Sunday, June 24, 2012

Anime Survivor: Spring '12 - Week 8.2

It's about time to start planning out Summer 2012's Anime Survivor, but stock futures show that this might be a market primed for bear. Normally, that would be terrific, considering just how fun watching Polar Bear, Grizzly Bear and Panda this season, but we're talking the negative, losing-your-life-savings sort of bear. Crunchyroll has announced their first threesome (Nobuna Oda, Total Eclipse, and YuruYuri 2: Erekutoriku Bûgaru), and they all seem to have the inviting charm of a poison toad.

That likely means all three are already on board, just in time for me to push them off the plank.

After already claiming Kingdom, Funimation will grab Moyashimon 2 and maybe a panty-flasher like Dakara Boku ga H Dekinai, while Crunchyroll loads up on Natsuyuki Rendezvous, Tari Tari, Love, Election & Chocolate, Aruvu Rezuru, Ebiten, and Humanity Has Declined. Viz takes on the next Rinne no Lagrange season and contnues Accel World, while Kokoro Connect is lost once Sentai Filmworks grabs the rights.

But were all about the here and now. Three shows left. All are good, but one's got to hit the road.

The fourteenth show gone from this season's Anime Survivor is...

Selling Points: When it comes to space exploration, I have a feeling humanity is waving a white flag on the moon, not an American one. Science fiction that we've seen from the likes of Leiji Matsumoto, Yoshiyuki Tomino, and Shôji Kawamori through the years will never actually happen with the technological progress we've made, and that's totally fine in my book. That degree of disbelief is all that we need.

That's what makes a show like Space Brothers (Uchû Kyôdai) a bit more surprising to find in his season's roll call. It's true you still have the glittery appeal of the distant future of space travel in the likes of Bodacious Space Pirates, but with the slow decline of NASA here in the real world, someone out there knows that we need to put attention on the near future of space travel.

In the year 2006, Mutta and Hibito Nanba were just kids, but both could swear that they saw a UFO hovering in the sky and flying to the moon. That day the younger Hibito vowed to fly to the moon, but the elder Mutta vowed to upstage him and go to Mars. Two decades later, and Hibito's journey is almost complete with his selection for a trip to a moon colony. Mutta? Well, he's been axed from his job with an automobile company after headbutting his boss.

Getting a job in 2025 proves to be difficult for Mutta, especially after word of his violent maneuver spreads, but Mutta's family knows that he can follow Hibito's footsteps at JAXA, Japan's aerospace program. However, this is more Mutta's story, so we see his own approach as clear as day. A job would be great, but his pride as the older brother drives him to surpass Hibito someday. Of course, going through the hiring process with the attractive and athletic Serika is a welcome distraction for the bumbling Mutta.

Will Mutta become an astronaut like his little brother? Surely that seems to be the case, but will he reach the cosmos further than Hibito? Will he impress Serika in the process? Will he avoid any (other) anal probes?

Defense: Occassionally, we get insight into the minds of Serika, Hibito, and the other competitors, but the thing that makes Space Brothers work is the probe (pun intended) into the mind of Mutta. Immaculately insecure with himself, but always ready to nit-pick when it comes to his little brother, Mutta is the essence of the underqualified, benefitting from sheer guesses and the luck of being in the right place at the right time, yet duly qualified in minor details and memorization. His celebrations are witty, while his perceived failures are perceived as internally devastating.

A lot of the credit for keeping this series enjoyable during lulls in the plot go to the voice actors. Hiroaki Hirata (Sanji, One Piece) finally got the chance to shine as the central figure in Tiger & Bunny (Wild Tiger), and his portrayal of Mutta is basically an extension of that last role. False bravado, teeth-gritting panic, lovelorn bliss—Hirata is terrific at making Mutta appear both dunderheaded and exceptional.

The staff is also surprisingly adept for such a long series. Director Ayumu Watanabe (various Doraemon movies) has lended his theatrical approaches to this series, and musical direction is being handled by Toshiyuki Watanabe (no relation), who has a long list of movie scores to his credits. I certainly wasn't expecting good screenwriting from Makoto Uezu (Seikon no Qwazer, Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka?), but I suppose if you have A-1 Pictures handling the animation instead of Hoods Entertainment, you're going to create a very engaging story to go with a capable staff.

Final Decision: There are a lot of things that I like about Space Brothers; the realism of the elements in a science-fiction show, the attention to unemployment problems the thirty-something generation must face, the gradual involvement of likable characters, the amusing mechanics required for generating a single scientific thought from Mutta. All should make for a well-constructed four seasons of comedy and drama. However, I feel guilty in saying that the show's deliberate pacing is a main reason that it doesn't qualify for the finals.

With the likes of Tsuritama and the Fujiko Mine animation, we're coming down to a distinct climax that will likely close the book on both shows. We will discover if Enoshima can survive an alien "attack" or what really lies at the heart of Fujiko Mine as an experimental guinea pig. In the case of Space Brothers, there is still a good 40 episodes to go, meaning that there's no pressure to push its limits.

Sadly, while the drama behind these astronaut qualification exams is surprisingly intense, it is merely a test. At times, I found myself interested in how Mutta would stumble his way through qualifications, but a scary thought entered my brain once the third exam was underway—didn't I see all this before?

Yes, it's unfair to make the comparison, but all this testing just to watch Mutta qualify to become an astronaut feels a little like those tests that we had to watch Team 7 go through in Naruto. In the end, the only reason we watch them is to see who doesn't qualify and how it affects Mutta. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if we see Mutta make it due to technicalities, much the same way Naruto made it through his early tests on the way to become a ninja. In short, episodes about tests just don't thrill me as much as episodes about potential disasters or clandestine secrets.

It probably wasn't fair to include Space Brothers in this whole challenge if its length was going to be one of its deciders, but I'm already quite impressed with how well it performed amid all of the talent. For a show so closely ground in non-fiction to outperform works of fantasy is itself a victory. Space Brothers has earned itself a viewer for life, even if it hasn't earned itself a viewer for Week 13.


Next week: We finally crown this season's Anime Survivor champion!

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