Mighty Space Miners Anime Review
Oira Uchuu no Tankoufu
We Space Miners
US Release By
2 30-minute episodes
1994-11-11 - 1995-01-27
In the year 2060, a small group of daring individuals lives on an asteroid colony orbiting near Earth, extracting the raw materials Earth needs. Their latest project is an ambitious one: to capture Haley's comet. Among the colony's inhabitants is Ushiwaka Nanbu, a young man determined to pass the company flight exam and follow in his parents' footsteps. But during his test run, things get a little rough back home when the capture operation goes wrong and a stray military satellite severely damages the colony.
Now the colony is on a collision course with Earth, once the government there realizes what's going on things are going to go from bad to worse, and the surviving colonists are having a hard enough time just staying alive. Then there's Ushiwaka, dead set on finishing his exam...
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Mighty Space Miners is, at its heart, a classic sci-fi thriller with an extra dose of action, mixing a fast pace and a good shot of light anime adventure into the creative and accurate scientific detail. The result is an action-oriented series without a single battle, and it's done so well that fans of both Star Wars and Star Trek will find things to enjoy. Add in attractive and scientifically realistic visuals, quality Japanese acting, and all the parts necessary for a good yarn are in place.
Sadly, the short runtime makes it hard to keep up with the plot, and it sets up a doozy of an unresolved cliffhanger thanks to an abrupt end after only two episodes. On balance, its so frustrating to be left hanging that it's hard to recommend the series, but it's still quite a ride while it lasts.
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Mighty Space Miners is a good show for several reasons, and a bad show for a couple of big ones. At its heart the series is a classic sci-fi thriller, though it adds a good shot of light anime adventure to the creative and accurate scientific detail for balance. Sadly, though all the parts necessary for a good yarn are in place, the series has so little time to work with it has trouble finding its footing, and it sets up a doozy of an unresolved cliffhanger thanks to being cut short after only two episodes. On balance, it's so frustrating that it's hard to recommend, but it's still quite a ride while it lasts.
The characters here are pretty much anime-archetypes: the determined, spunky, headstrong kid; the wise, brave space-captain father; the stern-but-kind, get-things-done mother; and so on. (Also be prepared for a cute little talking robot-helmet, but it's handled more realistically than you'd expect.) The unusual setting and some good storytelling, combined with fine acting in Japanese, make the well-traveled characters seem relatively fresh and certainly interesting enough to watch.
The distinctive Japanese casting adds plenty of personality to the characters. Of particular note is Ushiwaka's mother; character actor Miyuki Ichijou gives her voice a neat matronly-yet-gritty edge. The real standout performance, however, is Kappei Yamaguchi as Ushiwaka--he sounds believable and voices the character with so much gusto that he escapes the stereotype.
The story likewise isn't wildly original--I think most sci-fi fans have seen brave colonists struggling to survive some disaster at least once--but manages to be quite exciting. Most of the credit goes to the attention to scientific detail and realism. The setting is believable and imaginative, and the ample supply of action is centered around surviving the harsh environment through classic sci-fi schemes to get things working again.
A large part of what makes the action (and, as a result, the whole thing) work is not just the scientific accuracy but the creative use of it. For example, the only part of the colony that has gravity is a spinning habitat section, and the rest is in freefall. But, instead of 2001-style slow motion spacewalks, the freedom of a gravity-free environment is fully capitalized on--just watching the characters (mostly Ushiwaka) jump and swim around is very cool.
The attention to detail also turns minor events into exciting drama. Stopping a space pod that's run out of fuel is a tense effort, and a crack in the windshield is a serious problem. It's similar to Apollo 13; if you tell the story right, a broken oxygen tank can make gripping cinema, and here the scale is expanded to an entire space colony.
Mighty Space Miners impressed me most by managing to be both sci-oriented sci-fi and action-adventure at the same time. The feel is memorably fast paced and dynamic without ever resorting to a single battle scene or losing the fun sense of adventure.
Of course, there isn't enough spare time in the story to slow down even if they'd wanted to, and therein lies this series' sole flaw: It's length. First, the relatively complicated story is crammed in a little too tightly--I felt like I needed to watch it a second time just to get a firm grasp on what had gone wrong and what the cause of impending doom is supposed to be. You can get away with blowing past the setup in an action movie, and the urgency and lack of "info dump" scenes is refreshing, but a few more minutes of backstory and/or time spent explaining the drama would have made it a lot less confusing early on.
