Spirit of Wonder – Scientific Boys Club

I got around to watching all the anime adaptations of Spirit of Wonder (by Kenji Tsuruta of Emanon fame) this week, and I have to say… MAL reviews and scores for these are really low. At first, I thought this was just a matter of taste. The stories can be super slow (think Aria), and it’s not really your typical sci-fi fare.

But after reading reviews for the Scientific Boys Club OVA, I think people are just missing the point. I wrote my own review about it (giving it an 8/10), but I want to write down a few more notes on it here.

My review basically says that the show is good because it’s about fulfilling pipe dreams. There’s an intro sequence with JPL scientists talking shit about all the science stuff that the main characters believe in, and then at the end the JPL scientists are the ones in shock, because it turned out all the bogus theories were true. It’s sort of like proving a fairytale right: maybe you go to Oz, and then come back to Kansas and can prove that Oz was real. Wouldn’t that be such a crazy realization?

ether is wrong btw

The problem is that the show doesn’t explain very well that the whole thing is supposed to be nonsense. The intro sequence is supposed to make stuff like “ethereal current” and Lowell’s globe/Martian canal theory seem dumb, but it doesn’t emphasize this enough… so I’ll try and do that here. There are two parts to this…

  1. As someone who works in physics, I know that something like the ether (or ethereal current) is wrong, and obviously so. It was a very pivotal point in physics history: up until ~1900, people used some mysterious “ether” to describe how light propagated around. Then, Einstein came along with special relativity (1905) and showed that you didn’t need some ether to derive the right equations. Whoops. Ether debunked. So the fact that someone like Windy wrote a thesis about the ether in 1940~1950 is a bit ridiculous. She says that nobody believed her, but that’s because it’s just wrong.
  2. The other side of the story has to do with astronomer Percival Lowell’s wacko theories at around the same time (1900). ~1900 was a time when telescopes were becoming more and more available. Lowell had the money, so he got a telescope. Between mistranslations of Italian text and his own observations of dark lines on Mars, he started saying that there were canals on Mars (as in, dug up for running water). But by the 1950s, having these three old guys believing in these canals is basically crackpot science.
  3. A third, more obvious thing…. It’s absolutely ridiculous to build a giant ship capable of sailing to Mars with just three old dudes and a few scribbles of physics theory.

This all sets the stage for the characters’ big, crazy plan of flying to Mars in their home-built spaceship, on the grounds of a bogus ether theory, and in the hopes of finding Martians living around their water-filled canals.

These outlandish ideas are so crazy, that if they actually worked… that would be magical. And that’s what the show is about: the magic and spirit of nothing but wonder beating out the hard science of the JPL dudes. Seeing their incredulous stares at the screen at the end made it all worth it.

P.S.: I have to note that Lowell’s claims of Martian canals was actually “disproven” in the show, but I don’t think that ruins my points. The three old guys’ pipe dream was to just go to Mars, not necessarily to prove Lowell right.

Also, I noticed that Windy’s notes actually have special relativity on them. I don’t know if that’s supposed to be an easter egg…?



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