Planetes: Space is too big to face all alone
May 3, 2014 2:06 PM   Subscribe

Abandoned artificial satellites. Tanks jettisoned from shuttles. Refuse generated during space station construction. This junk, space debris, is traveling around the Earth at speeds approaching 8 km/s. This is a story of 2075, a time in which this space garbage has become a serious problem. This is Planetes, a near-future hard sci-fi story that focuses on a small group of debris collectors who are part of a larger company. Both the original manga and the anime adaptation set small personal stories and dramas in the realistic context of near-future space exploration, complete with radiation sickness, impacts of growing up on the moon, and of course, the dangers of space debris. The reality of the show is emphasized by a recent JAXA presentation was titled PLANETES could be a true story?: Instability of the current debris population in LEO, and the English DVDs include interviews with NASA staff who work on assessing orbital debris.
posted by filthy light thief (40 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
There are at least two previous posts on space junk.

It looks like the series is out-of-print in the US on DVD, but you can find the series subtitled and dubbed online, as well as translations of the original manga. But if you want to get more information first, here's a detailed review of the whole 26 episode series, including the bonus material. Spoilers abound, of course.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:09 PM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

...okay so did you also see that graph about orbital debris going around today or is this just a lovely space garbage coincidence?

Because I told my Twitter feed they all need to watch this show about a half hour ago.

Anyway, PEOPLE SHOULD WATCH PLANETES. Probably the best hard SF television show I've ever seen, animated or otherwise.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:12 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I second that. It's a space based sf series that gets things right.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:19 PM on May 3, 2014

Well, there goes my weekend. Thank you, flt!
posted by Thorzdad at 2:21 PM on May 3, 2014

For people hesitant to get into a sci-fi show, it's only fictional as far as the year is not yet 2075, and we haven't built space stations on the moon yet. Otherwise, it seems to be less speculation about "what might happen if..." and more projecting to "what will happen when..."

Well, there goes my weekend. Thank you, flt!

I was waiting for a flight yesterday and watched eight episodes in a go. It's a really good show, and not the worst way to spend a weekend :)
posted by filthy light thief at 2:24 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Someone somewhere (The Whelk on Twitter? the FanFare MetaTalk thread?) was noticing an upsurge of astronaut-themed TV inbound. One wonders if this might lend itself to licensing for psuedo live action given the production methodology available in the wake of Gravity.
posted by mwhybark at 2:36 PM on May 3, 2014

And if you're leery of anime, this is one of the better shows at writing women, in that they're, you know, people. People who do things. Possibly wearing blue jeans.

The show hits a goofiness bump at episode 6, but it's just a temporary tonal shift and doesn't continue through the show.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 2:38 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

The anime is good, but Planetes is one of the top five manga I've read in the past 20 years. Gravity has nothing on Planetes for orbital dangers. And one of the final scenes involves people yelling at Jupiter.

Shit, I need to read Planetes again.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:40 PM on May 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Had not seen this, looks really interesting. That being said, we need to recycle. Set up an orbital smelter and machine shop. Build out the first big station with local (previously launched) materials.
posted by sammyo at 2:49 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh god, Planetes.

So, Planetes is an anime, but (a few comedic subplots aside) it doesn't feel like one, and perhaps most importantly, it doesn't end like one.

Once you've watched a bunch of anime, you get accustomed to bracing yourself for a lack of resolution. This even holds true for short-run shows like Planetes—even if the plot-arc stuff resolves, often the character-arc stuff doesn't, or only gestures in the direction of a vague resolution sometime in the future.

The last four episodes of Planetes are some of the finest, tightest writing I've ever seen, and the first time I watched them, I was astonished at what I was seeing, simply because I wasn't prepared for how thoroughly and satisfyingly all the loose ends were going to be tied up. This is a show that is Going Somewhere, and lest you worry, 2/3 of the way through the show, that it's going to fizzle—it does not.