In any case, that's not the real length problem. A few more minutes of story at the beginning would have been nice, but a lot more minutes at the end was essential--although AD Vision bills this as a "movie," it's really an OAV series, and a conspicuously incomplete one. Things are moving along just fine, the story's heading toward its apparent climax, and just when you're ready for the final episode, it stops. The colony is heading for earth, there's a nuclear bomb about to go off, the hero is about to be forcibly evacuated, and it ends.
I don't know who made the rule requiring all really interesting OAV series to get cut short after two episodes, but it applies here. As good as what exists is, I'd highly recommend staying away from it if you can't stomach the lack of a conclusion. Good while it lasts, but maddeningly frustrating.
Visually, Mighty Space Miners is impressive. The art is great; clean, nice-looking, colorful enough, and very detailed. The animation is also very well executed; smooth and with impressive attention to detail. If you look closely, you'll see not just a lot of cool zero-G jumping around, but little touches like when a fuel line breaks and the splashing (and weightless) liquid freezes almost immediately in the cold of space. The character animation is nifty, too, especially when it comes to weightless action, or even just getting around. The character designs are toward the cute side, but appealing and distinctive, with lots of variety. (The look is notably similar to Green Legend Ran, for those familiar with that series.)
The music isn't as noteworthy, but isn't bad, either. The classic anime-style end theme is passible, but the opening and endings are more remarkable visually--a series of "photographs" from the past few decades of space development, showing the good and the bad.
In all, Mighty Space Miners is about half of a cool, traditional-yet-exciting sci-fi story. It has scientifically accurate action, great visuals, an interesting if rushed story, and some creative situations and settings, but the tragic lack of a conclusion to wrap up the cliffhanger is maddening, and depending on your tolerance for that kind of thing might be enough to make the rest of the experience something to avoid. If, on the other hand, you can stand the inconclusive end and enjoy either a fun-but-serious sci-fi thriller or Star Trek-style action, Mighty Space Miners is well worth your time.
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Sort of in a class by itself, although it draws heavily on decades of sci-fi stories. Planetes is easily the closest series for its blend of humor and extremely realistic sci-fi (particularly the zero-G sequences), but is far less action-oriented. They Were 11 and Odin: Starlight Mutiny are both similar classic sci-fi thrillers with somewhat less of a dynamic feel, and it reminded of both Green Legend Ran and Now and Then, Here and There, mostly due to the visual style. Also shares a few elements with the action in Battle Athletes.
Notes and Trivia
Apparently a pet project that the director, Umanosuke Iida, had been waiting to do. The credits claim it's based on a novel by a European-sounding author (something along the line of "Horesman Lunchfeld"), which it isn't; it's an original story, and the name is a pseudonym of the director (possibly a reference to the fact that "Umanosuke" could literally mean something like "Boy of the Horse").
Though the story in the two episodes that exist appears to be set up for a conclusion in the third episode, the series was actually planned to be six episodes long. The titles of the nonexistent episodes 3-6 would have been: "Atmospheric Reentry," "Fascism," "Unlucky Star Halley," and "Toutatis 1B9-6." Sadly, like so many good OVA series, it was a commercial failure, so never made it past the second episode.
Toutatis, incidentally, is an actual asteroid. A several-mile-long lumpy piece of rock in an orbit that crosses Earth's, it gets closer to Earth on a regular basis (about every 4 years) than any other asteroid of its size. As a result of its proximity to Earth it has been heavily studied.
Speaking as a physics major, I can attest that while the science isn't all perfect, it is some of the most accurate I've seen, and there is an amazing amount of attention paid to detail.
Miyuki Ichijou, who voices Yumiko Nanbu (Ushiwaka's mother), is a veteran character voice-actor. Although she's got a list of mostly-minor anime credits stretching from the '70s to the '10s, she's better known for Japanese dubbing of American movies and TV shows. Though she's dubbed characters in everything from Mrs. Doubtfire to 24, her most famous role is probably as the Japanese voice of Marge Simpson.
US DVD Review
None currently exists in the US.
Not much to find objectionable, but some realistic (though not overly graphic) carnage, and a few ideas that might upset very young viewers (children born in space dying from the side-effects) probably put this in the 10-up range.
Violence: 3 - It's really not that gory or graphic, but there are a few floating bodies and zero-G blood.
Nudity: 2 - A brief, long-distance scene at the beginning involving the main character (a 12 year old boy) swimming.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Nothing significant.
Language: 1 - Nothing serious.