TV (26 eps)
2003 - 2004
Fall 2003
4.059 out of 5 from 6,955 votes
Rank #767

In the year 2075, humanity has spread to the stars, along with their technology, colonies, and... waste? At such great speeds in orbit, even a tiny bolt can cause a tragic disaster. Enter the team of the half division. Their job? To gather the garbage and debris that circles the Earth, in order to keep space safe. From broken-down satellites to bolts and nails, there's nothing that the underpaid and underappreciated staff can't salvage. Join Hachimaki, Tanabe, Fee, and the rest of the gang as they risk their lives to keep space clean, and keep their wallets... empty.

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StoryHighly detailed and comprehensive world settings do not a story make. Nonetheless, combined with a humorous cast and a poignantly contemporary narrative, the use of detailed realism can be the clincher for maximum entertainment. Planetes happens to be just that kind of anime. With its well-versed futuristic take on timeless human struggles, it doesn’t just look like science fiction; it feels like the world of tomorrow. The most important fact to note about Planetes is that it is not a slice-of-life in the ‘random nonsense’ tradition. Here, the meaning strictly refers to its focus upon realism, its everyday, strip-back-the-gimmicks level of drama. What it portrays is a situation that is more than just idle speculation, but a plausible future context and characters with ordinary ambitions and believable struggles. This doesn’t imply the plot lacks excitement or genuine surprises, but simply means identifying with the characters and events becomes that much easier. Furthermore, this fact reveals the true extent of Planetes’ achievement: unlike so many sci-fi shows, it undertakes the difficult task of revealing the extraordinary in the ordinary rather than using ostentatious production values to hook the audience. Unsurprisingly, there are kinks in its technique which hamper the enjoyment for the first few episodes. During its early phase, Planetes relies on episodic developments to lay important groundwork, and, as such, feels slow and tentative. One moment Tanabe frets about the meaning of death in the great vastness of space, and the next she frolics around on a low-G planet dressed in corny ninja gear. Only later does it become a more serialised, cohesive whole with a powerful climax. While this method means its characters attain a commendable level of depth before the main adventure kicks in, the initial lack of focus will likely prove gently amusing at best and somewhat frustrating at worst. Either way, the wide-ranging build-up avoids nosediving into dry scientific lectures – an achievement in and of itself. Instead, Planetes explores the politics behind the science through the characters’ natural cumulative experiences. From war to eco-war, from death to the evolution of humanity, all of these conflicts reveal something fundamental about the role of science in society and are handled with great sensitivity. Most of all, Planetes rewards its patient viewers with a phenomenal payoff in its latter half as impeccably fleshed-out characters face the reality of where technological advancement has brought them. In the end, Planetes always focuses upon the poignant human tragedies; the content and the humour with which it portrays this are always refined and insightful, leading to intensely gratifying conclusions.AnimationThe character designs generally lean towards realism, the direction offers few flashy effects or severe camera angles, and any CG animation only crops up to add realistic detail to the machinery and environments. As such, Planetes effects a simple, clean look that is also engrossingly apposite given its condensed drama. Occasionally, whenever key scenes permit, Planetes will add romantic details to amplify the ambience: as Tachimaki converses with a girl native to the moon, for example, the switch to a theatrical concept involving glaring lights, shadows, and the deep black of space works beautifully.SoundWith a mix of funky beats, choral harmonies, and breathtaking instrumentals, Planetes’ soundtrack is an aural bag of All Sorts. In truth, with such a solid plot and amusing set of characters, the music inevitably takes an incidental role. However, even its covert achievements form a part of Planetes’ attention to detail; while only a few of the themes stand out in their own right as worthwhile singles, every melody delicately enhances the impact of its respective scene.CharactersThe characters and their development rank amongst some of the most involving in any drama. These are vibrant characters that leap off the screen the moment they walk across it. Every one of them has their emotional depths, their ambitions, and their humorous edge, and fans should easily find a favourite amongst them. Surprisingly, the lead character Ai Tanabe turns out to be one of the weaker personalities on offer. As protagonist, she seems more like an accessory in her own story – the moral mouthpiece reminding everyone to love – than the person who drives it. Moreover, while most of the others are explored to a great degree fairly quickly, Ai’s background and personal struggles remain a mystery until the final handful of episodes. Still, on the whole, she remains consistently enjoyable to follow, if not exactly rousing. Mostly, Hachimaki, Tanabe’s new partner and temperamental foil, occupies the spotlight with his intense personal dilemmas. Also amongst the best is Fee Carmichael, the Debris Section captain, who will fascinate on first sight because of her laid-back attitude and gung-ho leadership style. Finally, Yuri Mikhailkov, the reticent and secretive first officer, in defiance of his initial banality, ends up offering one of the most emotional plotlines of the entire show.OverallFor those who like their sci-fi hardboiled and their drama subtly stirring, Planetes will constitute that one in a million viewing experience. Its uniquely realistic conception of space, physics, and engineering feels as concrete as taking a course in all three subjects, while its theme-oriented presentation and humanising comedy ensure it remains gripping for all the right reasons. Indeed, leisurely build-up aside, Planetes manages to keep the human tale close to heart in a vast and impassive landscape filled with dead objects. As such, it is an exercise in ingenuity.


