Planetes: Fighting the Cruelty of Space

I hope people enjoy the slow drip of Goro Taniguchi directed series appearing on this blog through out the year. That is the meta that I am deciding for the year of 2022 and everyone will have to deal with that fact or just not I guess. Last year’s meta was focused on Tomino, but I couldn’t dive as much into his series because of how long they are. Planetes is one of at least a few more anime to drop onto this blog for the time being. So yes, you all now know the soft narrative of this year. With or without that narrative, Planetes is a series that I wanted to rewatch for a while and I only found a copy recently. It’s still just as good considering how it matches some events going on right now in our current world. Looking at you, billionaires in space. That almost makes this realistic series even more viable.

Set in the closer time period of 2075, Planetes’ portrays a realistic future. The space above the Earth is covered with tons of space junk from previous space technological innovations. People can also travel to the moon and space stations easily because it’s an everyday occurence. To stop a Kessler effect, when junk across the Earth’s atmosphere joins together to destroy everything, corporations have created divisions to stop the trash building up. Too bad those divisions are the joke of each corporation and completely underfunded. Planetes is centered on the supposed half section for the Technora Corporation on station 7 is that section takes on multiple kinds of space junk.

The story itself starts when the newcomer Ai Tanabe joins the half section. She is a person who jumps into everything with bright, shiny eyes about the world she is joining until the true nature of Technora and its half section is revealed. It is first shown as a bunch of clowns and unprofessional individuals with only the job keeping them together. I mean, the older members of Hachirota Hoshino (with his very forward and yet cynical attitude as an instant grinder against Ai), Fee Carmichael, and Yuri Mihalkov are professionals at clearing trash, but they can’t run a business. The managers are people with personalities that do not work for the division they are apart of. Something that is on purpose.

Hachirota is the real main character of Planetes and it slowly becomes more obvious as the episodes go by. Though, Tanabe is a good character that shows how the Debris Division works from how she is trained by everyone as she goes out into space. Hachirota with his very brash style is Ai’s primary teacher, but Yuri and Fee also play a heavy hand in how to put on a space suit and the eventual spacewalks she takes to get rid of trash. So there is a clear converging point as the story becomes more about Hachirota and his dreams and visions of going into space. In this space series of episodic stories, each one not only covers space trash, but the red tape and feelings of the people who are laughed at for taking the trash out.

If there is a way to make space feel ordinary, Planetes has found that by making it through the vision of people owned by a corporation and a new international group of nations, ITOH, to lead that charge. Each adventure slowly takes away the excitement and energy presented in how an anime series would usually handle space. That comes from the crew flying around an old ship that breaks down all the time to their placement at Technora. Trash in space can hold an important meaning to someone, but most of the time it doesn’t. So there is that exploration of Tanabe still having a starry-eyed look at that world and Hachirota slowly dripping out of his mood into that positive feeling before sinking into a mindset of loneliness. Space is frightening and Planets does not hold back from showing how that happens.

So this is another episodic series where one episode can change the course of some major characters into a state they wouldn’t otherwise. There is a growing narrative of space capitalism and how funding and the fruits of space exploration will be given to first world nations with third world nations not even being allowed access to even making a space suit even when it passes all the right safety tests. That affects some of the characters into the control section. I am not over selling it on space capitalism, some episodes literally called out what it is by name. The story of Planetes really takes a turn after Hachirota’s time in the deep black of space with only the new Jupiter mission rocket the Von Braun and its tandem mirror engine, but there was set up from all of this happening before hand.

So obviously, the subtext provided through the episodic first half suddenly goes into full force second half where terrorism and the training sessions for the Von Braun, the experimental space ship that is causing tons and tons of international problems, goes into full swing. The darkness of Tanabe and Hachirota literally puts his entire being into the Von Braun and nothing else. Same with some characters that we met along the way going through things we wouldn’t expect them. The fortune few, some of them would say, ending up not getting what they want in the end. Then there is the tension of the insane person leading the Von Braun mission not carrying about the human fall out from the tests, so the trials are as real as the terrorism strikes on the Von Braun.

Eventually, these characters do break out of their mood I suppose. I feel like the weakest part of Planetes is the ending because it feels half assed and yet not at the same time. I am not sure if a committee over seeing the planetary mission to Jupiter would bow down to a terrorist group that wanted the resources to also go to the third world countries who were not originally going to benefit from it. I mean, the terrorist themselves were treated as throw away to take the fall of the tragedy of the ending. The tension doesn’t feel natural resolved, but I don’t know how else the show would end. Its very hopeful for the future of the Earth and its planetary progress, but how do we know if every single person will keep their word? We don’t and that is what frustrates me about it.

From a character level, Planetes is very satisfying. It’s very cool to see Hachirota, who has been pushing as hard as possible to see his dream happen that he went into the dark side come back from it. Its nice seeing him and Tanabe finally connect and get married after the tension provided in the show itself. It’s nice to see people realize that everyone is connected in the universe and what one person does affects another person. The system and committee behind their were still around, but its cool to just see people launch into space and get what they wanted in some way. Or see how some people were right about human nature in some people all along because there is a heart in most people.

Planetes looks great still. I watched it on the dvd edition with standard definition and I was still blown away by how it looks still. I guess space stuff is just par for the course on Sunrise, but there is so much attention to detail in the series to all its space assets to make it realistic. I mean from how thrusts in spaceships are presented in a realistic way to space itself having no sound in it when there was no system for sound to travel. That also presents into onto human physics of characters in no gravity with focusing on characters getting a grip on specific locations on spaceships. I also love the ship designs with how they are really designed and space suits that are realistic in their construction. Just so good.

So yeah, Planets is still fantastic. Maybe not as good with how it ended in a way that feels like a cop out, but everything in it is realistic to how its ideas are presented and what it has to say about making space feel ordinary and corporatized. Something which is happening now with the billionaire space race and those same people wanting to create space colonies on other planetary bodies. So we have fiction, like this show, showing how cruelty is not all that humanity is about in space. People need to have hearts and care about their mental well being and their physical being. Even if that ending flubbed that with the way on the corporate, but it nailed it with it’s characters in space. That’s why its still amazing to me.

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7 comments

  1. YES! I’m so glad you got to talk about Planetes. That was one of my favorite anime during my high school years. I heard Sunrise used twice the budget than most of their other shows at the time to make it and the special edition DVDs had that awesome feature of NASA showing how realistic Planetes was most of the time. It is also one of the few anime to pass the Deggans test as you saw despite my issues with the SDF storyline near the end.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely. The ending was pretty rushed even if there was a happy aspect that doesn’t get shown, but at least it was done if a way where you know it will be good in the end.

        Liked by 1 person

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