On August 31, 2011 the U.S. shuttle program was officially ended. Due to high-profile shuttle disasters, increased results from unmanned space research, and the overall humongous expense the US decided that the money invested in the shuttle program is not worth the dividends. Now with one of the main pieces of the Space Race being the Cold War is long over the zealotry behind sending people in space is long gone. There are no dirty Commies to beat to the moon. The America that dreamed of sending a man into space, creating lunar and martian colonies, and extending its reach beyond the solar system is no more. Growing concern over domestic issues and a perceived notion that space travel is frivolous and dangerous has transformed modern space travel from a high concept to a farcical joke. Look at the reaction to Newt Gingrich’s proposal for a lunar colony. He might have well suggested throwing money into time travel research and cloning dinosaurs for a gigantic amusement park. In America, the dream of space travel is dead or at least in a fairly permanent coma for the time being.
At the same time Japan still seems oddly optimistic about manned space travel. I remember being slightly shocked that Sumire Kanou from Toradora! legitimately was studying to be an astronaut. I also remember Orihime Inoue off handily mentioning she wished to grow up to be an astronaut. While it is foolish to assume the aspirations of fictional characters are a one to one correspondence to the desires of a nation the fact that Japan still writes popular stories in which people dream of exploring space in their fiction is remarkable.
You have the anime and manga for Planetes and Moonlight Mile both of which involved characters who wanted to explore deep space. Even the recent Kamen Rider Fourze has a space travel motif with Yuki Jojima being a hardcore space otaku and the rest of the cast having various levels of interest in space. You don’t get three space travel anime every season but they do appear frequently enough. Two series that we have recently beeen enjoying exemplify this infatuation with the hope for cosmic exploration: Twin Spica and Space Brothers. In their own way both of them revolve around a passion for celestial exploration.
Having just finished the Twin Spica manga and starting to watch the Space Brothers anime in the new season, I’ve become very emotionally attached to the dream of space travel again. These two series show so much hope and promise to the idea of becoming an astronaut and taking that first trip to space.
This was once a big dream in the U.S., too, but in the last decade excitement over current space exploration seems to be drying up. I recall one of my elementary school teachers being way into space and she worked it into lessons as much as she could. We built moon colony dioramas and I wished for space camp. I never did but I maintained a fond attachment to the idea of space travel.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but believe in that impossible yet incredible dream of space. Putting a face to the hope that traveling out past our atmosphere is what makes it resonate so strongly. Maybe in the U.S., we need our own Asumi and Mutta.
Twin Spica has pure and innocent temperament in its dream of space travel. I would go as far as to say it has an almost child like passion. The main characters in Twin Spica all have various reasons they wish to go into space. Asumi, Shu, and Marika probably have the purest desire to become astronauts solely for the earnest desire to explore the galaxy. All the students have a major handicap that stands in their way but all of them do their best to overcome that hurdle and make their dream come true. Asumi and Shu even more than the others have a naked passion for space that they cannot hide. It peppers all their conversations and influences many of their decisions. But the whole cast must make sacrifices and hard choices to peruse their goals. While it is never easy they move forward with no regrets. That is how intoxicating the dream of being an astronaut is.
That is not to say that Twin Spica is totally lacking in adult themes or considerations. Several chapters deal with the fact that the revived Japanese space program is being besieged by protestors from the outside and political squabbles from the inside. Many people see the project as a waste of time and money for a potentially dangerous project. They would see the money spent on the program put toward terrestrial projects. At the same time Takahito Sano tries to kick Asumi out of the program merely to punish her for the perceived sin of her father. While the cast’s dreams may have a child like intensity the obstacles they face as very nuanced and adult.
The clear-sighted dedication of Asumi in Twin Spica sweeps you away instantly. Despite her tragedies, wanting something so badly, knowing it for so long is in many ways enviable. Some people never find that passion in life. She isn’t bold in her desires for space, it just inhabits her very being.
Twin Spica presents the final frontier but it feels within in grasp because of characters like Asumi. Even in the face of the real world conversations that space exploration is a waste of money, Twin Spica shows that it isn’t always about the practical but about building the human spirit.
I always felt that Asumi’s small stature exemplified how small a part of the universe we all are. I can only imagine how humbling an experience it must be to be up there looking down on earth.
If the passions for space in Twin Spica have a child like innocence than the desire for stars in Space Brothers is an adult’s dreams. Mutta starts off with an equally intense and pure dream like Asumi but life gets in the way. He soon finds himself making many of the compromises we all make over the years. His dream of being and astronaut soon gives way to the more obtainable goal of a working as an engineer in the auto industry. All but a few lucky adults know the pain of having to let go our your passions and settle for a more sustainable lifestyle.
But Space Brothers is not about the banal death of the soul. It is about reaching for the promise of the final frontier. While Mutta’s ambitions might have been buried for a time when all seems lost he finds his way back onto his true path. We see him rekindle the Asumi-like passion he had as a child and focus it again in an adult fashion. The lure of the stars proves to be unshakable even if the path toward the heavens is not a straight line.
But Space Brothers is not all broken dreams and a path of thorns. We see Hibito go on a more unclouded path towards space exploration as he steamrollers over anything that would get in his way. Serika Itou also seems to have a fairly uncomplicated path with all the enthusiasms of any character from Twin Spica. Space Brothers is a series that shows us that for some people that path to the stars is a destiny, and for others it is a twisting journey, but it can be a irresistible call for all of them.
Space Brothers presents us with a different side to a goal: the forgotten, given up dream. It strays away from sentimentality, maybe that is why it resonates so acutely. Mutta is so familiar. In a way, it feels like where we are in the real world in relation to space; we’ve forgotten why we wanted to go in the first place.
While I never doubted that Asumi would fulfill her dream, I don’t know what path Mutta will take. I certainly want him to recapture his youthful passion, but I don’t know if he will fully succeed. Yet, I feel as though the pursuit of space itself will still prove to be amazing. Believing in being able to get there is inspiring for Mutta and for me.
Space represents hope, achievement, youth, and the bond between brothers in Space Brothers. It is much greater than a physicality, space itself isn’t so faceless.
While the government might be shelving manned space flight projects but that does not mean they are completely off the table. Private companies are increasingly looking at the potential of space flight. The well publicized X Prize proved that commercially backed space programs were a distinct possibility and the recent interest in asteroid mining has opened a world of possibilities. The dream of space may be different then we thought it would be 20 years ago but it does not mean it is forgotten. As long as shows like Twin Spica and Space Brothers keep the dream alive space will be waiting for us.
Pursing a dream is an immense undertaking, it is brave. Asumi and Mutta are underdogs and their dreams become your dreams. Big, space-sized dreams.