Anime

Space is the Place: Space and the Sense of Dangerous Adventure

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...

Special thanks to Scott from Mechanical Anime Reviews for organizing the Space is the Place anime blog tour! Organizing such a thing is no small task, and he's done a bang-up job with it! 

I hope you were able to catch Karandi's post yesterday on 100 Word Anime. Be sure to check out Zainou's post tomorrow on Postcard Memory!

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. 

The two series are Bodacious Space Pirates and Astra Lost in Space

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...

20 thoughts on “Space is the Place: Space and the Sense of Dangerous Adventure

  1. Excellent article about the space theme! It’s an interesting angle to look at the dangers of space and therefore the courage required to explore it.

    1. “an interesting angle to look at the dangers of space and therefore the courage required to explore it.”

      I really like that perspective!

  2. What a nice post. I remember being very pleasantly surprised by the Mouretsu Pirates. The first time I heard of the project it was still titled “Miniskirt Pirates”, and you can imagine what sort of show I was expecting. But watching episode 1, with the casually different setting (doors like hatches plaentside, for example), it became pretty clear that I was in for one of the better SF adventures in anime. This is not something I was expecting at all. And that was a really nice episode, too.

    And I’m really enjoying Astra Lost in Space, too.

    As I was reading your post I found myself singing the theme from John Carpenter’s Darkstar: “Benson, Arizona, the same starts in the sky/But they seemed so much kinder, when we watched them you and I.” And Farscape was basically Star Trek written with Murphy’s Law in mind.

    Finally, I was reminded that I haven’t actually seen that many space shows in SF. I really need to get around to watching Planetes, especially since the mangaka’s also responsible for this season’s Vinland Saga, which I’m enjoying a lot. I’ve always loved the concept of a show about people who remove debris (garbage) in space, for pretty much the reasons that, I think, led to your post.

    1. “The first time I heard of the project it was still titled “Miniskirt Pirates”, and you can imagine what sort of show I was expecting. ”

      I first heard it called Bodacious Space Pirates, so I had the same expectation you did! It won me over pretty much the same way.

      “As I was reading your post I found myself singing the theme from John Carpenter’s Darkstar…”

      This is the first I’ve heard of Darkstar since I read the book in high school (late 1970s!)! I might have seen the movie on VHS in the early 1980s. Wow.

      “And Farscape was basically Star Trek written with Murphy’s Law in mind.”

      I miss Farscape! I’m glad they got to make The Peacekeeper Wars. It tied most of the loose ends up in a satisfying way. Mostly.

      “I really need to get around to watching Planetes, ”

      You probably saw the comment, but Ospreyshire suggested that series, too. It’s on my back log!

  3. I am loving how Astra Lost in Space is doing an excellent job of tense moments and showing the danger of their journey but still manages to be a generally up-beat show. It is really great at balancing its tone and hopefully it continues to go strong.

    1. “It is really great at balancing its tone and hopefully it continues to go strong.”

      I hope so, too! About this time in a new season (1/4 to 1/3 of the way through), I start getting nervous about the shows I’m watching. Will they stumble? Will they exceed my hopes?

      I really need to chill out.

      1. But it is good that this season there are so many shows to have expectations of. Last season I was much more relaxed but that’s because I didn’t really have much in the way of expectations for anything to either get appreciably better or worse.

  4. Great read, I do like it how a simple thing as a routine check, or checking a radar can add a feeling of gravitas and reality.
    Simple things like these can shift our feelings so easily. I would never see a Star Destroyer or let’s say the Enterprise like a fragile thing. However showing procedure in space just reminds you that on a spaceship death is but a small material failure away.
    A scary thought.

    1. “However showing procedure in space just reminds you that on a spaceship death is but a small material failure away.”

      Just like stirring the oxygen tanks on Apollo 13 — which was supposed to be a completely routine mission! It turned into anything but because a single oxygen tank failed.

      Speaking of which, if you’d like to read the tale of just what happened with that oxygen tank, Ars Technica had a great writeup:

      https://arstechnica.com/science/2015/04/apollo-13-the-mistakes-the-explosion-and-six-hours-of-live-saving-decisions/

      And that was a series of missteps with a single component. I have no idea how more rockets don’t just detonate on the pad!

  5. I love being able to return to this post ?. That sense of realism in Astra does make it feel so exciting especially that trip through a planet’s atmosphere over shummoor.

    The Gundam series has had plenty of battles that were just at the point where a ship starts traveling down the Earth’s atmosphere because it’s a very pivotal point. It reminds the audience, “theses may be robots, but their pilots can die in the atmosphere like everyone else.

    1. “I love being able to return to this post ”

      I can tell you it was a relief to get your feedback on the pre-release version. It’s very different from what I usually write here, after all!

      “It reminds the audience, “theses may be robots, but their pilots can die in the atmosphere like everyone else.”

      That really kicks the tension up, doesn’t it? I love that kind of thing.

    1. “That was an excellent write up. ”

      Thank you!

      “I do like when sci-fi gives some realism to the outer space settings.”

      The higher the realism, the most I enjoy it. It just makes the who experience more immersive.

  6. This was such a fun post (and another reason to get sad that I don’t have access to both shows here in Holland ?). I love science fiction a lot myself as well. And there have been movies about disasters/dangers in space. It’s one of my favorite things in science fiction. (Which almost makes me sound superweird…??) But well, there is simply nothing better than a near disaster in progress in space, and someone swooping in to save the day. This entire series of posts, has been such an amazing and fun ride! Sad to see it’s almost over.

    1. “sad that I don’t have access to both shows here in Holland”

      Dang! Sorry to hear that.

      “It’s one of my favorite things in science fiction. (Which almost makes me sound superweird…)”

      Nah! Makes it sound like you have discerning taste in drama!

      “This entire series of posts, has been such an amazing and fun ride! Sad to see it’s almost over.”

      It’s been great seeing the posts in this series, hasn’t it? Each one’s a little gem!

Please let me know what you think!

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