Manga author and artist, Makoto Yukimura, made his debut with Planetes. Naturally my curiosity was fueled with a sense of uncertainty, whilst its studio, Sunrise, have quite oppositely established themselves as one of the largest and most critically acclaimed anime studios ever. This level of lopsidedness intrigued me; clearly Sunrise believed in Yukimura’s series. Before the premier episode had aired, I had already read and seen many reviews (notably in Animage), exclaiming how realistic and original the manga was, further suggesting that Planetes would be a series to look out for this fall. So, this wasn’t the typical space opera I was expecting, no, quite contrary, this might deliver something moderately original… Well, after seeing its 26 episodes, each week, I was stunned at the realistic portrayal of not only its space setting but of the interactions between each of the characters. The preliminary hype was rightly deserved.
The story of Planetes is set 70 years in the future, following the crew of the DS-12 “Toy Box” of the Space Debris Section, a unit of the Technora Corporation. Unlike the wide majority of other anime series that revolve around space, or any western science fiction series for that matter, Yukimura’s efforts to capture a realistic depiction of ‘space life’ with all its intricacies is tangible and believable. The weightless environment, for example, increases the cel count in the body in order to make the weightless more fluid. Another instance is how the spaceships do not make any noise in the vacuum of space and the astronauts routinely suffer from known space illnesses such as radiation poisoning, cancer and brittle bones. Furthermore, despite being set in the future, granted foreseeably, the series manages to articulate the technology used throughout without resorting to fiction, relying solely on real science. This is going to sound farfetched but I honestly believe I’ve learnt more about the realities of space exploration from this series alone than my entire academic life at school. In fact, I’m willing to wager that this series should be shown in science classrooms. It’s really that informative, whilst remaining highly enjoyable.
The series begins rather over-the-top, with the introductory episodes seeming decidedly corny at times. Nonetheless, they really help to introduce the characters that we will grow to love, the scenes occasionally being hilarious. It’s the realistic portrayal of the series that oddly delivers a very different type of ‘humour’ to most of the comedy anime series I’ve seen. As we progress onto the seventh to eight episode, the comedy settles into a more thought provoking and well written drama, whilst incorporating the odd humour. The drama that ensues was absolutely fantastic, I felt literally immersed in the world these characters shared. I felt part of their lives, – I could almost taste the food they were eating. This is, at its core, the strength behind Planetes.
Aside from the realistic portrayal of ‘space life’, an integral part of that is the characters. Planetes is, by and large, a character driven show. This is concerning their development throughout the series, from their way of thinking to the life and death situations they encounter, whilst, by the by, introducing romance for extra measure. Everything was portrayed exceptionally well. Ai and Chihaku were my favourite characters by a long shot, followed by Yuri, Dolf and Fii, of whom were fairly interesting but didn’t receive the necessary amount of screen time I would have liked.
Sunrise recognized Yukimura’s intentions, thus delivering ‘real people’. This isn’t about elaborate dresses and hairstyles, no, this is about real people. As such, the character designs demonstrate this difference. They aren’t particularly fantastical, nor do the characters perform any unnatural movements. The characters are just standard people, the way it should be. Sunrise managed to deliver this expectantly well. The only thing I would have liked to see was more facial expression and emotion from the character’s faces. Not to give the wrong impression, though, the characters were drawn and animated particularly well, compared to most other series, just for a series of this realism, I want to be extra nit-picky! The OP and ED were good singularly, although I felt they didn’t match the series well, especially during the latter part when the series becomes more serious. Mikio Sakai has a very distinctive voice and has produced numerous songs for Sunrise. He suited Code Geass and s-CRY-ed, just not this series.
The soundtrack itself was very minimal and seemed nothing of note until the very last episode. Wow, that song (appropriately entitled Planetes) was amazing. It essentially captured the entire series, what magnificence. It’s almost as if the entire soundtrack (composed by Hitomi) was reserved for the last song only. The voice acting was also commendable, with equal share across the cast in delivering solid performances.
Planetes comes as a breath of fresh air to me. This series, at its core, is an original and realistic space story, that accurately portrays how life in space would be like, when and if we achieve such feats.