Mid-march saw the release of the last of the six DVDs in the Planetes anime series. These are adapted from the manga series of the same name.
One of the things that has always fascinated me is the culture of space. This series of 26 episodes touches on many of the universal themes of what it means for humanity to expand into space (and should it even do so?), as well as the impact on individuals, from old school spacers to rookie debris collectors to Lunarians.
The setting is the year 2075. Debris has continued to gather in cislunar space, and the corporations operating in space must work to keep the spacelanes clear, even if the activity doesn’t contribute to the bottom line. For this reason Technora Corp.’s Debris Removal Section gets half the staffing, half the budget, half the equipment and half the resources it needs to properly operate. Thus are they known derogatorily as the Half-Section, a band of misfits.
The story ranges from the garbage dump of LEO, to the Moon, and by the end of the series sets out for Jupiter on the Von Braun spacecraft in search of more sources of Helium-3 and other portable forms of energy. A strong effort is made to abide by the rules of physics, and when there are exterior shots of space craft maneuvering in space or people falling on the Moon it’s done in silence (or with musical accompaniment). There’s none of the booms, thuds or whooshes that you normally see with Americanized space presentations.
The human elements are profound and affecting, with violent clashes of ideals and ideologies. Love, in all three of its classical forms, is explored in great depth, and told in a compelling and engaging manner. Terrorism and its human toll are touched upon. Some episodes are an emotional roller-coaster. Hachirota Hoshino (aka Hachimaki) is a young man driven by motivations he doesn’t understand to be at the forefront of exploration. Ai Tanabe is an emotional young woman constantly preaching about love. Yuri lost his wife in a debris accident years ago, and seeks something she lost in the disaster. Fee is a chain-smoking, driven professional serious about keeping the spacelanes clear of the destructive debris. Claire is a highly capable young woman from a very poor country trying to get the professional respect she merits. There’s a whole array of secondary characters, like Nono, the 12 year-old Lunarian who teaches Hachimaki that people have different meanings for ‘home’, or the Lunar Flying Squirrel ninja squad who provide a goofy if fun episode that does make one wonder what kind of martial arts would be possible on the Moon.
As custodian of the Lunar Library I see a lot of stuff, very little of which is top-notch quality. ‘Planetes’ is definitely the closest example I’ve seen to date of a mythological epic for space. Taken as a whole it’s something akin to an ‘Odyssey’ for our times. While the story told in the anime is slightly different from the one in the manga books, especially with regards to plot devices, both are very fulfilling experiences. I whole-heartedly give each a Full Moon at perigee.