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A Sky of Stardust was an intimate, personal, episode of Planetes. Boundary Line is a political episode that never forgets that ultimately all politics is personal [1].

Whilst Boundary Line deals with lines drawn on maps that cannot be seen from space, it also deals with personal boundaries, with lines that people will not, or cannot, cross.

The Tag

This episode jumps right into a shuttle arriving at ISPV-7 before cutting to Cheng-Shin asking a confused Ai out on a date. Hachimaki is lurking in the background and is obviously unimpressed by the whole affair [2]. Meanwhile an odd contraption is moving through the station, and the pilot Temara Poitier interrupts the conversation to ask directions to Technora.

A most unusual spacesuit.

A most unusual spacesuit.

Temara is from the small, and fictional, South American country of El Tanika [3]. Temara is surprised that Hachimaki knows about it, but he mentions that he knows someone who was born and raised there. The cut to Claire managing the departure of a shuttle from ISPV-7 is not exactly subtle.

The Opening

Boundary Line features a slightly different version of the opening animation that includes a fully exposed shot of the compass from A Sky of Stardust. There are a couple of other changes, but those are spoilers for the moment.

Act One

In the control section Temara is observing the activities with a smile on his face. In his office two of Dolf’s subordinates are trashing the space suit as the clunky, and even the acknowledgement that it is probably the best that El Tanika can do has spiteful overtones. Dolf is intrigued by the ability of the suit to directly connect to the Navstar system without a mothership.

The issue at hand is which section will be responsible for overseeing the adoption testing, and the Navstar connectivity results in Control Section getting the job. The Control Section manager passes the work to Claire. The instruction here is clear, the El Tanikan “spacesuit” is to be gotten rid of as quietly as possible.

Lucie and Ai are talking about the upcoming date with Cheng-Shin, and Ai is clearly still confused. Lucie still has her eyes on Cheng-Shin [4], and is trying to push Ai towards Hachimaki.

It is arguable how selfish Lucie is being here, Lucie’s Shipper On Deck tendencies have to be partly credited to Lucie being a fairly accurate judge of Ai’s heart [5].

Cheng-Shin is trying to get advice from Hachimaki without success. This discussion also shows that Cheng-Shin is a better judge of Hachimaki’s heart, although Cheng-Shin is more openly selfish about it.

To be honest I’m finding this romantic plotline to be more than a little tiresome. Fortunately it rarely occupies the A-plot for any given episode.

Claire and Temara are having lunch, and Claire is not enjoying his company or table manners. At this point Claire is still trying to deny her El Tanikan heritage, and stresses that she is an American citizen. As Claire leaves, Temara asks for her unused butter.

Claire doesn’t say anything but this reminder of El Tanika’s poverty clearly strikes home.

Hachimaki and Ai are on a supply run in the warehouse, and the conversation deals with the romantic plot again. Meh.

Claire and Temara are trying to find a section that will test the spacesuit, without luck. Hachimaki has business in the first section they tried and finds out what is happening. Hachimaki is actually interested in the suit.

Claire is educating Temara in the reality of space politics: no company will take something produced by El Tanika seriously. Hachimaki offers to test the suit when he runs into Claire and Temara.

Temara is demonstrating the suit in the Debris Section [6], and proceeds to win over the entire section. The chief thinks he could fit into it, the similarity to Fee’s smoking chair does not go unnoticed, etc [7].

The testing proceeds with early success, but there is one point where Hachimaki points out problems in the fine tuning.

Three dimensions means three personal axes to orient to.

Three dimensions means three personal axes to orient to.

As a side note one thing I do like about the zero-G scenes in Planetes is the way characters are often on different alignments. This is a classic example, and the body language speaks volumes about Claire and Hachimaki.

Temara spends a late night finetuning the manipulator arms. Claire watches from a distance and it is clear she is beginning to be affected by Temara’s dedication. The next morning the retuned suit passes the final inside test.

Down in El Tanika the manufacturers of the suit are getting by with what they have. They receive a call from Temara with Claire in the background. Temara doesn’t allow Claire to remain in the background however.

Ai is calling off the date with Cheng-Shin because of the spacesuit test.

Claire’s manager is not happy with Temara’s continued presence, and Temara hears the comments this time. Claire is relying on Dolf’s support for this, although the manager implies that this isn’t a wise idea.

Claire also mentions a treaty that supposedly guarantees equal access to space; this is clearly honoured in the breach. As far as the manager is concerned, looking at the brochure is sufficient consideration.

Act Two

On board the Toy Box Ai is asking Hachimaki why he helped Temara with the testing, and this ties back into Hachimaki’s old relationship with Claire.

In the cargo bay Temara is preparing the spacesuit for the EVA, and reminiscing to Claire about the development and initial testing in a lake. Claire swum in that lake as a little girl and this naturally leads the conversation to motivations: to why Claire never returned to El Tanika and why Temara did return from China.

