Also Known As: Wanderers
Genre: Drama
Format: 26 Episodes
Allegiance: Sunrise/NHK
Director: Taniguchi Goro
Vintage: 2003 – 2004
Intelligence Agency Report by: Kuzu Ryu Sen
By the latter half of the 21st century, humanity had established colonies both in Earth orbit and on the surface of the Moon itself. However, the same issues that plagued civilization on Earth were also brought into space, ranging from political disputes and corporate greed to the accumulation of orbital waste, termed “space debris.” Space debris would come to the fore in 2068 in the wake of the Alnair 8 disaster, where a stray screw struck a passenger spacecraft causing lethal decompression. Many corporations created a “debris section” – a unit specifically designed to pick up space debris. However, derided and ridiculed as nothing more than garbage collectors in space, debris sections are given low priority for both funding and personnel. It is because of this that Tanabe Ai, an idealistic young woman just out of school, walked through the doors of the Debris Section of Technora Corporation, and into a world far from what she had envisioned.

Field Agent Report by: Kuzu Ryu Sen
Plot
Characters
Impact
Visual
Audio
8.75
9.50
9.75
9.50
8.00
Overall 9.50
(not an average)

Judging by its cover, Planetes may turn off quite a few anime science-fiction fans. After all, there are no transforming jets, no cute singing girls, no aliens, no political generalizations, and no racial stereotypes. Instead, what we are treated to is a setting that, although futuristic, is actually plausible, with situations that aren’t so far departed from those of the present.

The core plot of Planetes is rather simplistic, and remains so throughout the run. However, Planetes uses two primary weapons: subtlety and attention to detail to enhance the viewing experience and the emotional appeal of its story. Rather than suddenly introducing (and resolving) major plot issues one by one as the series progresses, they are introduced bit by bit, again and again, over the course of many episodes as the wonderful and diverse cast interacts with different people and events. The mood and tone behind this gradual plot build up is augmented by a strong and deliberate attention to detail, both technical and story-related. By doing this, Planetes gives the viewer strong reason to invest emotionally in the story, fleshes out its cast down to the last member, and manages to avoid bogging down in long segments of idealistic drivel.

Of course, emotional impact is greatly affected by sensory appeal as well, and in this department, Planetes employs crisp, clean, and above all else, realistic artwork. Character designs are not outlandish (normal hair colours, for example), but reflective of the connection that the show is trying to make with the average person. The animation is smooth, slick, and it is evident that great effort has been made to ensure that zero/reduced gravity movement is portrayed as accurately as possible. The music is an intriguing mixture of orchestral pieces and J-pop that’s far less peppy than the usual anime fare of the 21st century, contributing immensely to the serious tone of the series.

Yet, in the end, its not the captivating cast, the attention to detail, or the emotional punch that is most astounding and engrossing about Planetes – it’s the sheer volume that the show manages to cover in a mere 26 episodes. Planetes deals with issues ranging from the dividing gap between rich and poor, to effects of long term space exploration, to the foreign perception of the Japanese in the wake of the recent anime explosion on this side of the Pacific, and just about everything in between. These issues are interwoven within the plot and characterization so deftly that there is no perception of being put upon, or that the show is attempting to force thought and reflection from the viewer.

When it is all said and done, Planetes, despite appearing to have limited appeal from every perspective, actually possesses, arguably, the most universal appeal of an anime science-fiction title. Armed with a strong cast, a plot rife with conflict and drama – interwoven with issues that apply to real life, and exemplary audio/visual presentation, Planetes is well capable of reaching an audience beyond the standard sci-fi niche.