Regarding the Nature vs Nurture Debate – Astra Lost In Space

The nature vs nurture debate… many a psychologist has at one point pondered it. Genetics, or the environment: which influences personality more? Though I’m no expert in psychology, it’s a prompt I’d considered covering for a while, and now I have something to relate it to: Astra Lost In Space (or, as it’s known in Japan, Kanata no Astra).

Along with the #anitwitwatches community on Twitter, I watched this anime for the first time this summer. As it explores both genetics and the environment in detail, it makes for a uniquely relevant case study in this sort of discussion… so let’s boot up the FTL drive and warp right into it.

If you’re unfamiliar with Astra Lost In Space, here’s an overview:

In the late 21st century, a group of nine ‘lucky’ teens get to go on an intergalactic school trip. Things quickly go awry, however, as a space-time anomaly strands them in the black void of distant space, extremely far away from home.

Conveniently, an abandoned spaceship is floating nearby, and they’re able to get it working again. Now, faced with various questions and resource shortages, the teens of Camp Team B-5 must do their best to maintain morale and make it home alive.

If you haven’t seen this show yet, and you want to, I’d highly recommend you go watch it first. This show is best seen blind, and this post will have spoilers up until Episode 10.

While it has an interesting plot and neat extraterrestrial environments, the real star of the show is the character relationships. Though it has a whopping 9-character cast size, nobody’s reduced to one-trait archetypes, and everyone gets their moment in the light. They play; they fight; they despair.

You can believe they’re a group of teens, ingenious yet inexperienced, blindly thrown into a life-or-death situation. No adults are coming to save them, and with the added threat of a saboteur hiding among them, the crew can only rely on their own skills and pray the universe takes their side.

Question is, what do all these talented teens have in common? For one thing, they all have parents (I know, big surprise). This, of course, is how we connect the dots back to this post’s central premise.

*insert clever and witty Among Us joke here*

As the story progresses, we learn their parents (at least for the most part) aren’t exactly the grandest stars in the galaxy. Zack’s father is uncaring, Yunhua’s mother is oppressive, Luca’s ‘father’ is a politician, you get the idea. While the teens take after their parents, it’s clear they’re not the same people. Behind Zack’s stoic face, there is compassion. Kanata shares his father’s athleticism, but is far more selfless. Quitterie and Funicia, despite sharing the same mother, have completely different personalities.

The other thing they share is revealed by way of an Episode 10 plot twist, albeit one I wasn’t initially thrilled about (final spoiler warning): almost everyone on the team is a clone. The level of exactness varies, Luca’s intersexuality being the most obvious divergence, but they have their original parent’s exact DNA. Really adds a whole new layer to the genetics angle, eh?

Of course, this begs the question: did they also inherit their original’s natures? Zack’s inexpressiveness, Kanata’s desire to improve himself… even Quitterie and Funicia, are their opposing personalities simply split sides of their original? Perhaps the ways in which they differ are simply natural responses to having such unloving parent figures.

Then there’s the other side of the debate: nurture. Love. Care. A normal parent would provide such things to their child… or lacking that, at least the basic needs of survival: food, water, etc.

Ad Astra Per Aspera.

For better or worse, the child is bound to take on some of the traits of their parent figure. Zack, raised in a scientific household, also sees the world analytically. Aries treats others with kindness, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Kanata strives to grow even without his father’s pushes… and that’s exactly where the heart of this debate lies.

People will seek to grow. People will (ideally) treat others with kindness. People will view things in different ways. Are we raised to think that way? Or do we act this way because it’s engrained in our nature as humans? How can we tell? Is there a way to tell?

On the nurture side, you could argue that our personalities constantly shift as we gain new experiences. Ulgar starts off distrustful, but as he opens up to the other crewmates, he becomes more candid and outspoken. Yunhua, no longer forced down by her mother, becomes more confident in her own abilities.

Then there’s the external influences of the world around them. Quitterie, faced with crises both external and internal, (thankfully) abandons her more antagonistic tsundere tendencies. Charce, cut off from the influence of (episode 12 spoiler), grows to better appreciate the value of life.

In general, everyone becomes more communicative in their constant need to cooperate with each other. Also, they’re all humbled by the imminent threats of death and starvation.

Off-topic, but how does Zack’s edibility tester even work? Does it, like, check for known toxins? How does it account for untested compounds and undiscovered bacteria/viruses?

On the nature side, however, you could counter-argue that our brains are hard-wired to react in these ways. The more people you have on your side, after all, the greater the chance is that you’ll survive. If you want people to save you, it doesn’t make any sense to push them away. You either adapt and get along… or you die. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that much out.

Then again… some people will refuse to co-operate, even if the alternative is death. Others will sacrifice themselves to save the life of another. Others still will actively seek to kill, though they have other options open to them. The saboteur among them knows they’ll likely die as well, but they carry on with their mission regardless. Does self-destructive behavior also align with our natures?

Then there’s Kanata. Several times, he goes out of his way to rescue another student, even though a single misstep could easily kill him as well. We don’t always act according to what makes sense.

This flightless fellow (to the right) is the show’s real MVP.

In a hypothetical scenario with 9 people, letting 1 person die is more sensible when a rescue attempt is highly likely to result in 2 deaths. However, some people will attempt that rescue, no matter the odds. Their moral compass simply will not allow them to do nothing. Everyone naturally wants to avoid death… but there will always be people who stare death in the eyes and march straight into reaping distance, if it’s for the greater good.

It’s that final point which edges me towards the side of nurture. We don’t all value things the same way. The vast majority of people may agree on something, but you can’t reasonably expect everyone to act the same way, even if they are on the same page (if you’ve finished the show, you’ll know exactly why I bring this up). After all, if there’s one thing we humans are not, it’s consistent.

So yeah, that’s my stance regarding the nature vs nurture debate. As for my thoughts on Astra Lost In Space? Well, there’s a more in-depth log of my reactions on Twitter, but it’s a rating of III for me.

The characters of course are great, I like the extraterrestrial landscapes, and the balance between comedy and drama is impeccable. I will say that the alien designs could perhaps use a bit of work, and its final reveal is absurdly optimistic… but if you’re into sci-fi shows set in space, this one is definitely worth your time.

In Need of Repair

To the friendly folks of #anitwitwatches, thanks for letting come along on this journey with you! It was a neat experience, and I hope to join in again at some point, once things calm down on my end. Until next time!

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