I don’t think it comes as a surprise, given my slightly curmudgeonly stance on happiness and good vibes in anime, that inspirational stories focusing on people obtaining their hopes and dreams with a nasty habit of pulling every cliché and sappy line imaginable out of their asses are as enticing a prospect for me as chewing on a light bulb, and nowhere near as electrifying.
That’s not to say that I only like stories that crush my soul into little bits and make me question the merit of living, but I don’t like when they that adhere to a strict formula in order to induce a predetermined amount of warm fuzzies in the audience. This is both because the stories tend to be shit (Coach Carter and some crappy rocket movie I was forced to watch in middle school), and the characters are plastic cutouts of classic archetypes bordering on crass and laughably stereotypical (The Blindside). I can happily say that if the first episode of Uchuu Kyoudai is any indication, I’ll have nothing to fear; this appears to be less Crappy Rocket Movie I Was Forced to Watch in Middle School and more Gattaca, sans the message about eugenics.
Of course, that aside, it still bears several glaring hallmarks of the feel good movie. Two brothers, the older Mutta and the younger Hibito, make a pact after seeing what they think is a UFO that they’ll both become astronauts. This happens when they’re on the cusp of puberty, so of course life plans haven’t had the chance to muscle in and pulverize their hopes and dreams. Fast forward nineteen years, and the brothers are in different places in life—Hibito’s about ready to accomplish his dream by becoming the first Japanese man on the moon, while Mutta’s struggling to hold down a job that he’s satisfied with. Eventually, after several unfulfilling jobs, Mutta is given a chance to prove himself as an astronaut and reassert his place alongside the golden child of the family. Pass me an insulin shot.
In spite of these telltale ominous trademarks, Uchuu Kyoudai has an encouraging sense of personality about it that isn’t exactly common in the medium. The beginning sequence, detailing how each brother’s birth and subsequent life-changing moment coincides with a similarly landmark sport event, shows this off with enthusiasm, getting the show off to a confident, roaring start.
Often the biggest struggle that these plots have is a lack of relatable, realistic development, despite many being supposedly based on true stories. Uchuu Kyoudai hasn’t yet presented a solid case that its characters will develop organically, but if Mutta is any indication, I shouldn’t have too much to worry about. The man is the epitome of the down-on-his-luck, irresponsible, but ultimately brilliant and charming protagonist, not unlike Kotetsu from Tiger and Bunny (Which actually makes sense because they’re voiced by the same fucking guy, talk about typecasting).
He’s far from perfect or “flawed” as I like to call it, easily showing why he’s become the black sheep of his family. Compared to his more affable, successful brother, his streak of bad luck coupled with a lack of motivation doesn’t endear himself to others quite so much. It’s evident that he’s loved, but he has quite a ways to develop before he finds what he enjoys in life. He’s a perfect character to project on, one that makes realistic mistakes and stumbles repeatedly, but always picks himself up and continues on with his day. It’s a simple tale of an unlucky man feeling upstaged by his sibling and looking for a way to compensate and find similar success, though not necessarily in an antagonistic way, something that I’m sure most people can relate to in one way or another.
About my only complaint with the series is that the designs can occasionally leave one feeling more disturbed than inspired, one’s eyes swelling with tears brought on by terror rather than happiness. The characters sometimes lapse into the uncanny valley, their dead stares made all the more troubling by their cold, wooden smiles. It’s not evident for most of the first episode, but it made a scene that was supposed to be touching into an unrelenting work of horror the likes of which Stanley Kubrick couldn’t even begin to replicate. It’s a shame, since it was an otherwise poignant moment.
With four seasons-worth of material to cover and a promising beginning, I’m cautiously optimistic that Uchuu Kyoudai will continue to surpass expectations. With such a long length and a distinct cheekiness, it should have plenty of time to lay down plot and personality developments at its leisure. It doesn’t hammer its points into the audience’s skull as crudely as possible, opting instead for an enjoyable depiction of one man’s search for self-validation, and I am 100% behind that. For those hopelessly in love with stories that induce warm fuzzies, this should be right up your alley. And for those that aren’t… well, it’s worth a shot anyway.