Uchuu Kyoudai: Early steps into the final frontier

Uchuu Kyoudai is an ongoing, award winning manga from Koyama Chuya. From 2012 to 2014 it got an anime adaptation from A-1 pictures. It also had a live action film adaptation that was released shortly after the anime started. I don’t really know what to expect from this one so let’s dive right into it.

Story:

The narrative opens in 2025, Nanba Hibito is poised to become the first Japanese astronaut to land on the moon. His older brother, Nanba Mutta, isn’t doing so well. He recently lost his job when he head-butt his supervisor for insulting his little brother and he’s moved back in with his parents while looking for a new job. Oddly enough, places seem hesitant to hire a guy who head-butt his supervisor. While Mutta is struggling, his mother, under the advice of Hibito, sends his resume to Jaxa and he finds himself on the list to take the astronaut exam. If he can make it past several tests, he can fulfil his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut and, eventually, travelling to space.

While that is a compelling premise for a slice of life work, Uchuu Kyoudai does have some narrative problems. The biggest one is definitely the filler. There’s a pretty significant amount of time wasted reiterating information they’ve already given and most of the episodes waste a good thirty seconds with recaps. The series also has a couple of recap episodes, one right after the other. Altogether, that results in a good chunk of time getting wasted. It also hurts the pacing, since it slows things down. The series also inappropriately introduces pseudo-scientific elements. There’s a portion where we’re randomly introduced to a character who possesses the power to see the future. This isn’t just some scam artist, like every person who claims that they can see the future in reality. In the context of the show, she actually can tell the future. Basically, the entire purpose of her having this power is to foreshadow something. There are much better ways to do that. Random psychic powers might work for some pieces of fiction, but they really, distractingly, don’t work in a series like this that’s heavily grounded in actual science. I will say, it’s not a huge plot tumour since it’s only used for a brief arc, but it still manages to hurt the series. There are also some unfortunate choices when it comes to the portrayal of black characters that can read as a bit racist. To be fair, none of them seem malicious or deliberate. It’s more that it uses some really unfortunate stereotyping.

On the positive side, the story itself is really compelling and it has a lot of good moments, both dramatic and comedic. It also manages to constantly, and naturally, introduce new sources of tension. Normally, I would take issue with a series being set this close to present time, but Uchuu Kyoudai actually handles that aspect very well. Most of the technology they have is stuff we have already or slightly modified versions where the alterations are pretty plausible. There is a little bit of new technology that gets introduced and all of it seems pretty conceivable. There’s nothing that you see introduced that makes you stop and question how they developed something like that in the near future. The humorous elements largely work pretty well and the blending of drama and humour is effectively done. Koyama knows when to be serious, when to inject a little bit of humour into a serious moment and how to transition from one mood to the other so as not to diminish either.

Characters:

The characters are, largely, well written. The major, and most of the side, characters get developed and fleshed out enough to have verisimilitude. A lot of them have humorous quirks, but they’re not quirks that seem out of place or that get exaggerated to the point of being unbelievable. The interactions are also well handled. The friendship between Mutta and Kenji is pretty stellar. As is the dynamic ’twixt the brothers.

Art:

The artwork and animation are good. The series has a pretty massive cast of characters and they manage to make all of them look pretty distinctive. The backgrounds and various objects are nicely detailed and the animation is fluid. Really, my only issue is that the series does recycle a lot of scenes. It’s almost certainly done to pad the story and not because the animators are lazy, but it still gets annoying seeing the same images time after time.

Sound:

The performances are all well done. Kenn and Hirata Hiroaki give solid performances as the brothers. Sawashiro Miyuki is a boss in this, taking on multiple roles, Serika, young Mutta, Apo & Fuuka, and making them all sound distinctive. Sure, one of those is a pug but it’s still impressive. The music is also pretty solid.

Ho-yay:

We really don’t get any. There’s not much romance in the series, and most of it that does appear is pretty under-stated, but all of it we do get is het.

Final Thoughts:

Uchuu Kyoudai does suffer from some problems. The repeated scenes, random psychic bullshit and unfortunate stereotyping being the big ones. Still, it is an overall entertaining, compelling story. If you have an interest in space exploration from a fairly realistic perspective, you should definitely give it a try. If you’re fond of slice of life works and think that following astronauts and their families would make for a good premise, you should also give it a go. My final rating is going to be a 7/10. Next week, I’ll move on to the second series of Love Live.

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