What They Say:
As the competition to become an astronaut continues to heat up, the candidates are subjected to a grueling series of tests designed to test their physical and mental qualifications to the utmost. Trapped inside a sealed environment with his closest rivals, Mutta’s challenge is to force himself to think as a team player even as he jockeys for one of the two open seats to the stars. When things start to go wrong with the test mission, however, the tension really begins to build.
It’ll take the combined resources of the whole team to solve the life and death problems being thrown at them… but what are they supposed to do when it becomes apparent that one of the team members is intentionally sabotaging their assignments? Will any of Mutta’s team survive the ordeal and move up to the next phase of training? Or will they all wash out before they ever hit the launch pad?
The Japanese 2.0 audio is encoded at 48 kHz at 224 Kbps. The show mostly focuses on dialog and characters‘ nonverbal sounds, and the soundtrack does a very good job of keeping the voices at the forefront. Several scenes have sound effects integral to the action, and the stereo soundtrack delivers these with clarity and distinction. Mood music sits comfortably in the background and works to support the on-screen action. There were no noticeable dropouts or compression-induced distortions.
Originally released in 1.78:1, the DVDs are encoded for anamorphic playback. The discs feature variable bitrate encoding, and playback mostly varied between 5 and 7 mbps with peaks around 8. The colors and movement resemble the higher definition episodes I streamed. When viewed on a 24 inch, 1080p IPS monitor connected via HDMI to a Sony S3500 Blu-ray player, the effects of compression and upscaling were noticeable. This became most apparent in the credits where Japanese writing shows the effects of anti-aliasing. Some digital noise appears in places like the white of characters‘ eyes, distortion effects, and pixilation as the lunar landscape scrolls in the opening. I watched several episodes on a 40 inch Samsung LCD TV with a PS3 connected via HDMI, and the effects were still present, but not distracting from a normal seating position. Only one three-second section stuck out as an encoding problem, and that is where the outline of a jaw showed noticeable aliasing. As a DVD viewer, these are expected qualities of the medium, and the set offers a relatively good picture without any consistent, distracting flaws. The transfer and encoding can’t match HD quality, but for those upscaling the video for their sets, your equipment will probably determine the final video quality.
The packaging design shows concern for the collector. The standard size keepcase holds three disks with one hinged leaf. The side cover of each Space Brothers set adds to a larger picture that will be revealed when all edges of the set stand together. The spine of this volume includes part of Hibito’s head, an orange space suit, and helmet. The front cover shows Mutta and Hibito holding his dog Apo. They stand on a blue sky in blue JAXA coveralls with a background of black space and a large lunar surface over them. The back cover is bookended by rocket shapes that carry over the lunar surface motif. Small rectangles of scenes from the show surround the white text on black background. In the bottom third, the special features are clearly listed and credits fill in the space above the technical grid. Below the grid, the copyright information appears in small white on black print. Despite being text heavy and somewhat busy, the design frames the summary text and makes the technical grid stand out clearly.
Each disc has a similar menu. It is a space scene, a distant moon is in the upper right corner, and part of the Earth is in the right half of the screen. Each disc has a different character scene in the space field. The show’s theme plays in the background. Each chapter selection is listed in a vertical column of bars. Each episode can be selected by moving over and highlighting the number. In addition to episodes, disc 1 has a special features selection where viewers can go to the clean opening and endings as well as previews of other Sentai titles. The selector highlight is in the shape of a rocket. Disc 1 covers episodes 14-17 and the special features. It shows Mutta on a hammock in the space field to the left of the menu. Disc 2 includes episodes 18-21. It shows Mutta’s team as they exit the isolation test and their expressions of wonder create an expectation of something positive happening in these episodes. Disc 3 has episodes 22-26. To the left of the menu, Mutta is shown chest-up wearing a suit and tie. His eyes closed in concentration foreshadows the final episodes.
The only extras are clean a clean opening and ending, and trailers for other Sentai Filmworks shows.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
If the young anime fan in me loved the soap opera drama of Macross, the mature fan appreciates the thoughtful exploration of one unemployed, 30-something following his dream to space.
Space Brothers‘ central character is Mutta, an award-winning automotive engineer, who at 32 loses his job and must find a new career. His brother, Hibito,a JAXA astronaut works with NASA in preparation for a lunar mission. Hibito reminds Mutta of their shared dream to go into space. Inspired, Mutta enters astronaut training, and season 2 of the series focuses on teams of five applicants who have been sealed in living quarters where cameras watch how they handle stress while being forced to live in close contact with others.