Story8 kilometers per second. That is the velocity of space debris orbiting Earth. A single collision between a piece of space debris and a spacecraft in orbit creates even more debris and escalates the probability of yet more collisions. Taken to its logical extreme, this chain reaction, known as the Kessler Syndrome, eventually renders the space surrounding our planet completely impassable, and space exploration and travel would be halted indefinitely. Since mankind's first foray into space, humans have ignored the consequences of littering in space. In the year 2068, a stray screw hit a passenger shuttle. The resulting explosion left no survivors. It is a rude wake-up call to all the mega-corporations who exploit outer space from their space stations for economic profit. In a knee-jerk reaction, these companies establish debris collection departments, whose job it is to clear space of dangerous objects in orbit. Over time, budgets for these "space-cleaning" efforts dwindle, as one company looks to the next to shoulder the huge financial burden of cleaning up the ever-growing mess.This is the stark and grimly realistic backdrop of Planetes, the story of the debris collection department of Technora Corp., told through the eyes of the department's newcomer, Tanabe Ai. Each episode shows the audience what life might be like for an average space worker in the not-so-distant future. Because the anime itself is hard science fiction, technical details are exceedingly accurate, and the portrayal of the different environments of a space station and a lunar colony are all extremely believable. Few slice-of-life anime are as comprehensive and authentic as Planetes. The level of detail is sublime. The events of the anime do not occur in some sort of isolated bubble; rather, the socio-political environment on Earth and in outer space is constantly changing and affecting the lives of the characters. So masterfully are all these minutiae worked into the story that a person watching Planetes casually may not even notice them, beyond remarking how "naturally" everything fits together in this fictional world. AnimationMy high regard for the realism and authenticity in Planetes is also due in part to the fidelity with which the animators have brought to life Yukimura Makoto's vision of humanity's future outer space. It is no small feat to introduce an audience to the many facets of the futuristic world they see on screen, with the same casual nonchalance of someone telling a bedtime story.Unfortunately, the visual quality of Planetes is let down by some truly bizarre colouring choices. For an anime so obsessed detail and realism, I was surprised that a many Earth-born characters were drawn with strange features such as purple pupils or green eyebrows. Furthermore, the characters in Planetes have horrendous fashion sense. I recall being distracted at least once per episode by the questionable appearance of the characters. SoundThe seiyuu fail to deliver outstanding performances, but also refrain from detracting from the rest of the anime. There is one notable exception: the supposedly humourous moments are made even more cheesy and obnoxiously out of place by the poor delivery and timing of the "punchlines". The soundtrack draws from various styles to create the diverse spectrum of musical moods needed to accompany a slice-of-life series like Planetes. Despite the anime's fair share of dramatic moments, the music is always understated, never amplifying the intensity of the events on screen. Rather, the musical selection seems geared towards letting the visual animation do the communicating with the audience. Particularly noteworthy is the anime's title song, Planetes, which really complements the scenes in which the piece is played.CharactersAs is the case with many hard science fiction stories, characters are treated with far less importance than the technical accuracy of the plot. Planetes is no exception to this rule. It is not so much that the anime's characters are poorly designed, as they are bland and generic given the rich background of the story which permits for them to be so much more interesting and unique. Surprisingly, it is a supporting character which ends up being the most fully developed, while unanswered questions about the main characters still remain at the end of the series. OverallI have to confess that I started watching Planetes with the wrong expectations. Perhaps this is a function of the highly captivating manner in which the director set up the first episode, but potential viewers of this anime should not expect the plot to culminate in some sort of brilliant climax. It is a straight-up slice-of-life anime. Period. End of story. It is great at what it aims to do, but does nothing more. As such, the anime shines in the way it draws the audience into its world. If all anime brought the level of detail and consistency displayed in Planetes to the creation of their worlds, I daresay the quality of anime will rise a notch or two. Few anime of this length can convey so much insight into the way their characters live, and how their lives change when the social, economic and political values shift over time in reaction to new events. For lovers of true science fiction, this is an automatic must-see. For those who enjoy slice-of-life, Planetes will open your eyes to the definition of detail and immersiveness.


