Have two brothers ever been born at such fateful times as Mutta and Hibito Nanba? While the former's birth coincided with a Japanese sporting disaster as they failed to qualify for a World Cup at the last possible second, the latter's occurred on the same day as a legendary baseball triumph - events which seem to mirror the fortunes of the brothers themselves.
Some years later, we rejoin these two brothers as another pivotal moment of their life matches up with a memorable sporting event - as Zinedine Zidane is having a close encounter of the first kind in the World Cup Final, Mutta and Hibito, our two siblings are having a close encounter of the third kind, with a fun expedition to explore their local area leading them to see what seems to be a UFO. Needless to say, this is a huge moment of inspiration for both of them, leading to them both promising to become astronauts to pursue the dream of reaching the Moon and beyond.
Fast forward to 2025, and that dream has come true... for one of the brothers at least. With Hibito all set to join a team of NASA astronauts on a trip to the moon, it seems that the younger brother has outstripped his elder sibling, who is having a rather more difficult time having lost his job as a car designer following a "Zidane moment" of his own. Of course, finding a new job after that incident is nigh-on impossible, but perhaps for once good fortune is smiling upon Mutta as his childhood promise comes back to haunt him, bringing him one step closer to becoming an astronaut himself in the process.
With a live-action movie in production alongside this animated adaptation, Space Brothers is big news in Japan for 2012 and, judging by this opening episode, it's easy to see why. There's an easy sense accomplished story-telling here, mixing up just enough drama and comedy within its family-friendly, feel-good plot to engage and entertain in equal measure. Ignoring the huge leap that comes from believing that an unemployed car designer would be accepted as an application to become an astronaut, this was a fun opener that brought us plenty of engaging characters and some laugh out loud moments set against a subtle but ever-present emotional and moral backdrop. The real trick for this series will be keeping that kind of level of engagement up across a full TV anime series (which is where a one-off movie seems better suited to the subject matter perhaps), but this is a promising start with the kind of story and delivery that could easily draw in those who wouldn't typically watch anime given its premise. I'm looking forward to seeing what the series can do with its concept - I just hope it has the legs to go the distant while it's reaching for the stars.