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I’ve been more a fan of ani­me in the past than I have been more re­cent­ly, but nor­mal­ly the best of what I watch of ani­me ends up be­ing some of my fa­vorites of me­dia in gen­er­al. My tastes in ani­me pret­ty much align much with my tastes in books and film, so ba­si­cal­ly any­thing that is even re­mote­ly en­ter­tain­ing with a sci-fi or space theme will get my at­ten­tion. That’s how I first came to know of Planetes, af­ter watch­ing Cowboy Bebop for the first time (Sunrise pro­duced both ti­tles, go fig­ure) and be­ing on the hunt for oth­er great space ani­me. And not to spoil things too much for this re­view, but Planetes is a fan­tas­tic ani­me. Which is why I al­ways won­dered why such an amaz­ing work hasn’t been seen by more peo­ple. Well this re­view is here to tell you why you should hunt down this show de­spite it not be­ing very com­mon on the mar­ket.

I hon­est­ly can­not blame peo­ple for hav­ing not heard about Planetes, with it be­ing out of print on DVD and the Blu-ray col­lec­tion be­ing a Japanese only re­lease. It, like a lot of ani­me, was based on a man­ga of the same name that start­ed it’s run in 1999 (it is equal­ly well re­viewed, though I still need to read it). The 26 episode ani­me adap­ta­tion aired in 2003 and was pro­duced by none oth­er than Sunrise. Direction was left in the very ca­pa­ble hands of Gorō Taniguchi of s-CRY-ed fame. Charismatic char­ac­ters, sub­urb voice act­ing and mu­sic, ab­solute­ly artis­tic fram­ing, pol­ished pac­ing, and an­i­ma­tion that bor­dered on Disney qual­i­ty dur­ing zero-g seg­ments com­bined to make a con­sis­tent­ly high rat­ed pro­duc­tion since it’s re­lease for those who can find it.

So just what is Planetes? Planetes is what hap­pens when a well re­searched (the shows pro­duc­tion was ad­vised by the Japanese space agency JAXA) hard sci­ence ani­me meets a deep char­ac­ter dra­ma. The shows fo­cus is in the near fu­ture where space trav­el is much more a com­mer­cial af­fair, and the nor­mal traf­fic of hu­mans over the decades has caused a prob­lem with space garbage. Planetes fol­lows the di­verse em­ploy­ees of the trash di­vi­sion (de­ri­sive­ly called “Half-Section” due to hav­ing half the bud­get, half the em­ploy­ees, and half the space of oth­er di­vi­sions) of Technora Corporation, and their new re­cruit Ai Tanabe. Tanabe’s ide­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of em­ploy­ment in space come to terms with the re­al­i­ty of life work­ing in “Half-Section,” while the team learns and grows dur­ing the course of the shows events.

 

 

That sum­ma­ry is do­ing a dis­ser­vice to the char­ac­ter and plot threads that in­ter­weave in this tale, but that gets you the door with­out spoil­ing any­thing. The themes run­ning in the show go from light to dead­ly heavy in the course of its run, and touch on things rang­ing from the di­vi­sions among up­per and low­er class­es to spe­cif­ic char­ac­ters ex­is­ten­tial dread. This ani­me spends an equal amount of fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing the char­ac­ters and work­ing on mak­ing its sci­ence en­ter­tain­ing and re­al­is­tic. In fact, in the com­men­tary on the DVD, NASA em­ploy­ees re­al­ly only fault the fea­si­bil­i­ty of ef­fi­cient­ly spend­ing that much en­er­gy on col­lect­ing small­er space de­bris. It’s in­ter­est­ing triv­ia to note that the idea of space trash caus­ing is­sues with fu­ture ven­tures in space was pro­posed by NASA sci­en­tist Donald J. Kessler, with the ef­fect hav­ing the apt name of the Kessler Effect.

Those who can find this show are in for a fan­tas­tic ride. Planetes can eas­i­ly be placed as a con­tender for one of the best pro­duced ani­mes I’ve had the plea­sure of watch­ing. The gen­er­al an­i­ma­tion is al­ready ex­cel­lent for an ani­me, but they then go the ex­tra mile of go­ing with even more frames of an­i­ma­tion per sec­ond on the scenes in­volv­ing zero-g so they have the right feel of peo­ple flow­ing in that en­vi­ron­ment. The char­ac­ter de­signs are some­thing I en­joy a lot as well, with each char­ac­ter be­ing dis­tinct and fit­ting very well with the over­all char­ac­ter­is­tics and mo­ti­va­tions of their per­son­al­i­ty. There were also no char­ac­ters that grat­ed on me dur­ing the show ei­ther, which is a feat in and of it­self. Though I could un­der­stand if Tanabe’s over the top op­ti­mism at the start of the show could be a lit­tle sac­cha­rine for some tastes. But it gets off­set by the gruff Hoshino, and it all evens out as the sto­ry pro­gress­es and the two op­po­sites start to rub off on each oth­er. 

Planets also has the ben­e­fit of be­ing paced ex­treme­ly well. The sto­ry flows near flaw­less­ly from hu­mor, to ten­sion, to char­ac­ter build­ing. Each episode deft­ly fits into the over­all sto­ry, and with zero filler (some ar­gue the moon ninja’s episode is filler, but I say it fits well with the char­ac­ter build­ing, as well hav­ing a place in the ani­me to take a breath from more se­ri­ous arcs) the sto­ry push­es you along in a plea­sur­able way.

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Taking a lis­ten to the au­dio de­part­ment doesn’t dis­ap­point ei­ther. This hap­pens to be one of the rare ani­mes where the English dub ver­sion is as good as the Japanese w/ subs ver­sion. Every one sounds as they should, they emote and act so well for their char­ac­ters, and the only changes to the di­a­log from my view­ings were slight changes to make the gram­mar more nat­ur­al for English. I’d say it’s on par with Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi’s dub. I still pre­fer the sub­ti­tled ver­sion over­all (the Japanese way of say­ing “I copy!” is just great), but you will not be miss­ing any­thing ei­ther way. The OST for this ani­me also de­serves a shout out, and is this sweep­ing or­ches­tral af­fair com­posed by Kōtarō Nakagawa, and fits the themes and vi­su­als of the show like peanut but­ter and jel­ly.

 

It’s just a damn shame that this show is nowhere to be seen on stream­ing ser­vices and the DVD re­lease is out of print, mak­ing find­ing this show hard­er to find. The DVD col­lec­tion on eBay tends to price $60+ for de­cent con­di­tion copies, with each disc of the box col­lec­tion go­ing any­where from $6 to $50. There is a Japanese only re­lease Blu-ray, but that will set you back $350 at least. It’s been hard to track down just why this show isn’t li­cenced on any stream­ing or dig­i­tal pur­chase ser­vices, and I hope that changes in the fu­ture. Though get­ting the DVD or Blu-ray ver­sions is some­thing I would sug­gest for fans of ex­tras. I can’t speak for the Blu-ray, but the DVDs in­clude some great com­men­tary from NASA em­ploy­ees.

Planetes is one of those ani­mes that I whole­heart­ed­ly rec­om­mend to ani­me fans, space geeks, or peo­ple who just plain like good sto­ries. This ani­me is one that I would feel safe rec­om­mend­ing to non-anime geeks to show that it’s not all just mag­i­cal girls and mecha. Find it, watch it, and be bet­ter for it.

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Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand