Synopsis: On a trip to another planet for a school sanctioned camp experience, a group of nine kids suddenly finds themselves transported 5,000 light years away with little hope of survival. Their only chance of making it back home lies in an abandoned ship known as the Astra, which was found floating near where they warped. Now this group of strangers will have to come together, and make a journey across several planets in order to safely make it back home
Woo boy. So even though I’ve been pretty pleased with what the Astra anime’s had to offer so far, this episode was the one I was anticipating the most. Luca and Ulgar’s stories take center stage this week, and Luca’s in particular covers one of the most sensitive topics this show has dealt with so far. With how consistently the anime’s been knocking it out of the park, I was excited to see how this would be handled, and while the execution here didn’t quite meet my expectations, what we do get still makes for one of the show’s strongest entries to date.
Before we get into Luca’s story though, let’s talk about Ulgar’s whole deal, which is also quite a lot. Where we last left our local edgelord, he was holding Luca at gunpoint, and we discover that he holds a grudge against Luca’s father. Ulgar’s brother was a journalist who was investigating Luca’s father for campaign finance allegations, and ended up “mysteriously” commiting suicide. This pretty much screams covert assassination, and Ulgar believes that since Luca is the heir to his father’s political dynasty, killing Luca will cause Luca’s father to feel the same pain he does. As is pretty much par the course for this show, Ulgar’s thirst for vengeance doesn’t exactly feel fresh (if anything it just makes the Sasuke Uchiha jokes even more on point) but it’s elevated by how well the show manages to contextualize Ulgar’s feelings.
Ulgar says that he’s always felt like an outcast in his family compared to his near-perfect older brother, but his brother was also the only person in his family who actually cared about him. He feels like his brother mattered to the world a lot more than he did, and it’s a sentiment that seems to at least partially stem from his father literally telling him that he should have been the one to die instead, making us 4-0 on the scoreboard of crappy parenting in this show. Needless to say that while he hasn’t been as big on showing his emotions as the rest of the cast, Ulgar has about as big a chip on his shoulder as the rest of them, and Kouki Uchiyama’s performance here really did a lot to make me feel for this kid.
Neat as this all is though, the big attention grabber here (and something I expect will garner a lot of…discussion) is in regards to Luca, as he claims that Ulgar’s master plan won’t work because he isn’t actually his father’s heir. That distinction belongs to his younger brother, and it all has to do with a secret he’s been hiding from the gang all this time: he’s intersexual. An intersexual person, as the show itself explains, is someone born with both male and female sex characteristics, and cannot be strictly identified as either of those genders (not to be confused with hermaphrodites who are biologically both). While Luca was raised as a male and identifies as one (hence why I’m still using male pronouns) his body meant that he could never take over his father’s position and was viewed by him as disposable.
So…yeah this is a lot. While anime’s certainly no stranger to tackling LGBT topics, it’s rare for a shonen to dive into them, and the topic of intersex people in general is even rarer, to the point where I wasn’t even familiar with it until I came across it in the original manga. It’s honestly pretty cool seeing a series aimed at teens going into a subject even a lot of media for adults hasn’t ever seemed to really talk about, and hopefully like with me, this’ll help to educate people on it a bit. Speaking of the manga though, if there’s one point I have to knock the anime down for here, it’s that it omits a few lines of dialogue where Luca goes into his sexuality, and mentions how he’s found himself attracted to both Kanata and Aries, more or less confirming he’s bi. While the anime does leave in a line where Luca remarks about how “cool” Kanata is after he saves him and Ulgar from a sudden tidal wave, it’s a little more ambiguous if this means he’s attracted to him, and making that more vague where it was previously spelled out directly, is a little disappointing (especially since if this was a time constraint thing, the anime’s show that it’s more than willing to cut the OP and ED songs for a few extra scenes if deemed necessary). Still, as I said before it’s rare for this particular subject to get covered at all in media (and as a hetero dude I’m obviously far from the most qualified person to talk about this anyway) so it’s not a dealbreaker or anything for me, but with how much the anime’s knocked things out of the part in almost every other instance, it’s a little shame it didn’t completely deliver on this one.
At any rate, Luca’s big confession about his identity ends up being enough for Ulgar to give up on killing him, and while Ulgar still doesn’t feel he’s really worth anything, his feelings change a bit when Kanata saves him, and reminds him of his older brother. While Ulgar hasn’t completely given up on his desire for revenge, he decides to do it as a journalist, and vows to expose the crimes Luca’s father committed, which seems about as good a way to wrap that up as any. He’s still a bit prickly, but the experience here does get him to open up to the others a little more, and it’s pretty nice. As for Luca, while he’s clear that he’s always been comfortable with who he is, it’s refreshing that the others choose not to think of him that differently, and still opt to treat him as a boy. This isn’t totally perfect but it’s certainly sweet, and if nothing else I’m glad the show was able to make both Ulgar and Luca’s stories feel satisfying.
Far as the broader story goes, we also get a few more advancements on that end towards the end of the episode. Kanata slowly realizes that all the kids seem to share a mostly similar connection in having issues with their parents, but it doesn’t quite explain why anyone would want them dead over it. However it does lend a little more credit to the theory that their parents are all hiding something, as the kids realize that Luca’s father likely had Ulgar’s brother killed for something much larger than a campaign finance scandal. That leaves us quite a bit to chew on with the bigmystery surrounding this show, but there’s more immediate things for the kids to worry about as Charice is now starting to look a little suspect. When Quitterie notices that Charice seems to fawn over Aries a lot despite having only met her during this camping trip, he attempts to deflect this with a lie about having known her from school, and it quickly becomes obvious he’s holding onto some kind of secret of his own. As for what said secret is, we probably won’t know till next week, but whatever it is, it’s bound to be pretty interesting. Far as this week’s events are concerned though, while this was still a solid episode overall, it’s also probably the first time I was a little let down by the anime’s execution. That said, it’s track record up till now has been consistent enough that I’m not super worried about how it’ll handle what lies ahead, and I’m still very much looking forward to the rest of this adaption.
Available on Funimation