What They Say:
In the unforgiving vacuum of space, the difference between life and death can boil down to a single bad decision or a millisecond of delay. And when the nearest help is as far away as another planet, the only one you can trust to save you is yourself. This lesson is driven home in the most brutal fashion possible as a series of accidents strand Mutta’s brother Hibito and another astronaut on the lunar surface. As Hibito fights to keep his injured companion alive, Mutta must join a team of scientists and fellow astronauts as they struggle to find a way to locate and save their friends before their critical oxygen reserves run out. And if that wasn’t enough of a test, Mutta’s entry into JAXA training becomes its own ordeal when he and his fellow trainees are dropped into the survival test course on an accelerated schedule. Foraging for food and facing wild animals on one planet, and fighting for one’s last breath on its satellite, two brothers worlds apart find common ground in the fight to stay alive in SPACE BROTHERS Collection 4!
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. Some scenes in this set had more need for soundtrack and effects than most of the previous episodes, and the sound remained balanced in a way that the infrequent action never suffers from a lack of audio support.
As originally released in 1.78:1, the video is encoded for anamorphic playback. Playback is variable bitrate. Artifacts are at a minimum and do not distract from a normal viewing distance. The colors look very good for a DVD encoding, and because many of the episodes in this set depend on colors to shape the action and characters, the quality directly affects the viewers’ enjoyment.
The standard size keepcase holds three disks with one hinged leaf. Each disk is printed with a moonscape and the repeated words “Space” and “Brothers” shadowed over in shades of blue. The cover maintains the collector theme. Now, when sets 1 through 4 sit together, the spines are displaying an image of Hibito standing in an orange space suit, holding the helmet in his right arm with the earth in the lower left background and half the moon in the upper right background. The front cover displays Hibito and Mutta standing with helmets held over their heads, Hibito in a spacesuit and Mutta in a pinstripe suit with a tie. Apo, Hibito’s pug, sits in a space suit on Mutta’s shoulders. The background is split into thirds with earth, sky, and clouds in the lower section, darkness in the middle, and the lunar surface in the upper third. The rear cover has small images framing the top and bottom of collection summary, and two rocket shapes of the lunar surface frame the sides. 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.
The menu screen for all three discs are the same. In the top left corner, there is a small view of the moon, with space and light effects in the mid ground. The foreground is a large section of the earth on the right side of the screen. The chapters are listed in a vertical column. The special features are on the first disc menu. The selector is a rocket shape that goes through the chapter title.
The only extras are a clean opening and ending.
This set follows Hibito as he faces death on the moon and Mutta as he faces his own trials in desert survival training. The opening for episodes 39-51 plays off the Lumeires’ A Trip to the Moon silent film. Casts appear in costume, and even Apo gets to appear in surreal montage wearing an afro wig and being the face of the moon. The opening contrasts greatly with the suspense and seriousness of the stories in this set.
There are two main story arcs. First, Hibito and Damian, another astronaut, go out in a moon buggy to find a missing rover. Their vehicle dives off a ravine, and Damian’s suit is compromised. As Hibito tries to save him, he discovers the rover has also found its way down. In an effort to rescue Damian, he tries to get him to the rover in order to carry him out of the ravine. In the process, Hibito falls, puncturing his main air supply. He is left with too little oxygen to survive while waiting for a rescue party.
These episodes focus on Hibito as he confronts death and decides how to face both his situation and the probability of dying alone. He remembers the fallen astronaut Brian who mentored him during training, and we continually move from Hibito’s memory to his rescue effort. During these episodes, the environment takes on a supporting role: the cold darkness of the ravine, the silence of no atmosphere, and the loneliness of a landscape devoid of life. Hibito remarks at the beauty of the stars as he looks up from the ravine at the jewels, and he contemplates the sublime as he prepares to die.
Back on earth, JAXA calls in Mutta and informs him of Hibito’s situation, but Mutta refuses to believe Hibito will die and his internal monologue states since he is not worried, he will not pray. Mutta predicts Hibito will choose the path he does to get out of the ravine, but since NASA regulations tell astronauts to stay where they get into trouble, NASA sends the rescue party to the scene of the accident instead of where Hibito carried his partner. Only another JAXA astronaut advising NASA, Azuma, seems to have concerns with the all or nothing plan. I will not spoil whether Hibito lives or dies because the suspense and dread make this arc worth watching.
Mutta and the trainee Japanese astronauts go to the U.S. to continue their journey to get to space. Led by a seemingly reckless military man, Mutta and his companions find themselves on a survival hike through the Texas desert. Groups are split into nationalities and they are ranked by daily performance since their military leader sees this as a way to reenact the nationalist space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Because the last place team has to be punished every day by having a member stand at attention for an hour, the Japanese contingent struggles to progress.
The set ends with a side story about Nitta’s younger brother, a hikikomori. Nitta and Hibito bond over their inferiority issues when Nitta opens up about his role in his brother’s condition. The set ends with both optimistic feelings of goodwill and community, but a fortuneteller’s hesitation foreshadows that Mutta will face something harsh…or he is just neurotic.
Few series can sustain both high-quality story and artwork for more than 12 episodes, but Space Brothers has improved in both. While early episodes focused on character interactions and almost touristy elements of the U.S. space program, these episodes have lifted to a cinematic level. The artwork, the colors, and the settings drive the characters internal monologues and the emotions of viewers. Environments dictate suspense and danger for the viewer, but these visuals also represent the epic scope of the natural universe. Death seems real, and the outcome never seems certain until the moment of revelation.
Japanese 2.0 language with forced English subtitles, Clean Opening and Ending.
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 4th, 2015
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Samsung 40” LCD 1080P HDTV, Sony BDP-S3500 Blu-ray player connected via HDMI, Onkyo TX-SR444 Receiver with NHT SuperOne front channels and NHT SuperZero 2.1 rear channel speakers.