Watched via DVD



PLOT: Planetes has a horribly underwhelming summary, so if you find yourself wanting to pass over Planetes after watching the trailer or reading the cover, don’t walk away just yet! Upon first glance the show looks like it is just about people who collect trash in space, which sounds just about as boring as playing Chibi-Robo, but the show is so much more than that. And if you still aren’t quite interested, let me say that Planetes is what I wish Cowboy Bebop had been more of.

Realistically, that is probably the wrong comparison to make, yet I still feel that it fits. The show revolves around slightly episodic daily interactions of a eclectic group of individuals who are a little wacky, each in their own way. While some of the characters are resigned to their job descriptions you have a couple who are still bright eyed and hopeful about following their dreams and making a difference.

Planetes also does an amazing job of dealing with real issues, whether the stress related to a very dangerous job or the politics that surround space travel and habitation. The pacing is excellent and the show switches things up enough so that there is never a dull moment. I ended up marathoning this show and skipping all the openings and endings because I just couldn’t get enough of this show.

For me, the show’s marathon-ability has more to do with liking the characters and being invested in their personal development than with the overall plot. And I like how you still can’t get over how underwhelmed you were by Bebop. XD

PLOT: At its beginning, Planetes follows the Space Debris Section of a space station. This group is in charge of preventing space debris, such as old satellites, from hitting the space station or other vehicles and causing damage. While this job basically amounts to being trash collectors, the Space Debris Section plays an important role at the space station, and Tanabe, its newest member, is out to make sure people appreciate them.

While that plot summary may make Planetes sound boring and episodic, the majority of the time the show deals with humans’ reactions and interactions during their exploration of space. One member of the Space Debris Section, called “Hachimaki” for his headband, desperately wants to travel to Jupiter on an upcoming mission instead of staying at the space station cleaning up trash, and a good deal of the show follows his journey. Space terrorism also plays a large role in the show’s climax, which brings in an international element to balance out the show’s character-centric elements.

As a whole, Planetes does an excellent job of balancing personal and political concerns that come from humans’ exploration of space. I enjoyed how the various threads interconnected, since it felt more authentic than if it favored only the slice-of-life or political elements. Also, I love that the series focuses on space clean-up, which sounds so menial, and makes it important. I always looked forward to another episode and seeing what difficulties the characters would encounter, whether on the job or in their personal lives.

SETTING: I’ve never been one to have much interest in outer space. I blame a good part of it on the over-enthusiasm of certain siblings to certain sci-fi franchises. Despite my general bias to the sci-fi genre, I loved the setting for Planetes. Unlike series like Cowboy Bebop and Bodacious Space Pirates, Planetes goes the extra mile to being a believable universe for characters to live in. The space ships look realistic and there are none of those awkward scenes where characters are standing in space with skimpy outfits. Sure the space suits may be a little stylish, but they are still extremely well-designed, even to the extent of showing the cast in diapers.

Not only is the setting well developed, but it is drawn into every fiber of the show, whether it is to highlight on Hachimaki’s drive to become a true astronaut, or to deal with space terrorism. I feel this inability to separate the two from each other really creates a stronger story as it builds a story line that is more purposeful than if it could have taken place in any old setting.

SETTING: Since Planetes is a space show, you might be expecting the standard unrealistic elements like slick ships and tight space suits. However, Planetes takes place in the somewhat-near future, meaning it looks more reasonable than most sci-fi anime. More importantly, JAXA (Japan’s equivalent of NASA) was a consultant on the show, so the science is always sound. The attention to detail on the ships and space stations is simply astounding.

Other setting-based elements also go above and beyond. The training Tanabe undergoes covers things I hadn’t thought of, and the trials Hachimaki has to face to go to Jupiter all seem pulled from real astronaut selection exams (just check out Space Brothers for the parallels). Most interesting, though, are the unexpected consequences of space. We meet a character who was born on the moon and see how that would affect a human. As I mentioned before, we also deal with space terrorism, bringing in political elements I would never have considered. Planetes could be a winner just on the strengths of how well-realized and fleshed-out the setting is, even without its other merits.

I didn’t realize they consulted JAXA when coming up with the setting. Perhaps that’s what draws me to this show so much, that it is less fiction in the sense of being impossible and more fictional as in that the actual characters are made up.

CHARACTERS: I instantly fell in love with the cast of Planetes. Sure some of the characters are a bit irritating, but that’s to be expected in any work setting. You have your go getters like American pilot Fee Carmichael who is constantly getting on everyone’s case, as well as your bumpkins like chief clerk Philippe Myers who is shown as a stereotypical jolly salaryman.

However, the majority of the show focuses on Hachimaki and new member Tanabe as they learn to work together and develop as characters. The show draws out the drama between these two by amping up the affection and trying to bring in possible love rivals.

Interspersed with these moments, backstory is developed for the rest of the cast to depict the various motivations that brought the team together. I don’t want to list any spoilers, but the stories really went beyond my expectations to develop a more realistic world than I would have considered.

CHARACTERS: Most of your ability to love or dismiss Planetes will come from the main characters, especially those in the Space Debris Section. Tanabe can be overwhelmingly optimistic and stubborn, while Hachimaki can fall too hard into his original jerk character type. Beyond them, there are the other members who keep the group running, like the annoying chief clerk and assistant chief clerk who always seem too whiny to be real. If you don’t have a high tolerance for obnoxious adults, they might be too much for you. Hachimaki’s ex, Clair, also plays a large role, which can be infuriating if you’re too much of a shipper or just don’t like her personality type.

However, the growth of the main characters makes the show worth watching for me, despite the sometimes-irritating side characters. Tanabe and Hachimaki slowly mature and grow closer to each other in a slightly-awkward, realistic way. The most fascinating element of the show for me was learning more about Hachimaki and watching him come to terms with his personal issues in order to pursue his dreams. I love a good underdog, and Hachimaki certainly delivers. My only real problem with the main characters comes in Tanabe’s treatment at the end of the show, which I find unfair to her, though it follows with traditional anime ideas of the role of women in a relationship.

I was super let down with the treatment of Tanabe in the end. As much of a shipper as I am, I’m a much bigger supporter of following dreams. I don’t wanna give spoilers, but let’s just say: DDD:

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I don’t know about Crystal, but I found the show to be gorgeous. Sure various elements were simplified down, but the key components of the show had excellent designs and moved very fluidly. Maybe it’s because characters float a lot, but you don’t get the awkward hip joint movements that you tend to get in a lot of other shows during transition moving scenes.

The characters also have great designs that are distinguishing yet not overly complex. Sure they may fall into easily defined roles, but each of them feels more like a person rather than a type making them easier to empathize with.

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