Friday, 13 February 2015
In 2075, the young Tanabe joins the Space Debris Section, a space company whose job it is to collect junk and debris in Earth's orbit in order to prevent them from damaging spaceships. Tanabe is at first confused at the chaotic nature of the section, but soon finds friends with Hachimaki, Fee, Yuri and others. Together, they encounter several adventures. Tanabe and Hachimaki fall in love, but he quits in order to enlist for the Von Braun space programme intended to fly the first people to Jupiter. Hachimaki succeeds, but when the Space Defence Front, a terrorist organization that intends to stop people from expanding into space, attacks the Von Braun spaceship, Tanabe manages to escape to the Moon, but with heavy injuries due to lack of oxygen. Hachimaki meets her again, when she is in a wheelchair. She recovers and they become a couple, but he flies to Jupiter nonetheless.
"Planetes" is one of those "Catch-22" achievements: on one hand, it deserves to be seen and it has great moments; but on the other, it never reaches that great impression as a whole. This anime puts a lot of emphasis on realistic details that are otherwise absent from numerous films and shows set in space - for instance, astronauts have to wear diapers; there is no sound in space; older astronauts get leukaemia and cancer because they stayed in space, where the radiation is stronger, for decades; in excellent episode 7, a 12-year old girl grew like an adult because she was born on the Moon, which has only a 1/6 of Earth's gravity, which is a sly node to Clarke's novel "2001: A Space Odyssey" etc. - yet the setting of garbagemen in space is not particularly exciting or stimulative. The authors went for an unspectacular 'slice-of-life' mood where there is no real plot, just random vignettes, which is why almost every episode has two subplots, but the result is good, not great because the silly humor is too light, these small slices of life are bland and the space grandeur clashes with the unspectacular concept.
More so, the characters themselves are dry as well - the most was achieved from Yuri, who gives a great line in one episode to a kid, when he looks in the sky and comments how there is no real boundary between the Space and the Earth - but the two main heroes, the sloppy Hachimaki and the tomboyish Tanabe, rarely have spark. They start a relationship, but for some reason, it is hastily abrogated by a major subplot that starts all out of the blue in episode 19, but even that is abruptly interrupted and left unfinished, which gives "Planetes" a feel as if it was incomplete and narratively confusing itself. In the end, it seems as if the finale was meant to be a transition to a second season, but it never was, and that is a problem. However, "Planetes" has its moments, and one of them is when father tells Hachimaki why he decided to quit his space job and return to his wife: "Tsiolkovsky said that Earth is the cradle of humanity, but mankind cannot stay in the cradle forever. He was a genius, because that old man convinced the whole mankind that his dream is actually their dream. And they worked to achieve his dream, not theirs. That is why I am leaving back to Earth. Because I realized this wasn't my dream. My dream is to be back home."