Before Space Brothers aired, I was kind of ambivalent on it. The director, Ayumu Watanabe, was new in the sense that his only other experience was a ton of Doraemon, and he was helming two shows that season (Mysterious Girlfriend X being the second one). Also, I knew from my research into what would later become my Manga Japanese Critics Love panel that the manga (winner of Kodansha and Shogakukan manga awards in 2011 and 2010, respectively) was over 18 volumes long, so it would be very difficult to cover that in what seemed destined for a one-season timeslot. So it was with more caution than optimism that I got on Crunchyroll in the aftermath of Ohio State’s 62-64 NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas to check out the first episode.
And was immediately greeted with an anime version of what I still consider one of sports’ most hilarious moments: the Zidane headbutt. The opening hook where the main character compared himself and his brother using sporting events was very effective, and created a characteristic of him that was immediately accessible to a fairly general audience. From there, the first episode seized on Mutta’s characterization and used it to swiftly build a character that was at once competent and awkward, downcast and hopeful. In other words, he experienced the range of emotions most people go through when facing important life decisions. The best directors make the best intros, and this was one of ‘em.
It would be over-simplifying to say Space Brothers was a repetition of moments like these (little scenes and quirks that immediately establish unique characters), but it wouldn’t be too far off. By my count, we’ve seen them for ~16 characters over the course of the show, each one being a semi-important cast member. The only really comparable show in terms of cast diversity I can think of is Hajime no Ippo, which similarly develops all but 2 of the main character’s 12 opponents, his 4 gym mates, his coach, his fan squad captain, his mom, and two different rivals’ coaches (that’s a grand total of 19). That’s one of the biggest compliments I can give, as Ippo (also about chasing your dreams) is arguably the best TV anime ever made.
While the main feature of Space Brothers is its cast, I really can’t let it go without mentioning pacing here. The advancement of plot in Space Brothers can, sometimes, be a very gradual affair. Not glacial, but there is a point where you see people stuck in one room for a good 8 episodes, a period corresponding to 10 days of in-series time. This is not to say that the plot is static; a lot of progression happens in that time. Also, there was a very recent scene where 8 minutes on a timer took 14 minutes of episode (5 of which were flashback) to elapse. That’s pretty damn close, and it lent a real dose of realism to the scene in question. In short, don’t expect lightning pacing from this show, but it knows how and when to pick itself up and run when it needs to.
Though I can’t claim to have called shotgun on this particular bandwagon, I’ve ended up loving Space Brothers. If it continues on to produce great drama (and the occasional funny awkward Mutta scene) at this pace for what looks to be a full 50 more episodes, it’ll be a shoo-in for anime of the decade in my book.