Planetes, pronounced planet–ess, is a 26 episode Slice-of-life, drama released by space anime titans: Studio Sunrise, the makers of classics such as Cowboy Bebop, and the entire Gundam Saga. Planetes is directed by Gorō Taniguchi, and originally written by Makoto Yukimura. The show is set in the year 2075, where space travel has become quite common. So much so, in fact, that a small colony on the moon was set up. This mass commercialization of space travel has however become the root of a massive issue; creating heaps upon heaps of space debris. One day a small screw- yes, a screw- orbiting the earth collided with a space liner resulting in the death of everyone on board. Realizing the dangers of this new issue all the large space corporations decided to develop debris sections in their stations, whose main job would be to collect and transport all this debris, that would otherwise crash into the many vessels transporting hundreds of people every day.
The story mainly focuses on Ai Tanabe a young upbeat woman who is excited to start her new job on the Technora space station. Little did she know, however, that her job would place her in the debris section, which is the most underappreciated section in the station, to the point where it is referred to as “half-section” because It is constantly understaffed and underfunded.
Ai slowly integrates into the group of misfits working in the debris section, which includes the lovable idiot of a chief Philippe Myers, their cool and calm temp worker Edelgard Rivera, passionate hothead and skilled astronaut Hachirota Hoshino, amongst many others. During the first half of the show the main plot revolves around the crew slowly growing to know each other and fleshing out each of them beyond their character models and voices, allowing us to understand each character’s motivations and personalities. However, the real beauty of Planetes emerges in the second half of the season where it focuses on an entirely different series of events, changing the flow of the story and allowing the characters to develop naturally before your eyes.
The amount of scientific realisim of Planetes is truly astounding. Director Taniguchi commented that he had to study orbital mechanics and other complexities of space, and that he had brought on JAXA, the Japanese space agency, as the show’s technical consultant. While this may make it sound like a boring science-heavy, space based story, focusing on space waste management, let me assure you that it is not. In fact this may be one of the most relatable, and touching shows I have ever watched in the anime genre, covering topics ranging from politics to sociology, dealing with the complexity of the human condition and our ever growing need to better ourselves and reach farther than our own, and others’ expectations allow us.
Planetes has the rare quality which allows you to enjoy it in any way you see fit, if you simply want to watch it as an anime like any other and enjoy its slice of life and drama traits you can. If you’d like to delve into the fathoms of historical references waiting to be caught then that too is possible. And if you want to zero in and dissect its incredibly rich philosophical themes and subtleties and use its many messages to enrich your view of the universe and yourself, then you’ll have ample material to explore!
All in all Planetes will give you just as much as you’d like to take from it. I cannot recommend this show enough to anyone who is either new or old to anime. It is truly a forgotten masterpiece that deserves to be front and center on anyone’s top ten list. Watch Planetes as soon as you possibly can, you won’t regret it!