Perhaps the most interesting anime to compare Planetes to is Last Exile - not for the similarities between the two, but for the differences. The two animes both attempt to show an alternate, futuristic world with a large cast of characters, but the actual approaches are radically different. With Last Exile, we are plunged into a chaotic world of war, intrigue, and power games. The first few episodes are incredibly bewildering (albeit in a good way), and we feel totally enveloped in the fantastically imaginative world that the anime is taking place in. Planetes, on the other hand, seems to almost be hiding its ambition. Rather than the flashy introduction that Last Exile treats us to, Planetes chooses a humbler but equally effective beginning. In place of a fantastically developed setting, we are treated to… garbage collectors in space. Furthermore, rather than the absolutely amazing animation and the excellent OST of Last Exile, Planetes delivers an animation and sound combo that manages to be competent, but nothing more. More importantly than any of these elements, however, Planetes chooses to at first eschew a linear storyline and instead focus on a series of self contained vignettes. I have always personally been wary of self-contained, episodic plots (see my reviews of Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex and Kimagure Orange Road). Not only is there very little incentive to keep watching the show, but character development seems to be completely forgotten as the writers concentrate on maintaining the status quo. Fortunately, Planetes manages to avoid these pitfalls by refusing to allow its characters to stop developing. In each and every episode near the beginning, at least one of the characters will either grow into someone more interesting or show a side that was completely hidden to us until now. This, combined with the fact that the individual episodic plots are surprisingly engaging, make the show work. In the end, this has some of the best self contained episodes since Cowboy Bebop. …and then, without any warning whatsoever, the plotline ceases to be episodic altogether. All of the previous, seemingly unrelated episodes tie together brilliantly, with the well developed characters becoming overshadowed by the emerging storyline. It is then that one realizes that the anime’s supposedly humble beginnings are merely a device to set the stage for the fantastic final act. Instead of introducing us to the amazingly well-conceived world all at once, the anime inches us in slowly. The world is then carefully developed through a series of almost anecdotal episodic plots. Finally, near the end, the safety guards are lifted and we are plunged into the deep end. All of the previously unnoticed themes that had been shimmering underneath the surface of the anime (idealism vs. practicality, the price of progress, the fragility of human life) are brought into focus, and combine into an amazingly beautiful storyline. In the end, Planetes, unlike Last Exile, is an example of an epic story done right. Last Exile carried with it a distinct lack of planning; even as I was wowed by the amazing cgi, the fabulous OST or the breathtaking setting, I always felt as if Gonzo was improvising as it went along, with no idea where the storyline would take the characters next. Planetes has no such feeling. From the very beginning, Sunrise knows exactly where the show is going, and even more impressively, trusts that viewers will have the patience to watch through the entire show. The result is astounding. I’ll be the first one to admit that the first episode of Last Exile is miles ahead of just about any anime’s, but when judged as a complete work, Planetes is a superior series.

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