Whether you prefer the manga or the anime seems to be a question of which you experienced first. That said, I am firmly in the anime camp; plot-wise, it covers only a subset of the manga's plotline, but it expands that subset substantially, with the addition of comically inept middle-managers (who still get their own arcs and resolutions!!!) and what is to my mind a crucial addition to the cast: the character of Claire Rondo.

A major theme in Planetes is the tension between first- and third-world access to the economic promise of space exploration and development, and in the anime, this tension is largely explored through the vehicle of Claire Rondo, a rising star in the corporation for whom most of the characters work. She emigrated from a war-torn South American country as a child, and has dedicated her life to transcending what she perceives as being her disadvantages.

One of my very favorite episodes—indeed, one of my favorite episodes of anything, ever—is Episode 11, Boundary Line, in which an enterprising engineer from Claire's home country is attempting to get a space suit developed by his scrappy engineering startup certified for use. Claire's ambivalence when dealing with someone from her own nation, and the depiction of the engineer's struggles to be taken seriously, are some of the smartest SF writing I've ever seen.

This doesn't even begin to get into the rest of the cast, who I adore to a one. Each of them feels like an actual human, as opposed to a dewey-eyed anime caricature. This was rare when Planetes came out; it is rarer now.

I cannot recommend the show enough. It's simply one of the best televised narratives ever executed.

Also: Michelle Rodriguez as Fee Carmichael and Liev Schreiber as Yuri Mihailkov, just saying.
posted by Sokka shot first at 3:00 PM on May 3, 2014 [12 favorites]

Tanks jettisoned from shuttles.

Just to be clear, the large external tanks used by Space Shuttles until their recent retirement did not stay in orbit. When the orbiter and tank separated they were both in an orbit with a perigee altitude well within the atmosphere. The tank coasted through most of an orbit and then reentered the atmosphere over the pacific ocean where it subsequently came apart. This was all by design. The orbiter, meanwhile, coasted up to apogee (about 40 minutes after launch) where it used orbital maneuvering engines to raise perigee out of the atmosphere and thereby achieve a stable, exoatmospheric orbit.

That said, orbital debris is a big problem that should not be underestimated.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 3:13 PM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

It is a literal crime against TV animation that the region 1 DVD release of PLANETES was so horribly botched by Bandai; Long story short, the first few volumes were packaged as pricey "deluxe editions" that nobody bought, and there were lengthy delays between subsequent volumes, and there was very little support from the US fandom, so it never really took off here in the States.

PLANETES was so perfectly designed to be a mainstream crossover hit, since it had a truly international cast of characters and some all-around great storytelling with a minimum of the (let's just say) quirkiness that most people associate with anime. But the anime press and fanpeople all decided that they were still way too interested in giant robots and magical schoolgirls and fanservice to give a realistic space show a try. I think it was then that I learned to really hate the insular nature of anime fandom.

Thanks for the post, flt!
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:24 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sokka, I'm going to have to disagree:

Zoe Saldana as Fee
Alexander Skarsgard as Yuri
Tanroh Ishida as Hachi
Hiroyuki Sanada as Goro

I'm not yet sure who would play Ai Tanabe, although I'm starting to be concerned about having that much hotness close to large amounts of liquid O2.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:28 PM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I always thought Buffy-era Alyson Hannigan would have been perfect for Tanabe, although it would've been horribly racebent casting.
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:35 PM on May 3, 2014

I accept Saldana as a plausible alternative, though I'd rather see her as Claire. Skarsgard seems too hot to me, but I'm willing to be persuaded.

Tanroh Ishida is PERFECT, holy shit.

