Return Trajectory is all about the harsh realities of working in space: death. It is an episode with a lot of effective black comedy.

The Tag

There are no story elements in the tag this time, just the usual blurb about space debris.

Act One

Act One starts with Ai attempting to write an apology letter for the events of Like a Dream [1]. It isn’t going well, and Hachi’s suggestions are less than helpful [2].

This is when Ms Fanservice [3], aka the insurance saleswoman, shows up to try to pitch to Hachi.

It turns out that the Technora employees are required to write and submit new last wills and testaments every year, and it has come round again. This is also when the hordes of insurance salesmen are allowed on board the station.

Only Edel the temp is exempted from the hectoring by the insurance salesmen, although the Debris Section managers get hammered more than most.

The scenes with the salesmen are hilarious, but lying underneath the comedy is the grim reality that working in space is dangerous.

It also has to be remembered that Ai is a young woman who has never faced her mortality before, and to be casually handed a blank last will and testament comes as a shock.

It isn’t one that Ai handles well, although exactly how badly she handles it won’t be revealed for some time [4].

Hachi is, on the surface at least, fairly casual about the whole business. Hachi’s is a sketch of a space ship, and Ai reacts poorly to it. Hachi’s response to Ai’s hectoring is still less than serious.

Planetes Ep 3 Act 1 Screenshot

Hachimaki’s “Will”

The most interesting bit is when Yuri asks Fee if he should give Ai some advice about what to write. Fee says no because what Ai writes is less important than realising that this is a job that could get her killed.

Towards the end of the act there is a conversation between Hachi and Cheng-shin that reveals that Hachi is also troubled by what to write. Hachi thinks that the purely commercial approach of the insurance salesmen is wrong, but that Ai’s naive “all my love” isn’t right either.

Hachi doesn’t actually have an answer, and it is clear that he is looking for an answer. During a heavy debris collection mission it is hinted that Hachi and his dad don’t get along.

The act ends with Fee asking them to pull some overtime to collect some research related debris, but is interrupted by something else turning up.

Act Two

The something else is a fifty year old corpse of an astronaut called Ibn Fadlan [5] from just before space burials were prohibited. Ai doesn’t react to this well, clearly it is her first encounter with death.

Hachi and Ai inevitably argue about whether it should be treated as debris or as a body.

It turns out that the astronaut’s daughter is still alive, and her reaction to learning of her late father’s return is conflicted.

Her conversation with the Debris Section reveals that she never looked at her father’s body, because she felt that he was never there for her. Her father was a dedicated astronaut who became sick from cosmic radiation, and her father’s eyes were always on the far distance.

Although the old lady asks for re-burial in space it is Ai who sees the truth, and basically holds the corpse hostage until Yuri films the floating photo in the coffin of Ibn Fadlan’s wife and daughter.

Planetes Ep 3 Act 2 ScreenshotThe daughter changes her mind, and asks for the body to be returned to Earth.

There is a lot of faith on Ai’s part, and I do think that Hachi is right when he says that Ai is projecting her own fantasies on to the corpse.

Then again, the astronaut was smiling, and was holding a picture of his family so there is also some truth to what Ai was saying, especially that space is too big to face alone.

There are however consequences to Ai’s tantrum. Ai is the one who has to deal with the endless paperwork involved in getting approval to ship the body back to Earth, which the rest of the Debris Section thinks is just poetic justice.

Things to Come

The key theme here is that space is not safe, and that those who work in space will pay a price.

The reference to cosmic radiation is basically saying that Ibn Fadlan died of cancer, and he isn’t the only character in the series that will pay this price. The workout devices to strengthen the hand muscles also make an appearance in this episode, and will become more prominent over time, and this is a reference to the damage that low gravity can do to bones and muscles.


Return Trajectory is a well constructed episode with the alternating comedy of the insurance hordes and the angst that Ai is facing working well as a combination.

The brief look behind Hachi’s facade is also fascinating, and easy to miss since the scene is so short.

I am finding Ai to be much more annoyingly naive on this run through than I remember from previous viewings, but despite this Return Trajectory is a strong episode that is well worth watching.

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: Audio Drama 2

The second audio drama deals with what’s happening in the Debris Section during Fly Me To the Moon (Day 5). i.e the Manager and the Assistant Manager, aka the Two Stooges. It provides some background for The Lunar Flying Squirrels, and also hints at A Sky of Stardust.

This one is a mixed bag. The antics of the Stooges are again mildly amusing, but there’s a poignancy to Yuri’s lines that only resonates once you know what’s coming. I suspect that this one would have been better placed on one of the later disks.

[1] Which is fair enough, it was her error initially that put the debris into the orbit of the passenger shuttle.

[2] Sarcasm is just one of the services that Hachi offers.

[3] The fanservice is deliberate. Very deliberate, and it works on one of the other characters later.

[4] It would be a MASSIVE spoiler to say more. So you’ll just have to wait.

[5] That Wikipedia link was suggested by the WordPress Zemanta software. After glancing at the page it is clear that the character name was NOT an accident. I do recommend reading the linked page.