling the kids the whole story. While it initially sounds like her team were on an exploratory mission, her later reactions hint at something more permanent. For instance, she's shocked to learn that 12 years have passed and “nothing's happened.” She also calls their ship an “ark” type, which implies a more permanent kind of seeding mission than simple reconnaissance. Was she under the impression that something bad was going to happen—something that might prevent Earth from sending out other space missions anytime soon? Was her ship an ark meant to preserve humanity in the face of a disaster than didn't pan out?
To be fair, even though Polina brings so much uncertainty to the table, she doesn't come across as a bad person. At least, not yet. Most of the confusion stems from her spotty post-hibernation memory, which is a convenient narrative excuse to keep more cards hidden, but it's reasonable within the context of the show. While she's definitely keeping her guard up about some things, it was reassuring to see her chuckle at the crew's absurdly cavalier banter about their extraordinary situation. Anybody who likes these kids has to be at least somewhat okay. She also seems genuinely eager to return to Earth and genuinely upset about the fate of her teammates. The episode's obligatory action scene features Kanata literally pole-vaulting his way over a hostile plant in order to retrieve one of her friends' dog tags, which is both heartfelt and pretty damn awesome. I wouldn't let my guard down around her just yet, but she's a surprising and intriguing addition to the crew.
After the despair of last week's crash, Aries saves the day by stealing Zack's snack. Seriously, I love how Zack cuts up his fruit specifically to illustrate the planet's habitable belt, and then Aries snatches it to pair with her own similarly-cut fruit in order to communicate the idea that saves their ship. These kids are dorks, and I love them. In this case, the modular nature of the ship (which I think was mentioned a couple episodes back, even though I totally forgot about it) means that they can take the good reactor from Polina's ship and replace their own busted one. Charce also figures out that these plants have some animal-like biology, and Luca takes this opportunity to remark on his own identity as well as the dual comedy/sci-fi nature of the anime he's in. This is where Astra Lost in Space's comedy feels especially appropriate, as everyone is awash with relief that they can continue their journey home. At Kanata's urging, they all did their best to keep their spirits up in the face of hopelessness, and that certainly helped them, but nothing can match the actual resurgence of hope.
It turns out that even the perpetually stone-faced Zack was inundated with despair before Aries solved their problem. It's his turn to get some focus and backstory, so he has a nice little scene together with Quitterie and the giant squirming plant she was trying to capture. It's especially cute to see Quitterie grow increasingly flustered in her attempts to confess her feelings, as a nonresponsive Zack eventually chimes in to say he was under the impression they were going to marry anyway. Childhood friends pledging to wed is nothing new, but Zack's deadpan assertion that he took the pledge completely seriously is a blunt and brilliant way to shut down the usual “will they won't they” that often suffuses romcoms. Their contrasting hot and cool personalities make them a perfectly prickly pair. Beyond the cute romance, however, we also get a deeper look at his own ambitions, and his desire to be a space pilot is buoyed by his determination not to end up like his old man. Zack's father does memory transplant research, which sounds interesting, but he's also yet another Bad Anime Dad who couldn't be bothered to care for his son. It's astounding how badly all these characters struck out in the parent department. Thank goodness they have each other.
Finally, Astra's propensity to drop plot twist bombs at the very end of its episodes continues undaunted this week with a doozy: Funi is a clone of Quitterie. Now, this doesn't have any immediate impact on the nature of their journey, and Funi is still very much her own person, but we can start to piece together the bigger picture thanks to this information. People are getting their DNA sequenced, and it's apparently compulsory by law. Human cloning is being done in secret. Memory transplants might even be possible. And expeditions have been sent out to find habitable planets. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but it seems to me that this adds up to people transplanting their memories into clones of themselves in order to continue living on a foreign planet after Earth is no longer habitable. This is bonkers, and I'm sure there're more to it because we don't have the full picture yet, like how sabotage and a seemingly sentient wormhole fit into the picture. But something is afoot, and the Astra kids need to figure it out if they're ever going to put an end to being lost in space.
Overall, this is fun stuff! I have to commend Astra's ability to keep me on my toes, and I can't wait to see how bizarre its conspiracy ultimately ends up being. Even if the conclusion doesn't live up to my expectations, it's done a consistently great job keeping its narrative trucking along. And like so many stories of its kind, the journey is always more important than the destination.
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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