Director: Goro Taniguchi
Genre: Hard Science fiction, Drama
Planetes is an interesting anime. Its premise starts off simple and somewhat lighthearted, and then as the plot and the characters develop, things get increasingly dramatic. As you would expect, it is a drama, the story is literally about a team of people in the year 2075 who clean up space debris, but naturally there is a lot more to it than that. When I had started watching this series, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but any expectations that I may have had coming into it were completely blown out of the water by the end.
Planetes had its start as a 4-part manga series and was adapted into an anime series towards the end of the manga’s run. The manga was written and illustrated by Makoto Yukimura, while the screenplay for the anime was handled by Ichiro Okouchi, and there are some differences between the way that the anime presents itself compared to the source material. For one thing, in the manga the United States of America is mentioned on a regular basis, and in the anime series, that name is replaced by “INTO.” Another change worth noting is that in the manga the crew’s base of operations is on the moon, whereas in the anime they are situated on a space station in the Earth’s orbit (which, frankly, makes more sense).
The main characters are numerous. It’s hard to say which one is actually the primary character, but Hoshino Hachirota is certainly a character which is focused on heavily. That focus is split with a character named Ai who is a very innocent and empathetic girl that trains under Hachirota as a new member of the debris team. From the moment that the series begins, until the point where it ends, you can take notice of the characters and how vibrant they are. There is no unimportant character in this story, and that really is one of its largest selling points, if not the main one. They all take on the airs of people from completely different walks of life working in the same environment together, and not one of them goes without a spotlight or without important development.
The plot of the anime tackles topics such as corporations and governments, and their firm grasp on the progression of the human race. It also goes over the subjects of terrorism, anti-terrorism, war, and how all of those things tie into the relationships between dominating powers and third-world countries. Not only that, but the story even goes over the psychology of being a space explorer, and how corporations and militarism reign supreme beyond the Earth’s crust. Indeed, the story takes many surreal turns, but the ultimate message in the end is entirely positive, at least from a realistic perspective.
Kotaro Nakagawa was the composer for the anime’s soundtrack, and it was another high point of the series. The traditional orchestral scores fit very well with the show’s setting and feel, and in particular there’s a certain vocal song called “A Secret of the Moon” which plays at some very appropriate moments and makes the scenes much more memorable. The background music isn’t overused by any stretch, so when it does start playing, you know it’s because something important is happening. In these regards, the soundtrack is very well directed throughout the series and all of the songs have appropriate scenes associated with them.
Goro Taniguchi is the director of Planetes. Most of his works prior to this were mecha anime, with the exception of Kochikame and Infinite Ryvius to name his most recent projects before this one. It was an interesting change of pace, as Planetes is a hard science fiction drama (realistic-looking space ships, technology in general looks practical, etc.), it doesn’t even really have much of an appeal to children. It’s a story which is primarily aimed at a mature audience. These things considered, Taniguchi did an outstanding job with the series and kept it extremely well-grounded in what it was supposed to be in the first place. The consistency of his work shows through the consistency of the series. It never falters in quality or focus at any point, and he really worked to make the series as nice as it could ever be.
The animation in the series is mostly handled by 3 chief directors, but most prevalently Yuriko Chiba who is also the character designer for the series. The animation itself is fairly standard; there isn’t anything particularly noteworthy about it, and since this is a drama, that doesn’t really matter. The character designs do, however, and they are worth talking about. The style of character designs in this series is fairly unique, you’d be hard-pressed to find many an anime with a similar style. You could say that the character designs in Planetes are trying to look realistic in a way. The faces are an interesting blend of the minimalistic anime face would look like versus a real face. Eyes are pretty appropriately proportioned most of the time, for example. Noses and heads come in all different shapes. The range of possibilities for character designs really opens up with this type of style, and we see all sorts of shapes and sizes going around.
It’s perhaps worth noting that the anime’s director (Goro Taniguchi), writer (Ichiro Okouchi), and primary chief animation director (Yuriko Chiba) would later collaborate together to work on Code Geass. The series touches on similar themes to Planetes, such as terrorism for example. Another example would be an emphasis on how lower class peoples are constantly stepped on by individuals in power. Both shows display a prevalence of political subject matter, however Planetes presents that subject matter through characters which are much more relatable than in Code Geass. Both stories also tend to improve as they progress.
These individuals leading the project certainly didn’t skimp out on anything with Planetes, though Code Geass shares similarities with it, one could argue that Planetes is superior in its writing. The main element that makes characters seem so relatable and deep in Planetes is the relationships between them. The characters form bonds with each-other, and when one of them strives towards individuality, they have to take the heat from the consequences of their actions. All of the characters seem connected, as if they were real people. It’s a very convincing story as far as characters are concerned.
Everything in the series fits together so harmoniously that it feels like a complete whole. It may not look like much at first, though this is definitely a story which builds up in entertainment value towards the end. It fulfills its role as a drama successfully, and more. Watching the characters cope with the things around them that are so much larger than them, such as the politics of the corporations and governments, as well as just space itself is truly something to appreciate. If you’re looking for a hard science fiction drama about humanity’s relationship with space, then you would be hard pressed to find anything better than Planetes. Through and through, the series delivers in more ways than one, and by the end you would be coming out of it feeling wholly satisfied and perhaps even refreshed. Planetes is one of the best hard science fiction anime you will likely ever come across.