What about Erika Oda for Tanabe?
posted by Sokka shot first at 3:42 PM on May 3, 2014

Now that I think about it, you know what producer would really do right by a live-action Planetes series? Michael Schur/Fremulon productions, the folks behind The Office/Parks & Rec/Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Not only would they absolutely nail the intricacies of workplace conflict (IN SPACE), but it would mean that every episode ended with Nick Offerman saying "Fremulon".
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:50 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:51 PM on May 3, 2014

The episode where Fee really really REALLY needs a cigarette is one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
posted by Aznable at 4:12 PM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is really great, thanks.
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:58 PM on May 3, 2014

Aznable, love your username ;)
posted by gen at 5:08 PM on May 3, 2014

Huh, Wikipedia claims (with a big ol' Citation Needed) that Yuri's voice actor, Takehito Koyasu, is the most prolific voice actor, period. I'm betting that's for anime and excludes, say, Frank Welker. Anyway, Takehito Koyasu is great, and certainly displays some range going from the understated Yuri in Planetes to the over-the-top vampire lord DIO in this season's Stardust Crusaders.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 5:16 PM on May 3, 2014

Planetes really is great — it just does so much stuff so well, and it's the first place I heard the idea of the Kessler syndrome. The sci fi stuff is mundane to the people involved in the best possible way, and even the throwaway characters get rounded out without it ever feeling too forced.

The soundtrack is unique and easily one of my favourites too, so even though the manga hits harder in some places, I think I'll always prefer the anime.
posted by lucidium at 5:19 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's funny that the Japanese term for "debris" appears to be "debris". Because there was traditionally no such thing as debris in Japan. Anything broken was immediately reclaimed and repaired with lacquer and gold leaf while poets composed haikus on the transitory nature of ephemeral objects.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:35 PM on May 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is great. Thanks, filthy light thief.
posted by homunculus at 5:51 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

this is one of the better shows at writing women

My god. I couldn't even make it past the first two episodes 'cause of all the LOLwomen. If what you say is true, I'll just stick strictly to Ghibli from now on and stop experimenting altogether.
posted by tigrrrlily at 7:02 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, the Planetes manga is one of the most touching things I've ever read. Like all good sci-fi, it takes place in the future, but it's not about the future at all - more about the knot between ambition, desire, psyche, ego, love, being, etc.
posted by suedehead at 7:19 PM on May 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Must be some odd serendipity regarding Planetes because I recommended it just a couple weeks ago to a couple of the anime-watchers in chat. It's really some top-notch anime.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 7:21 PM on May 3, 2014

I couldn't even make it past the first two episodes 'cause of all the LOLwomen.

The show definitely doesn't have a perfect scorecard, gender-wise, but I'm honestly interested to know specifically what you mean by this, as it's not a complaint I've ever encountered before.

I'll just stick strictly to Ghibli from now on and stop experimenting altogether.

I would suggest also looking into the (tragically few) films of Satoshi Kon.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:53 PM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hmm, I guess I should have said that Planetes treats its main characters well. Sort of forgot that Fee is the exception in the show, gender roles wise, and that Tanabe's character is built up at the expense of some very shallow female characters. Am I at least remembering right that the show is pretty critical of the corporation the Debris Section works for, in terms of corruption and discrimination?
posted by knuckle tattoos at 9:14 PM on May 3, 2014

I've had someone say that the show hits its stride a bit later on, and I've been meaning to get back to it... I'll save it for a summer evening after a particularly good day at work, I guess, try and give it a fair(er) shake.
posted by tigrrrlily at 9:25 PM on May 3, 2014

What's great about Planetes is not just the sci-fi backdrop, but some incredibly moving scenes and wonderful character development for the ensemble "cast". Incidentally, I can't watch an interview of Elon Musk without thinking of this series.

The only problem with Planetes is that it will leave you wanting more high-quality anime with great writing. Dennō Coil (Cyber Coil) is an excellent follow-up in the sci-fi genre, as well as the short Time of Eve series. Also, it's not sci-fi, but Usagi Drop (Bunny Drop) is a beautiful story.
posted by LURK at 10:36 PM on May 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I read this manga back in 2005/6 and I think it's what's got me into manga and anime to the extent that I am into today. It was heralded at that time as a manga for people whom don't like manga. I've never watched the anime of this one but the manga is close to my heart always. It's got all the essential elements of story-telling at heart without any of the convoluted misgivings of most Japanese modern story-telling media.

