The reason this episode post took so long is that there was so much brilliance in this episode I legitimately had to watch the episode a good 4 more times, take my reaction notes from different runs, organize them, and edit in some shot-for-shot analysis for the past two days. There was too much stuff both important and sublimely executed that I couldn’t not talk about all of it. Short version: It takes some effort to parlay one character’s death flags into development for another who’s never met her before. This is one episode I’ll be coming back to along with Dear Hibito and Brian as go-tos for why Space Brothers is the best anime of the decade to date, easily the best episode of anime to air since I started this blog, and probably one of my all-time favorites. Like its main character, this show has no ceiling.
This episode opened a very light chaser that belied the direction in which it was about to head. Mutta and Vince still have that whole curious student-bland teacher routine going. I’m glad to see their understanding each other doesn’t detract from the comedy of their personalities clashing. It was definitely a little awe-inspiring to see that everybody was flipping through the manuals in the meeting where they first got them. Space Brothers has a universally ambitious, competent cast that always shocks me with its efficiency.
To say nothing of fire-hydrant Larry
Before the obvious scene with the shoes, drinks, selective focus, flashback montage, and lightsaber, the show did a great job heavily building up to Sharon’s collapse. Part of that buildup was of course the ambiguously upbeat outcome of Sharon’s presentations and her conversation with Morrison about dead spouses. In the collapse scene itself, they threw in a quick fakeout, where Sharon was able to hold the tray and initially steady it before collapsing herself. What may not have been obvious to everyone watching was that this episode focused on hands a *lot* throughout, to build up the healthy hand/unhealthy hand contrast:
I really like how Sharon’s colleague insisted she get a checkup right after the incident. It’s one of the big advantages of a show where most of the characters are professional adults that the characters are about as adept at reading context clues as I am. The most priceless part was the old-school Gilligan cut from Sharon insisting she wouldn’t go to her at the hospital.
Of course, then the second layer of the fakeout kicked in after the checkup seemingly revealed everything was fine. So we were off to the pub to see Mutta show off and Serika geeking out over getting to meet one of her childhood heroes. Props to anyone who remembered Serika’s father’s disease before the first flashback. I certainly didn’t. She realized what was happening to Sharon even faster than I realized what was happening to her; once again, there are many benefits to having an older cast this capable.
So Serika thankfully recognized Sharon’s symptoms and figured out she needed to go see a specialist. This scene was by far the best-depicted scene featuring her since the show began (more on that in a minute), and the one with the most important implications for her character. To name a few things: 1) Now she’s losing two people important to her to the same disease, doubling her revenge factor, 2) She knows this disease inside and out, so she’s going to be immediately important in helping Mutta cope 3) Dealing with Sharon’s situation together with Nanba and Hibito deepens the emotional connections between the three and ups the number of ways they can be played off each other in the future.
I also have to mention the tightly expressive body language that was all over this episode. Since it was playing with a very nuanced dynamic and didn’t have time to internally monologue everything, the emotions shown outwardly by characters had to come across. And they certainly did. It would be an understatement to say that the slow realization from Serika in the scene where she was examining Sharon was completely engrossing, not to mention what we saw from Hibito and Mutta in the same scene. Here, the simplest way really is to simply just show a rough pastiage of how their expressions changed as the heavy sense of dread settled over the gathering.
Hibito’s facial expression shows a shift in attitude from suspicion to certainty after seeing how Serika acts, confirming his own doubts. It’s a very slight shift from his default expression, but a very potent one because of that. Mutta’s reaction, wondering what was going on even as he could guess from Serika’s incredibly serious tone, really drives home the feeling of a man who’s realized what’s going on and yet can’t process it. Serika’s emotional transitions from casual conversation to rising suspicion to grim certainty were punctuated by only a few full shots of her face. Ayumu Watanabe also used a lot of partial-face shots, on the eyes and mouth, to cement the sense of wavering dread she was experiencing.
This wasn’t a constantly heavy episode by any means. There were several very clever jokes: the flash animation of Morrison’s slow-witted colleague, the callback to Hibito’s first words on the moon, Morrison’s bolo tie pendant. The most profound sadness comes out of experiences like this one, that blend the worst of it in with everyday life. As opposed to, say, “guaranteed tears” anime that blithely swing around a hammer full of tragedy and expect to take me by surprise, this show can cut the unsuspecting me down in a few swift bladestrokes before I even realized it was really armed.