Astra Lost in Space – 06 – U for Vendetta

Each mortal threat the young crew of the Astra has faced falls into one of two main categories: threats from without—be they the perils of space or the planets they visit—and threats from within—i.e., the unknown enemy among them who sabotaged their comms and is believed to be on a suicide mission to wipe the rest of them out.

Last week’s cliffhanger of Ulgar pulling a gun on Luca fits in the first category, but not at all the way I expected. Perhaps I was too naive to so quickly conclude Ulgar was the aforementioned enemy, because he isn’t: his quarrel is personal and is with Luca alone—or rather, with the Esposito political family of whom Luca is the eldest son and heir.

During a long monologue with flashbacks to his past that rather kill the momentum and urgency of the standoff, Ulgar tells everyone about his belief that Luca’s father killed his brother, a freelance journalist and the only person in Ulgar’s family who was actually kind to him. Killing Luca is about revenge; about getting Luca’s dad to feel how Ulgar felt when he lost his brother.

There are multiple problems with Ulgar’s position, not least of which the complete lack of evidence that Marco Esposito had anything to do with his brother’s death. But Luca also tells him that killing him won’t change anything, because he’s not the heir; his younger brother is. When Ulgar accuses him of lying to save his skin, Luca disrobes and reveals that he’s intersex.

As the member of a family that values strong male heirs above all, as soon as Luca’s younger brother was born and the truth of his intersexuality was discovered, he became persona non grata, and his brother was named the heir instead. So Luca knows all too well Ulgar’s pain and isolation. Hell, he probably knows it much better than Ulgar. Luca wishes that killing him would make his dad sad. With that, Ulgar drops the gun and the standoff ends.

Naturally, this being Kanata no Astra, it isn’t one minute after one threat is extinguished than another arrives, of the external variety: a massive tsunami that may or may not be an homage to the famous giant wave scene in Interstellar.

Everyone rushes aboard, but Ulgar and Luca are furthest from the ship, and Kanata isn’t able to grab them when the wave arrives. Still, the fact the three of them survived at all indicates the wave was not as huge as it initially looked, even though it appears to swallow up the entire sandbar on which the Astra had landed.

Despite Ulgar having just pointed a gun at him, Luca doesn’t hesitate to extend a helping hand to him, now that he’s confirmed through telling him more about himself that the two are more alike than different and actually friends whether Ulgar knew it or not. But Ulgar lets go rather than let Luca use the last of his strength trying to save them both.

Fortunately, Ulgar’s sacrificial move doesn’t end up costing him his life, as Kanata is lowered down to the water’s surface via bungee cord. With no further earthquakes or tsunamis, Ulgar, Luca, and the rest of the crew are safe and sound.

Ulgar apologizes to Luca and the rest of the crew, and Luca even teases him a bit by acting a little more feminine. Ulgar (rather abruptly) decides that he’s decided to become a journalist like his brother, perhaps a path that had up to that point obscured by his blind desire for revenge. He’s going to find the truth about Marco Esposito. Zack, for one, wonders if it wasn’t simple political corruption Ulgar’s bro found, but something much bigger … maybe even something worth sending them all into space.

Having weathered one big internal and one big external threat, you’d think the crew could enjoy the rest of the episode in peace without further problems, but alas. Since it’s feeling more likely to Aries that Kanata is far too dumb to realize she likes him, she decides to learn more about Charce, and asks a seemingly harmless question about what classes he was in. Charce says he was in biology, but Aries was in that class too; if Charce was in it, she’d remember, what with her photographic memory.

So the episode ends with the prospect of Charce being the enemy. But after what happened with Ulgar, such possibility should be taken with a sizable grain of salt (that is, won’t get fooled again). For one, would someone who’s so carefully blended in make so blatant an error as saying he was in a class he wasn’t actually in? Maybe Aries’ memory is messed up. Maybe Charce is being framed somehow. Heck, even Aries could be the damn enemy. So we’ll see.

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How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 06 – Russian to Conclusions

Movie buff Hibiki wants a new home theater system. The only problem is, due in part to her gym fees, she lacks the funds to buy one. Enter the Silverman Gym Arm Wrestling Tournament, which has both men’s and women’s divisions and a grand prize of 100,000 yen for each.

Machio explains the proper setup and form for official arm wrestling, then matches Hibiki up with Ayaka to give it a go. As with boxing, Hibiki reveals she’s a superhuman beast, dispatching Ayaka with ease (and turning the proceedings into a battle manga, with requisite intense faces). Even Machio has to get a bit serious to beat Hibiki.

With Akemi sick and neither Ayaka or Satomi interested in participating, the women’s division’s first round is also the final round, because there are only two combatants! Hibiki, and the short silver-haired foreign lass who up until now we’d only seen the OP and ED: the Russian Nina Void (voiced by Touyama Nao).

Nina is a seasoned veteran in the arm wrestling world, and Russia is a power in that particular sport. She’s also never been beaten by someone her own age, so it’s a huge shock when Hibiki defeats her almost as quickly as she beat Ayaka. It also changes Nina’s plans dramatically: instead of heading back home (which she needed the prize money to do), she decides to enroll at Hibiki’s school as a transfer student.

After going over the three main stereotypes of Russian anime characters (Intellectual with Icy Smile, Emotionless/Cold-Blooded, and Zealous Patriot Type), voicing her desire not to stray too far from any of them, and declaring her love for her dear shirtless bear-wrestling leader Putin, Nina explains how she’s never done that much weight training with equipment.

Instead, she’s a strong proponent of “kipping”, i.e. rhythmic pull-ups and chin-ups that use your momentum. Proper form and consistency mean that the more you kip, the more your nerves know what to do and when in martial arts like sambo. 

Hibiki demonstrates that she’s terrible at kipping, but Nina (wrongly) assumes her rival is simply holding her cards close. Speaking of close, it isn’t until after Hibiki returns home from the gym that she learns that Nina is going to be living with her for the foreseeable future. There will be no escape from the rivalry that has been thrust upon her.