Shout out to K at the Movies for creating this image of Planet Crow-rrakis (think Dune's Arrakis with more Crows). Gotta love the murder of crows in the background! I'm going to try to find more uses for this...
I’ve loved science fiction for years. Science fact, too. When I find a science fiction show that takes science seriously, I’m in a personally happy place. But lately, I’ve felt like I’m missing something. Something elemental; something basic.
If there’s a drawback to science fiction being so popular, it’s that the shows tend to one up what came before. That’s not a bad thing. I like the USS Enterprise-E as much as anyone! But the more technologically advanced the ship, the more insulated you are from space. Ships like the Yamato from Space Battleship Yamato or an Imperial Star Destroyer are more like cities in space. You could be in an apartment building in Manhattan or Tokyo; you're so insulated that it's hard to tell! Even if there’s a sense of flying, you might as well be in a terrestrial train or a commercial jetliner. There’s just no sense of peril from the environment.
Contrast that to something like an Apollo capsule. One misjudged main engine burn can really ruin your day.
Space is so dangerous that something routine like stirring the oxygen tanks can put your life in peril. That sense is missing from many modern science fiction anime series! Image from the NASA website.
Of course, with that kind of danger comes the possibility of drama, of courage, or of other cool developments. There’s a certain level of tension if every move -- every firing of the engine and every Extravehicular Activity (EVA) -- can easily lead to disaster.
I’m not saying drama is impossible on the bridge of the Enterprise. I'm saying that what I’ve been missing is that sense of danger and adventure from simply going into space.
This is an anime site, so it’s only logical that I turn to anime for an answer. And guess what? Anime delivered! There’s one older and one brand new series that captures the “space is dangerous” in a way that reminds me of some of the best of the old days of science fiction.
In many ways, Bodacious Space Pirates comes close to falling into the same category as Space Battleship Yamato. After all, the Bentenmaru is a pirate ship - a war ship - and it would take a lot more than a single navigational error to cause her any trouble. Fortunately for my nostalgia, despite that high tech, there was an episode that I thought rekindled respect for the void. It was episode 3, The Odette II Leaves Port!.
Part way through the episode, the Hakuoh Academy Yacht Club decides to go on a field trip on the solar sailing ship the Odette II. I love geeky launch sequences, and this one was perfect: the captain (club president Jenny Dolittle) ran the operation. She ordered the ship to depart the Sea of the Morningstar Relay Station, dock C68. The show’s main character, Marika Katou, seemed to act as the helmsman. As they left the station’s sphere of influence, Marika announced that they were switching their coordinate system from the station to their star, Tau Ceti.
How much do I like geeky launch sequences? Enough to feature a picture of one of them instead of Marika or, even better, Chiaki. That's a lot! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
When they were in free space, their teacher congratulated them, and they all acted like high schoolers (which they were) who just passed a test. All except Chiaki Kurihara (who is, by the way, my favorite character in the series), who, unbeknownst to most of her classmates, was already an experienced pirate and member of a ship’s crew. She was too professional (and prim and proper) to show any emotions.
The sequence was cool and refreshingly primitive. I had a sense that at any moment, failing to perform a step could have consequences. Maybe not fatal, but consequences. But the best part was yet to come!
I mentioned that the Odette II was a solar sailing ship. She had maneuvering jets to leave port, but she deployed solar sails to cruise. This was a big deal; the ship had automation, but the crew played a huge role. They began to deploy the solar sails (14:00), and they had to check radar and look for transponder signals to make sure there were no other ships around.
Yes, I geeked out at that part. It’s simple, but it’s so cool!
Jenny then ordered the crew to deploy the mizzen-mast, the main-mast, and the fore-mast. It looked like multiple crew members were involved in each. Also cool!
Then disaster struck!
While deploying their solar sails, mast components became entangled. The fix? Not just pressing buttons from the safety of the ship! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Well, it’d be more accurate to say that they ran into trouble deploying one of the masts. One piece deployed before the others and got tangled, so the assembly was frozen. The ship was futuristic, but it wasn’t technological magic. They ran through various scenarios and decided that the best thing to do would be to go on an EVA to fix the problem.
This is what I’m talking about! An Imperial Star Destroyer would have dispatched droids to fix the problem; it wouldn’t’ve warranted screen time! But on the Odette II, this was a big deal. The suit’s safety checks were automatic, but they couldn’t take them for granted. The team going outside helped each other double check their suits, because once outside, a failing suit would be fatal.
And I hate to say it, but that’s also cool.
They even had to watch out for seemingly minor things like their bangs. If their hair got in their eyes while they were on EVA, there was nothing they could do about it.
Before leaving the ship, the teacher verified with Jenny on the bridge that all seven of the EVA members were transmitting biometric data. Again, it’s a seemingly minor thing, but it underscores that leaving the ship for the void is not a routine operation. It’s dangerous, and they have to be careful. Even simply evacuating the air from the airlock was a big deal.
