This review is dedicated to the loving memory of my coworker, Debra Benoit, who passed away this weekend in a motorcycle accident. She will be missed by both family and friends alike. – Cajun Samurai
“Planetes” [And yes, I spelled it correctly…hush, you…] is a series that has been overlooked time and again when anime fans are asked about great stories based in space. It’s an underdog to end all underdogs because, well, it’s a story ABOUT hard working underdogs. When most people think of space anime, the first thing that comes to mind is a series heavy in space battles with shiny advanced giant robots and technology worlds beyond anything we could possibly imagine. “Planetes” tells a REAL story about REAL space with REAL people who you can relate to on some small level. We’re going to find out just what makes this special series so special; where it shines brightest, where it falls short, and why I consider it one of the best series of all time. Lets get into it.
Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content – “Planetes” is rated for viewers thirteen and up due to language [the S-word is only used about two or three times throughout the entire series], a bit of shooting and blood, fist-fighting and some tobacco usage. I agree with this rating, as I would feel comfortable showing this series to my thirteen year old nephew with only slight hesitation.
Series Availability – This series was released on DVD by Bandai Entertainment as a six-volume set with volumes one through three being “Special Edition” volumes, containing an extra disc with extras like cast interviews and some expert analysis from NASA. There is also a six-volume “Complete Collection” edition available, however, I’m not sure if they contain any of the extras that the individual ones did. At the time of this printing, the only location where I was able to find this series for purchase was eBay, so if you want this series, you’ll have to do a bit of searching.
Story Breakdown – “Planetes” is a twenty-six episode series based off a manga by Makoto Yukimura and is set in the year 2075 where mankind has made broad leaps into space exploration and discovery, making travel from the Earth to the Moon commonplace. The unfortunate side effect of this is the accumulation of space debris from various sources like abandoned satellites and spacecraft. If this debris were to strike a celestial body like a pressurized spacecraft, the effects would be detrimental. So how do you clean up the garbage of space? Simple–you get space garbage men. Enter the “Debris Section”. This group of blue-collar, hard working astronauts are the bottom rung of the Technora company ladder [Think of Technora as a money-hungry corporate version of NASA], and are not looked upon very favorably [Given the unfourtnate nickname “Half Section”…], even though their job is possibly the most important one around. The crew, with the addition of new comer Ai Tanabe, goes about their daily lives keeping the spacelanes free of debris while managing their own personal lives and issues often found in large companies such as promotions, demotions, personnel shifting and the like. As the series goes on, we’re introduced to the ups and down of space travel and, in fact, the world of 2075, where class segregation still reigns, though in a more Bureaucratic way. One of “Planetes” shining attributes is the fact that, even though we’re in the future, we’re not in, to quote “Futurama”, “THE WORLD OF TOMORROW!!!!” The technology is advanced, but it’s not completely out of this world, and it’s not the driving force for the action of the series. It’s there as it should be–a tool. The ending of the series has to be one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Each time I see it, its leaves me smiling from ear to ear. It doesn’t go out with a bang, nor a wimpier…it just comes to a graceful stop. [25/25]
Favorite Episode/Scene – My favorite overall episode has to be Episode Six “The Lunar Flying Squirrels“. It’s one of the funniest episodes in the entire series. But besides being a comedy riot, it introduces us to a group of characters that will play an important role later in the series. My favorite scene in the series has to be the ending epilogue. Not only does it wrap up everything neatly, which is perfect for this series, but it also gives you a smile moment at the end regarding the future.
