Planetes Anime Review
US Release By
26 25-minute episodes
2003-10-04 - 2004-04-17
The year is 2075. Space debris orbiting the Earth, the result of abandoned satellites and space station construction, have become so numerous that they are a serious threat to space travel. To combat this growing problem several space-faring corporations have employed space debris recycling teams. One of these teams is the understaffed Debris Section attached to Technora's 2nd Business Division, jokingly called Half Section by the rest of the company. Among their staff is Hachimaki Hoshino, an EVA (extra vehicular activity) specialist. Although he's been in space for only three years he is already a jaded veteran who has seen it all, who knows that being an astronaut is not all that its cracked up to be and is ready to give up on his dreams. Can the arrival of the cheerful newcomer Ai Tanabe brighten up the mundane atmosphere in Debris Section? Or will she too be sucked into the boring routine of an unglamorous and seemingly dead end job?
When most people think of sci-fi anime they conjure up images of giant humanoid mechas, psychic aliens, gun-toting cyborgs, galaxy-roaming bounty hunters, or massive fleets of space battleships engulfing each other in plasma hell. Rarely does it include what is, basically, collecting space trash. Welcome to the world of Hard Sci-Fi, where the top speed limit is still well below light speed and constant thrust doesn't mean constant speed. It's quite rare to see a hard sci-fi anime, let alone a Hard Sci-Fi drama anime. But then again Planetes is a very special anime.
While the backdrop is still fairly futuristic, it's still quite realistic. There is no sound in space (space ships don't go FSHHHHHHH when they fire their engines), the impact of low gravity and inertia on movement is an important plot element, and so on. If Arthur C. Clarke were to make an anime, it would be something very much like this. Yet with all this focus on making Planetes feel realistic the focus of the series is actually on the humans themselves. The main theme of Planetes is Man's relationship with space. His love/hate for the endless vacuum of outer space, the overwhelming (bordering on illogical) need to explore it, and the politics of sharing its resources. Interjected with this are stories of very human issues. Dreams, hope, love, hate. The dramatic elements in Planetes go hand in hand with the sci-fi ones, complementing each other.
The episodes are extremely well written. The bane of TV-series-length storytelling is pace, and very few series manage to maintain a good pace throughout their run. With only a handful of snags, Planetes manages to do this with flying colors. The first episode, which by tradition is usually slowed down by introductions, is fast paced and gives you a good feel for the series. Definitely one of the best "first episodes" I have ever watched. The rest of the episodes flow at more or less the same pace. The episodes for at least the first half of the series are "slice of life" stories. Episodic affairs shedding light on the status of the world in the late 21st century, exploring the wonderfully built characters, posing moral dilemmas, injecting humor here and there (least you think its too serious), and gradually building up the main plot. What at first seems to be a series of tangential stories coalesce into a single encompassing plotline culminating into a very satisfying ending. Now that's writing!
Visually, Planetes doesn't fail either. The animation is beautiful, with relatively realistic (but still quite pleasing) character design that fits the series' somewhat sober mood. No gravity defying hair or mammary glands here, thank you very much. The mechanical design, as I mentioned before, is realistic and highly detailed. Everything from space ships and space stations to space suits and air filtering smoking rooms look like NASA concept sketches.
The music is a nice mix of sweeping orchestral pieces and mellow jazzy interludes, all working beautifully towards the image of "life as usual" that pervades Planetes.
So to wrap it up, Planetes is definitely one of the best animes I've seen in a long long time. And it's definitely one of the best Hard Sci-Fi stories (anime or otherwise) that I've had the pleasure of viewing. It is a realistic and well-written series dealing with serious issues that is, thankfully, never preachy or overly philosophical, and most importantly fun!
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Notes and Trivia
Planetes means "wanderers" in Greek, which happens to be where the word "planets" is derived from. Unlike stars, which follow a fixed path in the night sky, planets wander all over the place. On the original Japanese release the title was written in Greek (ΠΛΑΝΗΤΕΣ) with a phonetic caption; the eyecatch features the title written in a number of different languages.
US DVD Review
Bandai's hybrid DVDs feature a number of interesting extras. Each disc includes one episode with a commentary track by the director and voice actors, and there are a variety of other extras: interviews with NASA orbital debris scientists, interviews with the English voice cast, radio dramas, scientific information, galleries, clean opening and endings, and more.
Some violence and serious political and social issues for a 13-up.
Violence: 2 - People die and blood is spilled, but nothing overly gory.
Nudity: 1 - A few skimpy clothes here and there.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Kissing level romance.
Language: 1 - Nothing worth mentioning.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Hachirota "Hachimaki" Hoshino: Kazunari Tanaka
Ai Tanabe: Satsuki Yukino
Fee Carmichael: Ai Orikasa
Philip Myers: Aikou Ogata
Claire Rondo: Kumiko Watanabe
Eldegard Rivera: Maiko Itou
Lucy Askam: Masayo Kurata
Chenshin Kao: Nobuyuki Hiyama
Dorf Azalia: Ryo Kamon
Yuri Mihairokoh: Takehito Koyasu
Arvind Ravy: Tetsuo Goto
Director: Goro Taniguchi
Original Manga: Makoto Yukimura
Script: Ichiro Okouchi
Music: Kotaro Nakagawa
Character Design: Yuriko Chiba
Mechanical Design: Seiichi Nakatani, Takeshi Takakura