So I’ve been reading Adachi Mitsuru’s Touch in the past couple of weeks. My opinions on it are more or less public record. The original reason I got started on it was to do a serious rundown of all the baseball series I knew of (since talking about baseball manga without mentioning Touch would be like talking about great basketball players and not mentioning Bill Russell). However, an interesting theme constantly showed up in that manga that I’ve seen in another series, Space Brothers.* Namely, both series focus on a relationship between two talented brothers who take their talents in different directions. And both do a fascinating job of exploring what caused those brothers to walk their separate paths.
In Touch, the twin brothers Tatsuya and Katsuya are physically very similar; Tatsuya convincingly impersonates Katsuya in the first chapter with nothing more than a comb and some mediocre acting. However, they’re normally very easy to tell apart due to their different mannerisms. Katsuya is an alpha dog who succeeds both academically and athletically, whereas Tatsuya is a slacker who gets bored easily and clowns around day in and day out. The manga portrays Tatsuya as the more sympathetic of the two, because while he doesn’t really mind getting constantly compared to his older brother by everyone in school, there is one person whose opinion he values: his childhood friend Minami, who’s currently a manager of the baseball team. Minami dreams of being a manager at Koushien (the Japanese national high school baseball tournament), something Katsuya is working hard to achieve for her. While Minami is together with Katsuya a lot baseball practice and their study time, she spends just as much time during the day trying to convince Tatsuya to do something with the amazing flashes of talent he displays.** Eventually, this encouragement pays off, and Tatsuya joins the boxing team and defeats a youth lightweight champion in an interscholastic match.
Touch initially pops out for the initial premise, artsyle, and storyboarding (justifiable since all three are spectacular). However, one of the aspects that really sold me on the manga was it’s exploration of why, at the beginning, Katsuya was an Ace and Tatsuya was a 3 of clubs. It’s initially a somewhat confusing riddle, as it turns out that Tatsuya was more talented than Katsuya when they were kids; he could run faster, he was the first to learn how to swim, and he could throw an accurate pitch without even trying. Katsuya, meanwhile, had to work at all those things. And it’s not like he was putting in just enough work to catch up, no:
Katsuya learned to put his heart and soul into his practices, and developed general diligence as a result. That constant practice is why he’s the ace of both the baseball team and the school’s test rankings. Meanwhile, Tatsuya never capitalized on his successes, and he thus begins the story as “the other Uesugi”.
In Chuuya Koyama’s Space Brothers, the titular siblings Mutta and Hibito share very little. The older Mutta has an afro, wears his heart on his sleeve, and is quick to get caught up his own imperfections. Younger Hibito has spiky hair, typically hides his real emotions well, and ignores his flaws to push forward in life. The two share only two major traits in common; they’re both immensely intelligent, and they share a desire to go to space. This is where things get interesting, because when the story starts, Hibito is an astronaut about to set foot on the moon, and Mutta is unemployed after getting angry and headbutting his boss. Hibito, though on a separate continent when the story begins, quickly steps into the role of Minami and pushes his brother forward to become an astronaut, submitting Mutta’s resume to JAXA without telling him.
Unlike Tatsuya, who’s mostly fine being a useless clown, Mutta is constantly lamenting his own failure to achieve his dreams. To some extent, he ignores his own talents and finds ways to say his failure is guaranteed. After passing the first round of examinations and doubting his chances in the second, he blames being born during the Agony of Doha (a famous day of sporting defeat for Japan) one too many times, causing the normally composed Hibito to snap back:
This scene does a pretty good job of enunciating the big difference between the brothers, the one that drives the series. Mutta is one to doubt himself even when he should be able to trust his own abilites, while Hibito is persistently aggressive, one to believe in himself even at times he should doubt his own abilities. This fundamental dynamic isn’t just a one-off talking point, but a fundamental theme that constantly plays into the show. It explains why Mutta didn’t become an astronaut, why Hibito passes up more senior Japanese astronauts in priority for the lunar mission, why Mutta is unable to accept lucky breaks that come his way without considerable prodding, and why Hibito makes a number of non-standard procedure decisions while on one particular lunar mission. As expected from a series about a pair of brothers, this dynamic is constantly milked to great effect, and results in a very profound character narrative.
I love both Space Brothers and Touch, and their respective sibling narratives are a special kind of sublime. I would expect shojosei series that feature a relationship between talented-but-different sisters would be equally engrossing.*** The bond between siblings is a powerful theme and one that lends itself naturally to watching characters grow, which is in the first place one of the bigger strengths of serial manga.
*It’s very likely Space Brothers was at least in part inspired by Touch, given the classic status of the latter.
**Highlights include hitting a home run off of one of Katsuya’s fastballs (to earn money and pay for someones’ binoculars he broke) and doing a 10 kilometer morning run without training (to pretend to be Katsuya and get with the groupies following him).
***If anyone knows one like this, please drop me a line. I’ve been looking for one for some time.