Characters – If there’s one place where “Planetes” shines, is the fact that it’s character base is so wide and diverse, yet they all are interconnected. They’re all so real and relatable with real feelings and emotions. Our main cast consists of Ai Tanabe, a new hire from Earth who has been assigned to work with the “Debris Section”, a set of blue-collar astronauts assigned to clean up space from the treacherous hazards of space debris. Ai is a cherry, eternal optimist, holding steadfast in her belief that anything [And I do mean anything…] is possible when there’s love involved, and she will argue anyone down to prove that point. “Debris Section”‘s astronaut team consists of EVA Expert and resident hot-headed everyman Hachirota Hoshino, nicknamed “Hachimaki” after the headband he wears around his forehead, Fee Charmichael, the captain of the debris retrieval ship “Toy Box”, and Yuri Mihairokov, the Russian right-hand man to Fee. Non-astronaut members are Philippe Myers, the plump and pleasant office manager, Arvind “Robbie” Ravi, the assistant manager and semi-deadbeat baby daddy, and Edlgard Rivera, the temp office secretary and deadpan straight man of the group. There are lots of other characters in this story, each with their own history and motivations, but all are pleasant and intriguing to watch, no more so than the Debris Section group…with the exception of “Robbie”. I just don’t like the way his character is portrayed. He is often seen as a goof ball, just trying to get up the corporate ladder with his stupid parlor tricks and weak networking skills. And if that wasn’t all, he has all these kids, yet he’s divorced from the mother and has to pay child support. Umm…what? Granted, there are moments when he redeems himself, and I suppose one could argue that this adds to the realism of the series [Almost as though the creators were trying to say “See? The future is NOW, but we still have these flawed characters with flawed issues!”] but for the most part, he left a very sour taste in my mouth. [23.5/25]
Animation – In my re-watching this series during the ending credits, something really stood out to me–when Hachimaki is riding his motorcycle and goes to shift gears, the spot on his shoe that he uses to prod the selector is well-worn. I know that’s a silly thing to make a note of, but the reason I do so is because it shows the great attention to detail that the creators took in making this series. Everything, from the characters to the spacecraft look authentic, believable and appropriate for the story being told. Much like it’s predessor, “Cowboy Bebop”, “Planetes” does not show the future as being this spit-and-polish, touch-screen utopia like the future shown in “Star Trek”. Rather, it’s seen with old school computer mice and trackballs, physical keyboards, push-buttons and the like. Yes, there are sections when the technology looks really futuristic, like the extremely flat-screen displays, but it’s done in a very tasteful and hip fashion. I also must applaud Studio Sunrise for their attention to detail regarding historical spacecraft. They really did their homework in making everything look as true-to-life as possible. I should also mention that the opening and ending title animation is the best I’ve seen in a long time. While the opening is epic and hypes you up for what you’re about to watch, the ending mellows you out and gives you time to digest before the next episode preview. [I’ll touch more about the opening in “Lagniappe”…so keep reading!] [12.5/12.5]
Music – The soundtrack for “Planetes” is something I encourage everyone to give a listen to when watching this series. From beginning to end, it’s a soundtrack that makes you take notice without being too overpowering. The opening song, “Dive In The Sky” by Mikio Sakai is epic without being over the top and really gets you riled up for the episode you’re about to watch. The end theme, “Wonderful Life“, puts a nice cap on every episode and it just makes you feel happy and satisfied. The incidental music takes a life all its own, matching the futuristic yet rustic style of the series as a whole; sometimes you’ll hear synthesizer music, other times you’ll hear old instruments like harmonicas, acoustic guitars, trumpets, pianos, saxophones and the like. The ending epilogue scenes for episode twenty-six, “And The Days We Chance Upon…” is overlapped with “PLANETES” [Warning–The Link is a MAJOR Spoiler as it shows the end of the series!] which is beautifully performed by the artist Hitomi Once again, nothing less than perfection in the music department from the studio that brought you “Cowboy Bebop” [12.5/12.5]
Performance and Production – This project was dubbed by “Bang Zoom! Entertainment”, and directed by Tony Oliver. Heading up the cast is Kirk Thorton as Hachirota “Hachimaki” Hoshino. I have to admit, he really did an awesome job in this role, playing the hotheaded lunkhead with a good heart perfectly. There was not one moment when his performance seemed over the top or overbearing, and it compliments the original very well. Julie Ann Taylor as the love-love loving Ai Tanabe is a perfect match and a delight to listen to. Wendee Lee’s voice work as the ship’s captain Fee Carmichael is excellent as always and is a near carbon copy match to the original actress. Yuri Mihairokov is played by Jamieson Price, and does a praise-worth job in the role. Because Yuri is Russian-born, it would be expected that his manner of speech would be different from the others…a little more proper with less contraction usage. Jamieson Price picked up on this and plays the role identical to the original voice actor. Other actors, such as Johnny Bosch as Hachimaki’s younger brother Kyutaro, Tom Wyner as Goro Hoshino, and Lara Jill Miller as the Lunarian Nono are very well performed. The one small low point in this series acting wise is Kho Cheng-Shin as played by Steve Blum. I just didn’t think too much of his performance. I mean, he had his moments, and he’s a great actor in all his other projects, but in this one…it just didn’t do anything for me. [23.5/25]
Story Breakdown – 25/25
Characters – 23.5/25
Animation – 12.5/12.5
Music – 12.5/12.5
Performance and Production – 23.5/25]
Final Score – 97/100 – A
Lagniappe “A Little Something Extra”:
- The Japanese Space Agency [JAXA] acted as consultants to the series. On the DVD Extras, several NASA Representatives actually spoke about the logistics of sending spacecraft up for debris removal. [Spoiler Alert — Ain’t gonna happen anytime soon…]
- Many of the medical afflictions mentioned in the series, like Kesler Syndrome and radiation sickness are real afflictions that can affect astronauts who spend time out in space.
