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Sometimes Planetes has a whimsical sense of humour on first viewing that turns very black later on. Welcome to The Lunar Flying Squirrels.

The Tag

The tag is mostly the “debris is bad” line, but does have a scene of the Debris Section clearing customs and adapting to the moon. Ai is revelling in the 1/6th gravity whilst Fee and Hachimaki are a little more restrained, and wisely so.  Fee needs to visit the Third Division, and Hachimaki has to see Ai to her quarters.

Act One

Tranquillity City in Planetes is an mix of high rent and slum, in other words just like a real city. The apartment that the Chief has leased for Ai is right on the lowest level in the worst of the slums.

A late 21st century mapping device. Technology marches on!

A late 21st century mapping device. Technology marches on!

There is a touch of the dated future here. Check out the map device Ai is carrying:

It is fairly close in concept to a SmartPhone but is not quite there yet [1]. Don’t forget that Planetes was made in 2003 so it is four years before the first iPhone [2].

Hachimaki will take Ai most of the way to her apartment [3] but then has to deliver a gift for the Chief to an appointment at the nearby Grand Hotel.

Speaking of the Grand Hotel, the people Hachimaki is going to meet have just arrived and something is afoot.

Fee arrives at the Third Division to meet an accountant who she and Dolf used to work with. There is a sense here that the three used to be a team in days long gone. Fee isn’t that enthused by the suggestion to get dinner and reminisce.

Ai is clearly not used to the slums and definitely on edge when they arrive at Maison de Yashiki [4]. This is when things start going silly: trip wires to an alarm, caltrops, and a bunch of crazy guys playing at ninjas. There’re seven of these loons so Hachimaki and Ai wisely leave the scene to call the Chief back on ISPV-7.

The Chief isn’t very helpful, and one nice touch is seeing the speed of light time delay in the conversation (about a second or so each way). The conversation is then interrupted by the ninjas hijacking the phone booth.

The gags in these sequences shouldn’t work, but Hachimaki’s irritation and Ai’s bemusement almost provide a license to be amused.

Back at the hotel it is starting to look like a omiai or marriage meeting. The young lady is in a yukata, her father and the marriage broker are also somewhat formally dressed. Hachimaki of course is nowhere to be seen.

Yes, they really stood in a line and golf clapped.

Yes, they really stood in a line and golf clapped.

As the pursuit continues, Hachimaki shows off some of his own low gravity moves, earning a golf clap from the assembled ninjas. However Hachimaki does discover that hitting things with his feet still hurts in low gravity, and he doesn’t discourage the ninjas.

Meanwhile Cheng-Shin and Lucie are out for a walk. Lucie thinks that the Debris Section crew are a little strange, to which Cheng-Shin replies that Hachimaki has settled down a lot since Ai arrived.

This is true, but his argument isn’t helped by the priceless sight gag of Hachimaki being chased by the ninjas and then Ai [5]. This is one gag that both should, and does, work due to the absolutely perfect timing.,

The whole thing comes to a nearly disastrous end in a construction site. It turns out that the ninjas are unemployed Westerners who are serious ninja otaku [6]. They are all living in room 3, and are definitely the losers of the slums.

Act Two

Hachimaki finally arrives at the Grand Hotel to turn over the gift. It is a ring, and Hachimaki has definitely been set up by the Chief. It doesn’t help that the father and marriage broker are overly enthusiastic, and depart the scene almost immediately. Miss Sullivan is also a Japanese fan as it happens.

In a side room one of the Hotel staff is smoking beneath a broken smoke detector. I get the impression that the “Grand Hotel” is also in, or near, the slums with all that that implies for the general level of maintenance.

Back at Maison de Yashiki Ai is finding out about how the ninjas were swindled into coming to the moon to work on tourist visas. They’re basically stuck now, and the leader’s wife divorced him recently.

This is when they hear the alarms from the fire at the hotel.

The movie crew from Fly Me to the Moon are seen in the crowd filming the fire.

The ninjas see Miss Sullivan’s father and it turns out she is the wife who divorced the leader. His abuse of the failed ex-son-in-law triggers one of Ai’s tirades about love.

Inevitably this inspires the ninja to go on a crazy rescue run into the hotel.

However one of the ninjas stays behind, although the other five follow.

In the hotel Miss Sullivan is trapped by her yukata in a now un-powered door. Hachimaki turns up with a knife to free her.

As the smoke gets worse the ninjas meet up with Hachimaki and Miss Sullivan. Hachimaki has improvised some breathing equipment to keep the smoke out [7]. The way the ninjas came in is now blocked, but the leader improvises a mass parachute from table cloths etc.

The jump sequence is reasonably well handled, and quite funny, but they still break bones when they land.

The hospital sequence is also amusing, but tinged with sadness by the one ninja who didn’t follow the leader into the hotel hiding from his friends.

Hachimaki is talking to the Chief via a video connection, and is not amused. Ai is a bit surprised to find out that she has a two year lease on the apartment.

Hachimaki is even less amused when the resulting pillow fight results in a pillow hitting his cast.

Things to Come

There are more signs of the uneven transition to fusion in this episode. The ninjas were swindled into coming to the Moon, and their retreat into their fantasies does reflect a great deal of despair. In later episodes this is mostly gone, but comes at a terrible price later.

There is also one member of the group who never moves on, and he becomes a sad figure in another way.

Finally we start seeing hints of Fee’s backstory with Dolf, and possibly a glimpse into the future of another trio: Hachimaki, Claire, and Cheng-shin.

Summary

This is another episode that shouldn’t work but does. Arguably, like Outside the Atmosphere, the gags in this episode should only be funny once. The main gag in The Lunar Flying Squirrels is to parody just about every ninja movie or anime ever, and I will award points for pulling it off in less than half an hour.

Brevity is indeed the soul of wit.

However the knowledge of what is coming puts a darker tinge on the episode that makes it work pretty much every time I see it.

It is also the case that The Lunar Flying Squirrels is necessary to set up the next episode Extraterrestial Girl. For this alone I am prepared to forgive many of the faults in this 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 2

The second part of the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office interview deals with procedures to remove debris through to incidents and threats to the then-running shuttle program. This instalment is again recommended viewing.



[1] There are too many buttons and not enough screen.


[2] The UI on the spacesuits still feels right, but is also a touch dated if the implication is that you need a multimillion dollar space suit to get such an interface.


[3] The second radio drama spoils this plot point – see the omake in Day 3.


[4] I do wonder if this is a Maison Ikkoku shout out.


[5] It is a neat trick to distract the viewer from the fact that Hachimaki has changed enough for it to be noticed in universe. Given how Hachimaki handled the hostage situation in Fly Me to the Moon it is also reasonable for Cheng-Shin to be advancing this argument.


[6] And yes I used otaku in the negative sense. Fortunately they get over it, mostly.


[7] Hachimaki is an astronaut, and knows the basic principles.