Saturday, July 21, 2007

Planetes: To Jupiter, By Jove!

Planetes is the only series I've just upped and purchased without having seen any sort of preview or fansub. I'm not out to make recommendations, and I think at this point you've either seen it or you won't, so I'm not going to try to hide the story. Proceed at your discretion.

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Tangent: I'd rather be a space tourist

Because really, working conditions are little better than being in a mine, just with a better view. If you want the view, capitalism may one day let you buy a glimpse aboard a space station or scramjet plane. That's not to say that astronauts are uncool and neither are miners, since both risk their lives doing their job.

Mission commanders, many of whom start off as test pilots and/or fighter pilots, have risked their lives just to get to where they are. Everyone else is saddled with huge amounts of training and a gigantic manual in the hopes that they will mitigate factors that lead to death.

Viewing experience

I made the order amid the brief flurry of Planetes posts earlier this year, and pretty much marathoned it in two sessions that were a couple weeks apart, so the experience wasn't as cohesive as it could be. Being episodic until the end, I don't think cohesiveness was a factor here.

My DVD subs have some grammatical errors and a few awkward timing moments. That disappoints me, as I've mentioned before.

The detail is intricate, and the commentary track, especially in the last episode, pointed out several insights that I had really just taken for granted on the first pass.

World building

The technology is there, but the series doesn't try hard to draw too much attention to it. It's just there, and it works. If you want to scrutinize it, you can with the pause button, and if you don't, there are no long idiot lectures to fast forward through.

The cast is varied and their flaws and eccentricities are not sugar-coated. At no point are you compelled to like anybody, although it would be difficult to appreciate some of the over-arching themes and storylines if you really disliked the two protagonists. I do think Tanabe is unrealistically unaware of herself and those around her, and it's something that doesn't improve at all.


That's it for technicals. As for the content of the series, I will do one better than Soda, who declared that Planetes is not either of two extremes (i.e. masterpiece or disaster). Rather tell you that it's not white or black, I'll tell you what (I think) it is.

It's grey!

Alright, put that knife down.

In all seriousness, Planetes is a complete package. It is a package in the sense that most of the stories are resolved in an episode, like a sit-com. It is also a package in that even though earlier stories wrap up neatly, the consequences of actions continue to play out. Prominent themes, like loneliness and the cost of pursuing dreams, are ever present. Conversations are relevant to more than just those immediately present.

When Yuri is talking to Kyutaro about his late wife's (now destroyed) compass, he mentions how he is now able to let go after accepting that there are no absolutes — that in some respects, there is no point where the atmosphere ends and space begins right after. There are only gradations, and everything is connected. By extension, no one is alone, even in space.

It is this same epiphany that Hachimaki makes, which allows him to reconcile his desire for going to Jupiter and his feelings for Tanabe. Connection is what redeems Claire in the end.

This is solid writing. Everything is connected and it is also because everything is connected that we get the "unsatisfactory" arc to conclude the series.

In reality, it was a 2-episode arc, as the final episode was an epilogue, and the episode before that was the thematic conclusion. Perhaps the resolution was a little too swift for some, but there was a time skip, and the supporting themes have always been there.

As for events aboard the Von Braun, was the SDF really going to remain in the background till the end? That would have been fine, I suppose, if you were looking for an open-ended ending. But in the context of the finality of the ending, the SDF and Hakim's escape had to be dealt with some way or another. The writers just chose to deal with the issue over two episodes as opposed to one. I don't feel that anything was taken away by this approach.

Considering the Von Braun and the cost of dreams in general, I'm reminded of Hikki's Dareka no negai ga kanau koro. The song's zero-sum sentiment — that one dream is crushed to make another come true — is one that dominates the political and relationship landscape. Don't explore space until you can feed all of the planet's citizens. Going to Jupiter comes at the cost trillions of dollars and the destruction of the fusion drive's test facility. Joining the Jupiter crew means severing ties.

That's life, really. It's one of the more pessimistic points in the series, although it is a wholly pragmatic one. The real question is: How does an individual, or a nation, come to terms with cost?

Hachimaki's answer is his spiritual connection to space and all that it encompasses. INTO's answer was to (attempt to) address the human cost of its own making, although the ethics of how such a decision came about are thoroughly distasteful. Locksmith declares that cost is no object, be it in lives, money, or time ("I can always build another spaceship if I survive"). Claire's answer is the common "benefits outweigh selling soul" line, at least until she hits her limits. Lavie has his children. Edel lived through the alternative and decided it was much worse than being a temp. For Nono, the cost of colonizing the moon and growing up in low gravity doesn't even enter into her mind.

Against the sweeping backdrop of space and the unstoppable march of technology, the characters are almost tediously normal. The same conflicts and insecurities play out in a different setting. Maybe the only fundamental difference is that technology has expanded the possibilities and with it, the extremes.

I didn't take much away in terms of lessons, as it is generally expected that life in the future will be much like life today. Ultimately what was engaging was watching everything fold together into the polished work that sits before me. That includes observing the acceptance process that many characters go through, with varying degrees of success.

The future may not be all shiny and monolithic, but Planetes most certainly is.


mampf said...

As a whole, the series has much to offer.

Spoiler Warning! (but nothing explicit...):
But I really disliked the role given to Ai at the end. All this passivity and acting like a "traditional" woman didn't become her. I kinda expected something more of such a energetic character :-/

introspect said...

Indeed it's very versatile. One can find a lot of different perspectives.

About Ai, yes she's mellowed out some near the end but still wants to return as a debris hauler. In the epilogue, though, I think she has chosen to put child before job.