REVIEW SUMMARY: A refreshing SF series that focuses on people instead of aliens, lasers or galactic wars.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the near future, mankind has taken its first steps towards the outer planets. Permanent habitats have been placed in orbit and on the Moon. However, this expansion has come at a price. Earth orbit has become a dangerous place to be because off old satellites, booster rockets, and other flotsam also orbit the Earth. Planetes is the story of one ‘Debris Section’ team and the events that happen to its characters.
PROS: A hard SF look at a near future Earth, with loads of character development and interaction.
CONS: At 26 episodes, a few of them were a bit slow.
BOTTOM LINE: I can’t recommend this one highly enough. I’d rate this now as either #1 or #2 on my Anime list. Its easily more accessible and enjoyable than Neon Genesis Evangelion and can hold its own with Cowboy Bebop or Last Exile.
The Debris Sections of various space habitats have the thankless job of cleaning up the debris in Earth orbit. Even though they perform a service vital to the safety of space travellers, they are looked down upon because they don’t generate any income for their parent corporations. Tanabe is the new kid on the block. She has just graduated and has been assigned to the Debris Section on Station 7. She soon meets the characters that make up the bulk of the show:
The Chief – Overweight and rapidly approaching retirement, he doesn’t want to rock the boat and endanger his pension.
Lavi – the sycophant and comic relief. He’s working to support his 5 children.
Fee – the pilot of the debris ship Toy Box.
Yuri – driven to be a debris collector in the hopes of finding some memento of his wife, who died in a spaceplane accident.
Elde – the overworked office temp. She gets all the paperwork done right and on time.
Hachimaki – the principle debris collector. He takes Tanabe under his wing to show her the ropes.
There are several other less important characters, but they all play some part in the story. At heart, Planetes is really a character drama set in space.
Two things impressed me the most. First, the creators really went out of their way to be as realistic as possible. Exterior space shots have no sounds associated with them, including music. Ships have sections that spin to generate ‘gravity’ and they use chemical reaction engines for propulsions. People on the Moon move as people in one-sixth Gs would move. Smoking is a dangerous activity and is highly restricted. Second, the story and characterizations are excellent, especially when it picks up momentum after episode 10. It seems that the Space Defense Front is against the exploitation of space since it means the rich countries will get the spoils, with the poor ones will be locked out. The SDF and their terrorist activities loom large over the last half of the show and dominate the last 5 episodes. Everyone, and I mean all major characters and many minor ones, grow and change as people during the series. Some for good, some for bad. Its really nice to see characters learn from previous events and change themselves because of it. The creators really make you care for the protagonists. Plus, it has one of the most uplifting endings I’ve ever seen, and I don’t mean in just anime. It was outstanding.
If you’re looking for realistic, hard SF view of future Earth, give this one a shot. Unfortunately, the series has not been picked up for release in the States yet. This means two things: fansubs (more reading episodes!) and BitTorrents. Remember, BitTorrent is your friend. You can find Planetes and ANBU’s web site.