This set focuses on Mutta’s team as they spend several days together. At the beginning, the team has been told they must choose two applicants to go on to the next stage of training. So, while their ability to work as a team is judged, they enter a competition amongst themselves to be the chosen two. Mutta’s group includes Naoto,a 54 year old former employee of JAXA, who has spent much of his life attempting to become an astronaut. Serika wants to work on the aging International Space Station to do research on the disease that killed her father. Yasushi studies primates and resembles them in both his physical mannerisms and his physical stature. Rounding out the group is Reiji Nitta, a stoic athletic type. We also have some time spent on team B. This team includes Kenji, a friend Mutta made when first applying to the program, and Kenji will face his own tests as a younger man acts as a rival and saboteur to his group’s chances.
These episodes focus on fears, tragedies, and self-imposed expectations of what being an astronaut entails. The setting is a series of linked rooms where a team lives in close proximity of the others. Windows show space, and everyone has no link to the outside earth beyond video communication with mission control. Within these rooms, the characters face stress and their memories as they compete to prove their potential as astronauts.
We meet older Naoto’s younger self through a memory where he tells his daughter he would not be home for several tomorrows, and then this sacrifice becomes more important when his wife tells him via the phone that his daughter now called another man her father. Now a much older man, Naoto seems driven to make the sacrifice worthwhile, but this becomes harder when Yasushi accidentally steps on Naoto’s glasses. Yasushi refuses to take full responsibility for placing Naoto at a disadvantage. We watch Naoto struggle with the physical and mental challenges of the test while his internal monologue reminds us that he feels he must act younger than he is or he will lose out to the younger applicants. It is not until Yasushi learns that Naoto quit his job to apply to the program before he takes steps to support his teammate. Serika watches almost from a secondary position. For whatever reason, her internal monologue and memories carry her through the test while she rarely speaks up to communicate with the others. She is there because of her allegiance to her father who died while Serika was still a child. Mutta, on the other hand, often acts in odd ways that appear to be what the JAXA testers are looking for in an applicant. He seems to be the least driven to be an astronaut, but as the days in isolation pass, he remembers his dreams and starts to understand it is with his team, people who care about space, science, and scientists, that he feels an attachment and kinship.
The plot for most of the set is simple. The group learns to live together both as a team who depend on each other and as competitors who want to move on to the next stage of the tests. We see these very different personalities react in this staged trial as JAXA secretly orders individuals to do things that will add to the stress of others. When the only clock is broken, when a noise interrupts their sleep, when a toilet begins overflowing, we watch the individuals deal with their situation in varied but human ways. When the test ends, we learn the importance of the team with Mutta’s group and see the divisions that occurred in Kenji’s as the JAXA observers watch over and judge everyone.
After they leave the isolation modules, we watch Mutta’s team reunite, and we see their progress as individuals. Those who were not chosen have their careers and dreams extended by job opportunities and encouragement to continue working toward their goal. Those who were chosen prepare to go to the Houston for the next level of testing. Mutta returns to the world he left as an unemployed man living with his parents while he waits to find out if JAXA plan to send him for the next level of testing. When he finally goes to Houston, he learns that being Hibito’s brother might make passing the next test impossible.
My review only touches a few of the more important development points for the narrative and for the characters. In reality, the detailed nature of the show and the deep pool of characters can only be experienced by viewing the series. Unlike the streaming episodes, the DVDs don’t include an end segment where child viewers are presented a scene of a real life astronaut. As presented in the Sentai set, the show appeals to adult viewers who are looking at a major life change or who remember the stress and emotion of trying to become someone more than they have been. As we follow the central characters, we see them trying to come to terms with past life choices and with their fear of failure. We watch thoughtfully developed people work toward a goal of becoming astronauts, each for their own selfish purposes. We see Mutta deal with the things a middle-aged, unemployed, single man might experience. Unlike most media I have watched, there is neither the dire expectation of failure or the magical guarantee of success. In Space Brothers, becoming who you want to be is a hopeful and possible experience.
Highly recommended for high schoolers and college students concerned about their futures, twenty somethings afraid of being left in the same cubicle until they die, or for those wise middle age folks who have decided to chuck their careers and start over doing something that has meaning to them.
Japanese 2.0 Language, Forced English Subtitles, Clean Opening, and Clean Closing
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: April 21st, 2015
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
ASUS 24” LED IPS 1080P, Sony BDP-3500 and
Samsung 40” LCD 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p.