I’ve missed this kind of thing!
Putting on a space suit to go on an EVA should be a big deal. In this show, it was! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.
Relentless danger is only part of the equation. If there’s too much of it, it becomes overwhelming. So as the teacher, Marika, Chiaki, and four others emerged from the ship, they beheld the Milky Way in all of its unfiltered glory.
That’s the payoff. That’s why I like the thrill of danger in early space exploration. It’s because by surviving that danger with careful planning and teamwork, we get to experience sometime dangerous. And if we're very, very lucky, we earn the right to see something astonishing.
The example in Astra Lost in Space episode 1, Planet Camp, is a lot shorter, but it more intimately captured the terror of a seemingly minor equipment malfunction -- and the consequences of what on land would be a routine decision.
Remember how the orb of energy engulfed Luca Esposito (20:43)? Within moments, it had inhaled the entire party. The next thing we knew, our point of view character, Kanata Hoshijima was tumbling in space. The stars wheeled around him. He saw the closest star as a huge brilliant disk as he spun; he could also see a planet. His breathing was loud even in his own ears. In that instant, I had a sense that he was utterly isolated, utterly alone. It’s a very, very big universe, and we are very small.
That’s classic science fiction! At this point in the episode, I had already decided I was going to review the series.
Kanata's quick thinking left him with a sealed helmet. He made his own luck and reaped the benefit: he stayed alive. Capture from the Hulu stream.
Kanata was lucky. Yes, lucky! His communications were still working, and his suit jets were, too. He was able to talk to most of the rest of the party, and they were able to get to a ship that was miraculously close by. Well, almost all of them were able to make it to the ship.
Then the moment came that I talked about in my Best in Show review of episode 1. The party realized that Aries Spring was missing. Ulgar Zweig caught sight of her, and she, like Kanata had been, was tumbling out of control.
Except: Her maneuvering jets weren’t working, and her communications were down.
The shots of Aries tumbling in space captured the blind panic and utter loneliness of space. She tumbled, one moment seeing the planet, the next a bright star, the next a disorienting star field. She could do nothing to save herself. There was only a thin layer of material between her and the void. Only a rapidly depleting air supply between her and suffocation. From her point of view, her only option was to die alone.
Her dependency on her suit and its technology was absolute.
Before this moment, I had thought Aries was an airhead. But now? She kept her wits about her despite what would have been a crippling fear in someone else -- probably me! Capture from the Hulu stream.
I could go on about how Kanata made it to her only to deplete his own suit’s fuel. About how he almost missed the ship on his return trip, and how the team worked together to draw him in. But for me, that moment of Aries realizing there was nothing she could do, hovering on the edge of blind panic, was everything I had missed in so much modern science fiction.
What I’ve been looking for is a scene or a moment that shows us the incredible importance of personal courage. Like Aries’ dependency on her suit’s technology for her very life, our lives are dependent on how we face and overcome our fears.
There are few more pure examples of facing and overcoming fear than Kanata jetting out to save Aries; even better, of Aries mastering her fear so she would not panic, hyperventilate, and die in the void.
Aries and Marika were able to give me examples of the value of human courage, even against the scale of interstellar space. Their exploits are all the more courageous given that their technology was much closer to the Apollo 11 Command Module than the Enterprise E. I went looking for a sense of danger only to discover that what I was really looking for was the human response of courage to that danger. All it took was these two anime series to remind me of that.
Other Posts in the Tour
Please note that I borrowed this shamelessly from The Otaku Author's Space is the Place post! But any mistakes are mine...
- Expelled From Paradise (Review) by K from K At The Movies
- Cowboy Bebop finding Your Way Home by Yum Deku from MyAnime2G0
- Starship Operators Anime Review by Sirius from When Sirius Writes
- Space is the Place: Exploring the Symbolism of the Moons in Bahamut by Crimson from My Fujoshi Life
- Planetes & the Human Condition [Space is the Place Blog Tour] by Neha from BiblioNyan
- Space is the Place: Space, Tradition and Starlight Promises by Aria from The Animanga Spellbook
- Space is the Place Blog Tour – Wherever you Go, There You Are with Gurren Lagann by Irina from I Drink and Watch Anime
- Space is the Place: Studio Trigger and the Wonders of Outer Space!! by AJ from The Anointed Geek
- (Space is the Place Tour) The Irresponsible Captain Tylor: Getting To Know Insanity and Passion by Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews
- Shelter (Space is the Place Blog Tour) by Lynn from The Otaku Author
- Politics in Space by Karandi from 100 Word Anime
- 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Anime Influence by Zainou from Postcard Memories
- LET’S TALK ABOUT THE ANIME KING GHIDORAH – SPACE IS THE PLACE TOUR by Joe from Average Joe Reviews
- Kanata No Astra Is Similar to the Anime Blogging Community – Space is The Place by Arthifis from Anime Shelter