I haven't read much that can match it in Manga aside from maybe Beck, and Space Brothers. But if you don't mind a bit of the convoluted essence (my english teacher once told me even shakespeare was quite convoluted), then also check out the epic manga, "EDEN: IT'S AN ENDLESS WORLD!" as well. You won't be sorry!
posted by cicadaverse at 12:32 AM on May 4, 2014

*Here be spoilers*
I liked Planetes, I even bought the DVDs, but I thought it went a bit bonkers with the moon ninjas and the ending was unbelievable. In that I couldn't believe that Tanabe's tenacity was all a beard for her desire to be a stay at home mother.
posted by asok at 2:40 AM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think the moon ninjas bit was an excuse to play with the moon's limited gravity, versus the somberness and seriousness of the Lunarian and others in the hospital.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:16 AM on May 4, 2014


I think about that aspect of the ending a lot. Partially because having a romantic relationship end in an actual marriage proposal and the starting of a new family seriously never happens in anime, ever, so I couldn't help but love it a little, for that reason alone.

But yeah, the idea that Tanabe is going to follow in Mrs. Hoshino's footsteps and be a lonely space housewife never sat very well with me. When I daydream about the future adventures of those characters (which I do, frequently) I always see Tanabe as being more like Fee—a mother, but one with ambitions outside of the home. Just because she doesn't have Hachi's obsession with exploration doesn't mean she doesn't want to keep working in space, I feel, so when little Sora (yes, Hachi and Tanabe's kid is named Sora, spelled with the kanji for "Space," I feel very strongly about this) grows up a little, I always assumed Tanabe would sign back up with the debris section or something else space-related.

I mean, given everything that happens, you'd have to assume she would be able to make a pretty good case for hiring her, even if she does take a couple years off to have her kid.

Of course, my elaborate daydreams are not part of the text, and I don't blame anyone who finds that aspect of the ending offputting. And yet I think that starting a family is absolutely 100% in-character for Tanabe (particularly given her backstory as presented in the manga), and that considering the timing of various events in the story, it would make sense for her to do it when she does.
posted by Sokka shot first at 7:02 AM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

In case you were wondering how hard the science is in Planetes, i give you one example: Invisible frickin laser beams!

Planetes is excellent, but if suffers from a weak beginning (up to around episode 8 IIRC). I *almost* gave up on it, but the hard sci-fi kept me interested enough to get past that. I still think Nodame Cantabile beats it on the character development side though.
posted by lawrencium at 9:28 AM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

My teenage son found this and made me watch. Great stuff.
We'll look for the manga now.
posted by doctornemo at 10:14 AM on May 4, 2014

So, Planetes is an anime, but (a few comedic subplots aside) it doesn't feel like one, and perhaps most importantly, it doesn't end like one.

True fact, Planetes is anime and ends like one. What it is, is really great anime. Anime is not a genre, it's the name for the medium of animation in Japan. It can be anything, and even if all that one mostly encounters involves giant mecha or indulgent male fantasies of women, that is just a slice of the thing we call anime. It's Planetes that shows how awesome anime is, because it crosses through so many genres, styles and themes.

It's a show that is something of a quiet wonder, as it wins you over often with little things and touches. Sure, there's space ninjas on the moon, but I think that's just more honest predictive reasoning than anything else. I do need to re-watch it soon.
posted by Atreides at 1:06 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, yes, there's a difference between anime-the-medium and anime-the-metagenre, and while the two terms are frequently used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. While Planetes is obviously an example of its own medium, it's very much not of a piece with what anime-the-genre would lead you to suspect, was my point.
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:52 PM on May 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

it's very much not of a piece with what anime-the-genre would lead you to suspect, was my point.

I understand, I just fear that using the word "anime" as short hand for a subsection of it, is ultimately disingenuous. If everyone habitually just accepts that categorization, it definitely could lead to people dismissing or completely ignoring the medium all together. I'd rather live in a world where the term anime is an all encompassing one, s'all.
posted by Atreides at 7:20 AM on May 5, 2014

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