Planetes is about humanity’s drive to reach further, and the things that hold us back. It takes place in the year 2075, and presents a vision of where we could have been in 50 years had we not given up.
Hachimaki had dreams once. The closing credits of every episode show him at different stages of his life, running, biking, and motorcycling, always trying to go faster. He dreams of one day having his own spaceship, but life gets in the way. As the series opens, he’s working as a space debris collector. Space debris, which whips around the Earth like bullets are a major hazard for space travel, one that grows larger as more people move into space.
Space, which was once an unreachable goal, is now a mundane job for Hatchimatchi. He still dreams of his spaceship, but has lost the drive to fight for it. Instead, he just doodles pictures of it in secret. That changes when he hears about a manned mission to Jupiter, a place no human has gone before. He sees the engine first hand, and we can see that it’s the natural extension of the closing credits sequence, one more step that will let him go faster.
One of the themes of the series is the selfishness necessary to break down walls. The ship that’s being built to go to Jupiter is called the Von Braun, named after the German rocket scientist who first worked for the Nazis, then for America after the war. Hatchimatchi talks about him, saying that he didn’t care who he was working for, he just wanted to make rockets. There’s no question that Von Braun accomplished great things, and he never could have done them if he let ethics get in the way. The lead scientist of the Von Braun mission in the series is a borderline sociopath. He shows no emotion when an accident during testing blows up a facility with everyone in it, and specifically tests the crew candidates for their willingness to let their companions die for the greater cause of the mission.
It’s not presented as a bad trait, either. This narrow vision, the complete commitment to the end goal is the only way the impossible can be achieved. And yet, it comes at a cost. One episode deals with the debris collectors finding the corpse of an astronaut. We find out that he abandoned his family on Earth to pursue space, until it killed him. And even then, he chose space over his family in his choice of burial site. Space and its radiation not only took his life in a literal sense, but also in the figurative, as it robbed him of the love of his family.
Hachimaki’s character arc in the series is his trying to reconcile his love of space, and all its possibilities, with other people, and the love they can give him.
The practical realities of life hold advancement back. This is exemplified by the Space Defense Front, a terrorist group made up of members of the poorer INTO nations. They have two issues, the lesser (though more promoted one) is that the corporations have ‘defiled’ space by developing it; and there’s certainly truth to that. The second, bigger reason, is that space development has been monopolized by richer nations. They take all of the new found wealth, making them richer as the poor nations stagnate, increasing the gap between them. Again, they are right on that point.
One episode focuses on an inventor from a poor country, El Tanika. He and his team build a new space suit and take it to Debris Section for testing. But despite all their efforts and their success, they are not even given a chance. They are completely shut out by the system. You may disagree with the methods of the Space Defense Front, but there’s no denying the legitimacy of their complaint.
Planetes is an incredibly realistic series. Not only in its depiction of space and technology, but in it’s depiction of people. These are not the heroic adventurers of other space shows, these are flawed, but motivated people willing to throw everything away to reach further.
The DVDs from Bandai present the show unaltered, with the original Japanese credits and titles. Japanese and English audio are included, along with English subtitles.