- The opening title sequence gives a brief summary of the history of different spacecraft, from early rockets to the Saturn V rockets and the Apollo moon landing, to the MIR Space Station and the Shuttle program. If you pause at key points in the opening, you can actually read detailed information about each spacecraft.
- The opening title sequence actually changes as the series go along, depending on what happens to the characters. Somethings are added, some things are removed, and somethings are replaced all together. For example, during the first half of the series, Hachimaki has a blueprint image of “Toy Box” behind him. In the second half, the image is replaced with a different ship.
- In two episodes, the orchestral piece “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”could be heard. This music was famously used in the Stanley Kubrick science fiction space-based blockbuster “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
- The title of this show “Planetes” is often written as “ΠΛΑΝΗΤΕΣ”, which is ancient Grecian writing for “stars”.
- ((SPOILER ALERT!)) In episode twenty-six, the game that Hachimaki and Ai are playing is “Shiritori”. Pretty much, two or more players go back and forward saying words, each using the last syllable of the previous word to make a new word. For example, in the above scene, Hachimaki says “Kenedii Uchuu Sentaa” [Kennedy Space Center]. Ai retorts with Anake, which is a moon of Jupiter. The trick with this game is, if you use a word with an “N” syllable, you lose. So, when Hachimaki says “Kekkon Shiyou” [Marry Me] and Ai replies with “Un” [Which means “yes”] she lost the game…but gained a husband. ((END SPOILER ALERT))
- References to real-life NASA Astronauts are made throughout the series including Neil Armstrong from the Apollo Moon Landing and Jim Lovell from the Apollo 13 flight.
- In the epilogue montage, a shot of a Saturn V rocket on display can be seen outside with several rockets in the background. Now this is only a theory, but this COULD possibly be a future version of Johnson’s Space Center in Houston, Texas where Mission Control is located as they have a real Saturn V rocket on display along with various other rockets behind it.
- In the Japanese Commentary Tracks featured on just about every DVD, the acting and production cast can be heard getting drunk and freely admit it. [So…would THIS explain the Commentary from “Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth” and “End of Evangelion”?]
So where does that leave us? Simple; “Planetes” is an unsung hero of anime. [Where have I heard that one from…] While it’s true that it’s not as popular or well-known as Studio Sunrise’ previous offerings, “Planetes” is a gem in and of itself. With its deep yet solid story set in a far off yet believable future, an intriguing and interesting cast of characters with real issues and problems, awe-inspiring animation and music, and applause-worthy acting in both languages, “Planetes” is a prime example of what happens when anime based in space is done RIGHT.
And so we’ve reached the end of both our “Planetes” review and the very active month of January. Honestly, I will be REALLY glad to get this month behind me. But, February promises something to look forward to as we take on anime involving love! Yes, dear readers! “The Cajun Samurai” will take on anime about couples FOR couples! Kicking it off is a short but sweet story sent from the heavens…mostly because the girl is FROM the heavens. Yes, we’ll be tackling the classic series…
“Oh My Goddess! OVA”