It is worth noting here that Claire cannot read her native language. The inscriptions in the space suit are the names of the development team so that they will be with him when he flies the suit.

Claire’s sense of guilt in this scene is palpable.

An OSA cruiser commanded by Hakim is moving towards the Toy Box. It seems that a warrant for Temara’s arrest has been issued.

Outside the Toy Box, the night side testing is progressing well when Temara notices a ship approaching. Fee comes on the channel to call off the testing.

Hachimaki and Claire ask why when the OSA cruiser arrives and Hakim demands that all activity ceases. INTO “Peacekeeping” forces have invaded El Tanika, and all El Tanikans outside the country are being taken into “protective custody”.

Hachimaki prevents Temara from doing anything rash. Meanwhile he uses remote control to simulate a malfunction in the fishbone that carries Ai, Hachimaki, Claire and Temara into the dayside. Fee wants to intervene but the main engine is overheating and can’t be used.

Over on the dayside Claire finally comes fully onboard by trimming the operational procedures to save time.

On board the cruiser, Hakim tacitly cooperates by hanging back for a little while.

The final test is a depressurisation test to see if the suit can repressurise in 45 seconds. As the rest progresses Temara starts reading out the names of the development team while adding a new inscription: Claire Rondo.

As the timer runs out, the spacesuit passes the test.

As the cruiser arrives Hakim comes out to observe, fairly sarcastically, that the wishbone has been fixed. There is a private channel conversation between Hakim and Hachimaki that I think sets the stage for the later friendship.

Claire steps up to the line

Claire steps up to the line

Claire refuses to turn over Temara and the space suit claiming that it is Technora’s property and subject to trade secrets.

However Temara goes into custody voluntarily. Passing the international standards is the success that will inspire further achievements in El Tanika. Looking down at the Earth, Temara sees the lake mentioned earlier.

However Temara cannot see the warzone that El Tanika has become down on the ground. The destruction includes the factory where the spacesuit was built.

Temara does know it is happening though, and asks why when all you can see from space is the Earth with no borders or armies.

Things to Come

The second appearance of Hakim shows a tentative friendship with Hachimaki. For the moment they are linked by the common thread of Gigalt-Sensei, but there will be more to come.

Despite her claims in Part of the Job, there is much more to Claire than a simple desire to succeed in space. There are limits on what Claire will do out of ambition, but whether there are limits to what Claire will do out of loyalty remains to be seen.

Finally the stark difference between the nations that benefit from space, and those that don’t, has been clearly laid out. Boundary Line outlines one approach to redressing this difference; it won’t be the approach that gets the most attention in the series.

Summary

Boundary Line is a strong episode that, together with A Modest Request, transforms Planetes from a series about debris collectors in space to a series that happens to have debris collectors in space as characters. This is where the direction of the series changes and Boundary Line does so in an effective way.

In a sense Boundary Line is the boundary between the trash hauler arc that ended with A Sky of Stardust and the more political arc that truly begins with A Modest Request. This meaning to the episode name is in addition to the obvious comment about boundaries on a map, and the slightly deeper issue of personal behaviour.

In respect of the latter all politics is personal, and it is the personal struggle of Temara that really hits Claire deep in the heart. The Claire that was seen in Part of the Job should have quickly, and quietly, failed Temara’s spacesuit and sent him on his way. That was the path to personal success for Claire.

Doing so would have required a betrayal of principles that Claire was simply incapable of. This is the personal Boundary Line that Claire cannot cross, and it makes Claire a much more sympathetic character as a result.

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 3

The third part of the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office is in the same vein as the previous parts. This instalment deals with international efforts to deal with debris (talks mostly), and also touches on the Kessler Syndrome mentioned in A Modest Request.

One nice piece of trivia is that Mark J. Matney worked for Don Kessler, who was one of the first people to recognise the problem of orbital debris. So the Kessler Syndrome is a real term for runaway growth of orbital debris.

The interview also covers the risks, and the mitigation of those risks, for the International Space Station, as well as their thoughts on Planetes.

Overall the assessment is qualified approval of the physics, but with some artistic licence.

It has to be said that this places Planetes in the top grades for physics in science fiction. Once again this interview is recommended.



[1] I think that the original quote is actually “The Personal is Political”, and is the title of an essay by Carol Hanisch.

[2] It is grossly overstating things to call it an affair. It is also clear that neither Hachimaki nor Ai are realising the mutual attraction yet.

[3] This isn’t the first indication that South America has been balkanised. I think that Mananga, the subject of the memorial plate in Outside the Atmosphere, is also another fictional South American country.

[4] As I recall Lucie gets diverted elsewhere later in the series.

[5] The “love rays shooting from your eyes” business is just idiotic. It sounds bad in Japanese, and worse in English.

[6] I do wonder how he got it down there. I’m not sure that the lifts, or the doors, are big enough for that thing.

[7] The comparison to a personal spaceship is made here, and I do wonder if this partly explains Hachimaki’s interest.