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I first started watching this show a few months ago but just recently finished it. I was watching it alongside some other shows and to be honest I felt that it moved at a very slow pace at the beginning. The story starts out with a naive girl named Ai Tanabe who travels to space to join Technora. She is assigned to the Debris Section, which is considered by many to be the lowest section and is heavily looked down upon. Everyone who works in Debris Section is very unique and has a fairly interesting back story.
Once I got past the first few episodes the series started to pick up a bit and I really got drawn in to the series. Most of the characters are very human and it is very easy to sympathize with them. The main protagonist of the show, Hachirota “Hachimaki” Hoshino, initially just seems like a downer who complains about everything. A running gag is his proclamation that his goal is to have his own spaceship which seems like a very juvenile aspiration. As the series progresses you find out a lot more about his motivations to go into space and realize that he has just been lost and confused about what to do. I had mixed feelings towards Hachimaki throughout the show. At times I could see his shy and withdrawn personality somewhat mirroring my own, but at other times his rash choices led to problems with relationships with others. [singlepic id=3 float=left] Ai Tanabe is the new recruit to the Debris Section and is optimistic about space. She is often very naive of things and usually gets on Hachimaki’s nerves. She serves as a foil to his character and grounds his often reckless decisions. She is also very adamant about love (“ai”, which is also her name) being a solution for things which other characters make fun of her for. She is a very strong willed character who tries very hard to do better as well as live up to the expectations of those around her. My favorite character is Fee Carmichael, who is the captain of the Toy Box (their debris collecting ship). She is very loud and frequently gets irritated at the other crew members but she always has the best intentions. She is a very skilled pilot and captain and is offered a promotion which she refuses because it would mean taking more of an administrative job. She is a heavy smoker which leads to a very hilarious episode since there are designated areas to smoke because smoking is a strain on the life support systems in space.
1. Kessler Syndrome The themes discussed throughout the show are very relevant to our current times because of the expansion into space. The premise of the show is that there is so much debris in space that it can end up causing a lot of danger to spacecraft and satellites. Kessler syndrome, proposed in 1978, is the theory that the amount of space debris in low Earth orbit is so high that objects are frequently struck by other debris, thereby creating even more debris. This would lead to so much debris that space exploration and satellite use unfeasible for many generations. One of the major events that leads to the formation of the Debris Section in the show is an accident in which a civilian spacecraft’s window is struck by a bolt floating through space. The breach in the craft leads to a very devastating accident after which it is determined that there needs to be people to bring in all the debris floating around in space to make it safe again. 2. Relationship with space Many characters through the show wonder about their relationship to space. Hachimaki first wants to go to space to go faster than he can on a motorcycle. He eventually becomes disillusioned about his life as he loses passion for his job. His passion is reignited later into the show but after seeing one of his close friends choose a drastically different path he begins to question whether humans belong in space and if he wants to continue being an astronaut. The main group that brings conflict into the story is called the Space Defense Front. While they use radical methods including acts of terrorism, their view to keep humans out of space is certainly one that can be justified. They also cite political and economic reasons since space exploration serves only to increase the imbalance of power and wealth. 3. Nationality The show has a very culturally diverse cast. Since space exploration is usually seen as an international effort which would benefit all humanity this is very realistic. However, there still appears to be a lot of prejudice towards smaller nations that are not as wealthy. One episode deals specifically with a scientist from a poor nation torn apart by civil war that tries to sell their unique space suit to Technora. They are initially brushed aside by the people in charge and it is up to Debris Section and a fellow compatriot to test the suit and have it be eligible for space use. Several characters state that you cannot see any borders on Earth from space. This commentary on political borders is explored many times throughout the show. The Space Defense Front claims that because it is mostly only the rich nations that are involved with space exploration, they will be the ones who will benefit the most from discoveries of new resources. This would lead to the richer nations becoming even richer while the less wealthy nations steadily decline. 4. Salarymen Everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder to increase their status and salary. Some of the characters in Planetes are seen only wanting to get to a higher position without much thought to those around them. Others have reasons for trying to get a better job or more money. There are also people who don’t really care about their position as long as they get to do what they really want.
While the ending is not a contrived happy ending, it is very believable and fits perfectly with the rest of the show being very uncompromising in its reality. Overall this was a great science fiction show that really touches upon some heavy issues. The relationship of space, humanity, and the individual are deeply explored as well as some moral issues with scientific pursuit. The characters are excellently developed and while I didn’t really like the main character at times, that makes it all the more realistic and believable. It’s no wonder that the manga won the Seiun Award for best science fiction story in 2002 and the anime won in 2005.
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