Planetes is unique in that the attention to technical detail in the plot un unsurpassed. It presents a very realistic story set in a very believable future where mankind is beginning to expand into the outer planets of the solar system. It is this same convincing attention to detail that can make the show seem a bit too burdensome. Every now and again the dialogue falls into a spew of technical details that flies over the head of anyone that isn't a hard core space geek. But for those who are familiar with many of these concepts, it makes the story all the more believable.
One major downside, is that a vast majority of the first 20 or so episodes are all build up for the end. Some of the episodes really should have been left out as they don't provide much for the main plot (an episode featuring moon ninjas comes to mind). Despite the vast amounts of buildup, the climactic finish is great, but it comes suddenly and hits hard. Then again, life's difficulties often sneak up on you and in a sense that adds to the realism.
This anime does an amazing job of blending CG and hand drawn animation, especially for the backgrounds. The blend is so great that is is often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. As with the storytelling, the art design sticks to a sense of realism. My big complaint is that the character animation seems flat compared to the detailed world around them. The characters themselves are well designed in that they are distinctive and memorable, but very flat in both color and appearance.
As with all other aspects of the show, realism is at the core of the sound design, and for this show that means utilizing silence when needed. I was very relieved that for the first time I can remember, I was watching a show that takes place in space that is truly silent as it is in reality. Often the only sounds heard while the heroes are on their space walks is the sounds of their intercom, and the clicks of their computer interface as they type out with their gloves. This faithfulness to science is welcome to those like me who are bugged by the fact that in movies like Star Wars you hear the sounds of ships flying, shooting, and exploding when in reality you wouldn't hear a thing.
When it comes to the opening and closing themes, I was very disappointed. The animation for the opening is a great montage paying tribute to the history of space exploration, but the music for both it and the closing sequence are uninspiring and forgettable.
The character voice acting was pretty good for the main characters, but there are few of them that are painful to listen to. One character comes to mind, a certain Ravi Arvind, but I almost think they did it intentionally to match his annoying personality and I will get more into that in the next section.
The character design is, once again, founded in realism. The characters are believable and throughout the show, we learn the depths and motivations of each. Some are pressed on by a troubled past, others by hope in the future. As mentioned earlier, a few characters are quite annoying and just flat out weird like the moon ninjas that appear quite out of the blue in one of the earlier episodes, but don’t let that detract you from watching this show. The main cast itself is quite memorable, and after learning a bit of each of the main bunch, by the end of the show they almost feel like close friends.
Just as important as character design is character development. One of the key aspects of Planetes is the growth and development of the bond between the main characters. This is where the storytelling shines. The bond between the main characters Tanabe and Hoshino is pressed as opportunity arises and as events unfold. In this way the characters are quite dynamic.
Despite being a bit drawn out and a few annoying characters Planetes really shines in it’s attention to detail and presentation of realistic view of the future, be it the political ramifications of events unfolding, or the simple lack of sound in space. I did notice that since the show was released in 2006, a year before the first iPhone came out, the author’s view of futuristic communications are a bit lacking even compared to what we have today. That aside, if you have any interest in space exploration, there is no better show to watch. It really stands apart from anything else that I have seen so far.