Planetes–Anime Review

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5 Stars
This show has a special meaning for me because it reminds me of the science fiction stories that I loved as a boy, stories by people like Heinlein and Clarke and del Rey, many of which dealt with the early days of space exploration and settlement. These stories featured brave, self-reliant pioneers who navigated their way around the solar system using slide rules. They had little patience with bureaucratic rules; they got themselves into trouble by taking one chance too many; and they got themselves out by means of their wits and their engineering skills. I can see in retrospect that many of them were flawed characters, but they were always interesting.

Planetes represents the same sort of hard-SF. It is actually better written than many of the stories that I remember, but it has the same sense of wonder and hope and excitement.

  • Title
    Planetes (Greek for “Wanderers”) [1]
  • Genres
    Science Fiction, Drama, Adventure, Romance
  • Demographic
  • Contents
    24 Episodes on 6 DVDs
  • Languages
    English, Japanese with subtitles
  • Based on
    a manga by Makoto Yukimura
  • Director
    Goro Taniguchi
  • Script
    Ichiro Okouchi
  • Character Design
    Yuriko Chiba
  • Art Director
    Shigemi Ikeda
  • Music
    Kotaro Nakagawa
  • Mechanical Design
    Seiichi Nakatani, Takeshi Takakura
  • Conceptual Design
    Shinya Ogura
  • Overall Animation Director
    Seiichi Nakatani, Yuriko Chiba
  • Animation Studio
  • Broadcast
    NHK, 2003-2004
  • Region 1 Publisher
    Bandai Entertainment

This is definitely not the sort of sci-fi show where spaceships zoom around like fighter jets or motorcycles, and astronauts go into battle inside of giant humanoid robots. The writers and artists have gone to a great deal of trouble to get the physics right and make the technology look plausible. I can think of no other television shows, and very few movies, that have done such a good job of getting things to look right [2]. The main comparison that comes to mind from a technical standpoint is Kubrick’s 2001, A Space Odyssey.

On the other hand 2001 didn’t put much effort into character development (unless HAL counts), while Planetes is very character-based. It also does not have 2001‘s acid-trip ending, though the ending does indulge in a bit of Buddhist mysticism.

I imagine that the original audience found the ending of Planetes entirely satisfactory, but some aspects of the ending may bother American viewers. In fact there is one aspect of the ending that many Americans will find annoying if not infuriating. Since it is not my purpose here to require anime to uphold American values, I did not let this affect the number of stars that I awarded.

Another possible objection is that the plot depends on too many unlikely coincidences. In retrospect I think this was probably a deliberate decision by the writers. It all depends on whether you accept the ending; if you buy into the ending than the coincidences actually make sense.

Parental Advisory

I don’t recommend this for young children due to violence and adult themes. Age 10 is probably a reasonable minimum.

Premise and Characters

Moon and ShipIn the late 21st century the development of fusion power has solved the worst of Earth’s energy problems, but the planet is depleted of resources and has come to depend on outer space as a source of raw materials. The major industrial powers have large space programs, with bases on the Moon and Mars and in Earth orbit.
INTO Supreme CouncilTo avoid conflict the major powers have established an international organization called INTO to regulate space activities and keep order on Earth. INTO is a powerful organization, but it is secretive, bureaucratic, largely unaccountable and somewhat corrupt. While the rich countries that control INTO have prospered from their access to space resources, poor countries without space programs have fallen even further behind. Countries that want to start space programs find INTO’s bureaucratic rules a major hindrance.
ISPV-7This is Space Station 7, which is operated by the Technora Corporation, a giant multinational. The station is a major transit point for travel between the Earth and the Moon, as well as a base for operations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
Debris CollectionOf all of Technora’s divisions operating on the space station, the least respected is the Debris Section. Fast-moving orbiting pieces of debris left by earlier space activities are a constant threat to spaceships and personnel. INTO will pay a bounty for every piece of debris removed from important orbits, but it is not a very profitable operation. The Debris Section is know derisively as the “half section” because it constantly gets only half the budget and personnel it is supposed to.
Ai TanabeAi Tanabe is an eager recruit who just arrived at the space station and is promptly assigned to the Debris Section. She’s a bit shocked to find herself in such a disreputable and eccentric group, but she is not easily discouraged.
Tanabe has a naive idealism that tends to make her jaded coworkers (and probably some viewers) roll their eyes. She actually seems to believe that all of the world’s problems can be solved with enough love (ai.)
HachimakiHachirota Hoshino (called “Hachimaki” for the headband that he always wears) is an Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) Specialist and is assigned to train Tanabe. He is a moody loner who dreams of someday owning his own spaceship.yuri
Fee CarmichaelFee Carmichael is the cynical and sometimes short-tempered captain of the Toy Box, the section’s decrepit spaceship. One reason for her short temper is her addiction to cigarettes, an inconvenient habit on a space station. Nevertheless she is a skilled pilot.
YuriYuri Mihairokoh is the copilot of the Toy Box. He is a quiet, thoughtful man who helps take care of the space station’s animals.
Philippe MeyersPhilippe Myers is the Debris Section’s manager, an easygoing fellow who seems to have been promoted to his level of incompetence. He is counting the days to when he can retire on a pension.
Tanabe and LavieMyers’ assistant Arvind Lavie is an incorrigible clown. He dreams of being promoted to a more prestigious position, but it is hard to envision him in one.
EdelEdelgard Rivera is a contract worker who helps with the section’s paperwork. She is a stickler for following the rules.
ClaireClaire Rondo works in the Control Section, which handles space traffic control She is cool, efficient and unfriendly.
LucieTanabe’s roommate Lucie Ascham is determined to catch herself a husband.
Cheng ShinCheng Shin Kho is a handsome young shuttle pilot, very popular with the female personnel.
Dolf AzariaDolf Azaria is the manager of the space station and in charge of the corporation’s activities in low earth orbit. Once he was a freewheeling space entrepreneur but he was forced to sell out to Technora. Since he has little talent for corporate politics he is unlikely to rise any further.
GigaltGigalt Gungulgash is a veteran astronaut who originally trained Hachimaki. Now he works for the Orbital Security Agency which acts as the local police force.
HakimGigalt’s deputy Hakim Ashmead is reserved and efficient.
Harry RolandGigalt in turn was trained by Harry Roland, a legendary astronaut who is now dying of cancer in a hospital on the Moon.
NonoIn the same hospital is Nono, a cheerful childlike girl wants to know about life on Earth.
Colin CliffordColin Clifford is the son of the Chairman of INTO and a monstrous spoiled brat. Everyone is very deferential to him for fear of his father.
The von BraunOf all the projects that the Technora Corporation is involved with, the most ambitious is the Werner von Braun, a huge spaceship powered by an experimental “tandem mirror fusion engine.” It is intended to carry the first manned expedition to Jupiter and pave the way for the commercial exploitation of the giant planet’s resources.
LocksmithThe head of this project, and the designer of the von Braun, is Werner Locksmith. He is a brilliant engineer but a ruthless egotist who will stop at nothing to make the project succeed.
GoroLocksmith is determined to recruit Goro Hoshino for the mission. He is a veteran astronaut and a brilliant spaceship engineer, but he is an odd character with a twisted sense of humor. He is also Hachimaki’s father, though the two of them don’t get along well.


Wikipedia entry (spoilers.)

ANN Encyclopedia entry.

For balance, a negative review (major spoilers!)


[1] Since the word is Greek it should be pronounced “plan-eh-teez.”

[2] Of course, any true space geek should be able to find things that seem questionable, but given the overall level of quality it seems churlish to pick nits.

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