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Cover art for the volume 1 compilation DVD of ...

Cover art for the volume 1 compilation DVD of Planetes released by Bandai Entertainment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Planetes is a 26 episode series based on a manga by Makoto Yukimura from 2003/04 [1], and is one of the hardest science fiction series out there. Now that Planetes is nearly 10 years old, I suspect that it Needs More Love from the anime community so here goes with Thirty Days of Planetes.

Act One

As is often the case for first episodes Outside the Atmosphere doesn’t have a tag or the normal opening.

Instead it is straight into the action with a scene inside a suborbital airliner with someone passing through an internal airlock, whilst a young woman is floating near her window seat.

Cut to a screw rotating in orbit.

The airliner.

The screw with a closeup as the perspective rotates around it.

This time the perspective follows the screw through the window of the airliner before a voiceover discussing the Alnair 2068 disaster begins. This voiceover leads into the need to dispose of the debris to ensure safe development.

This was when I first saw it, and remains now, one of the most effective opening scenes in anime.

The Alnair 2068 Disaster

The Alnair 2068 Disaster

The title card for Outside the Atmosphere is revealed as a ship is docking with the space station ISPV-7 with Ai Tanabe on board.

The sequence that follows is, unfortunately, very much a funny once gag. It still serves to establish Ai as the idealist ill suited to facing the commercial reality.

This is not a heroic space anime, this is Japanese salarygirl meets Allen Steele’s Orbital Decay [2].

It also establishes the contrast between the elite Control Section and the goofball Debris Section aka the Half Section.

I find that this sequence gets more and more tiresome each time I watch it, but it does introduce the loon squad that is the Debris Section, and the cargo bay that they are based in.

It does also highlight the industrial nature of the spacesuits. These are not the skintight suits of Rocket Girls, these are one-size fits all with only specific parts (the gloves) custom fitted.

The interactions between Ai and Hachimaki reinforce the gap between Ai’s expectations and the reality.

Act Two

The eye catch for Planetes is basically the word for planets in multiple languages, not surprising since the series name is derived from Greek word for “wanderers” which eventually became “planets” in the English language [3].

Act Two is basically centred on a disposal mission that introduces Ai to the DS-12 aka the 30 year old Toy Box. It also introduces the political overtones of the series: the mission is to dispose of a memorial plate that is about to intersect the orbit of a satellite.

Tanabe sounds fairly irritating in this episode, at least until she realises that the memorial plate is a propaganda piece for the same organisation running the military satellite.  The resulting introspection on Tanabe’s part is overdue, but there is a sop to her idealism as the plate burns up.

Of course Hachimaki has to spoil it immediately afterwards.

This episode does have the standard ending credits, and it does show that there has to be more to Hachimaki than the cynicism displayed thus far.

Things to Come

I’ve noticed a fair bit of foreshadowing going on in this pass through of Planetes. In this episode the backstory to the memorial plate is the first hint that this world is far from a utopia, and that things are still horribly bad in the third world.


The world building in Planetes is simply superb, and it is there on display throughout this episode. From the somewhat decrepit Toy Box to the low cost space suits there is an ever-present feel of commercialised space development.

The supporting cast are highly diverse, and quickly become (mostly) sympathetic characters in their own right.

The problems with this episode lie in the funny-once scripting of Ai’s introduction to commercialised space. I remember finding it hilarious the first time I watched it, it has become increasingly less funny each time I rewatch it.

That said the opening to the series with the screw and the airliner is absolutely chilling, and establishes enough momentum to carry the series through to the second episode.

Day 1: Outside the Atmosphere
Day 2: Like a Dream
Day 3: Return Trajectory
Day 4: Part of the Job
Day 5: Fly Me to the Moon
Day 6: The Lunar Flying Squirrels
Day 7: Sub vs Dub
Day 8: Extraterrestrial Girl
Day 9: A Place To Cling To
Day 10: Regrets
Day 11: A Sky of Stardust
Day 12: Boundary Line
Day 13: A Modest Request
Day 14: Scenery with a Rocket
Day 15: ???
Day 16: Turning Point
Day 17: In Her Case
Day 18: Ignition
Day 19: His Reasons
Day 20: Debris Section, The Last Day
Day 21: Endings are Always…
Day 22: ???
Day 23: Tentative Steps
Day 24: Tandem Mirror
Day 25: Exposure
Day 26: Debris Cluster
Day 27: Love
Day 28: The Lost
Day 29: And the Days we Chance Upon…

Day 30: Looking back at Planetes

Omake: NASA Interview Part 1

Since there isn’t a lot of room for meta posts in a thirty days format, I’ll be progressively looking at the DVD extras as I go. This may take a while as the Planetes discs have a lot of extras.

One of the really neat extras is an interview with the real Orbital Debris Program Office at NASA. This interview with Mark J. Matney and Eugene G. Stansbery is both fascinating and scary.

It deals with the source, estimates of how much, and tracking orbital debris. Basically there’s already a lot of junk up there, and bear in mind that this interview is about 10 years old (so the numbers today are probably worse).

The interview assesses debris as a serious but workable issue with trade-offs between manoeuvring to avoid and/or shielding the craft.

There are also procedural changes to ensure that used rockets don’t have fuel left and/or will be placed into decaying orbits.

[1] I may do a separate review of the manga once I’m done here.

[2] Allen Steele’s Rude Astronauts series is thoroughly recommended by the way. Blue-collar construction workers IN SPACE! It isn’t actually that hard to see these novels as prequels by about a generation to Planetes.

[3] To use one of my favourite quotes: “The English language does not borrow vocabulary from other languages; it follows them down dark alleyways, mugs them, and rifles their pockets for vocabulary.” (I’m not sure of the attribution though).