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I used to think it was impossible to make me feel sorry for smokers. Then I saw A Modest Request [1], which is still one of my favourite episodes of Planetes.

My other opening comment is that if you must infodump on the viewer or reader, A Modest Request is possibly the best way to go about it. To paraphrase Mary Poppins: a spoonful of comedy makes the infodump go down in the most delightful way [2].

The Tag

There is a short version of the debris is bad spiel before the view pans down to the moon. The Toy Box is in for an overhaul, and Ravi is trying to negotiate a better deal. Unfortunately the age of the Toy Box is making it difficult since all the parts require special orders to acquire.

Meanwhile it has been four days since Fee has had a smoke so she heads to the nearest city to find a smoking room.

Act One

A man finishes his cigarette and exits the smoking room. He leaves his briefcase behind.

Fee enters a lift to head down to the smoking room. As her lift closes, the next one over opens to reveal the man who just left.

The man counts down 3, 2, 1, and an explosion rocks the city. Fee is trapped in the lift.

There used to be a vending machine here...

There used to be a vending machine here…

An unhappy Fee is staring at the wreckage of the vending machine. One of the workers clearing the debris mentions that bombing smoking rooms is the current tactic of the Space Defence Front.

On ISPV-7 the Chief, Edel, and Hachimaki are listening to the news whilst removing excess stickers from hundreds of Technora mascot plushies. The Chief explains that with the Debris Section in the red again they have to help out the Merchandising section.

Ai has taken the day off to buy a dress for her date with Cheng-Shin. The Chief is wildly speculating about who when Lucie shows up to borrow Hachimaki.

An OSA planning meeting is reviewing security procedures and assessing the threat of the Space Defence Force. The meeting concludes that ISPV-7 is at lower risk than the still under construction ISPV-9. The OSA moves a couple of laser satellites from ISPV-7 to cover ISPV-9.

Another issue is the scheduled environmental maintenance for ISPV-7, and the OSA moves up the schedule to limit the risk window.

Fee arrives at another smoking room to find that it is being dismantled. She manages to buy a packet of cigarettes from the vending machine, but is subjected to an anti-smoking lecture by one of the workmen.

A twitchy Fee is in a toilet when she notices, well checks, that there’s no one around. Humming to herself Fee lights up only to trigger a massive drenching from the sprinklers.

Back on ISPV-7 Ai is modelling a dress but doesn’t buy it. Ai is still conflicted about Hachimaki and isn’t really listening to the saleswoman. Ai sees Hachimaki in a cafe and enters to accidentally eavesdrop on his conversation with Lucie.

Naturally Ai only stays to hear the apparent declaration of love from Lucie, and promptly flees to buy the dress. Of course it is only a shock tactic by Lucie [3] to focus Hachimaki on Ai.

Sigh. I’m really finding the romance elements of Planetes to be quite clumsy on this run through. I suppose every series has to have a weak spot.

Drowned Rat Fee, Mark I

Drowned Rat Fee, Mark I

Back on the moon, Yuri is reporting back to ISPV-7 that repairs are on schedule. This is when drowned rat Fee Mark I returns to the Toy Box. It is fair to say that Fee is…unimpressed.

Fee takes the keys to a buggy, suits up, and heads off to another city that, hopefully, still has a smoking room.

I wouldn't be arguing either.

I wouldn’t be arguing either.

Ravi and Yuri try to persuade her to come back, but back down quickly. I don’t blame them.

The man seen earlier is getting up in a smoking room. Fee is standing outside with her helmet off, puts a cigarette in her mouth, when the man steps out.

Fee sees the briefcase, calls out for the man to come back, but he ignores her. Fee remembers the voice of the worker talking about the Space Defence Force and dives for cover.

With the smoke and wreckage all around her, a slightly hysterical Fee tries to light up anyway.

Cue drowned rat Fee Mark II. Fee’s laughter at this point is only slightly maniacal at this point.

Act Two

Act Two starts with the environmental maintenance on ISPV-7. For some reason this involves higher pressurisation levels, and flammable warnings everywhere. The ahead of schedule return of the Toy Box is surprising some workers.

The expression on Fee’s face when she floats into ISPV-7 is only a little disturbing. OK, it is starting to be very disturbing.

Meanwhile Lucie is trying to make another move on Cheng-Shin only to be shown a photo of AI in that dress by the other pilots.

Hachimaki and Ai are continuing to fix the toys, and their conversation over romantic matters rapidly degenerates into a brawl with merchandising being thrown everywhere.

Whilst this is going on, a cheerful, exuberant Fee is heading towards Debris Section chortling over it being “Smoking Time!”

Naturally this ends with Fee’s smokers seat getting broken, and catching fire, just as Fee arrives.

Cue drowned rat Fee Mark III.

I wonder why Fee is chewing on a pen...

I wonder why Fee is chewing on a pen…

Out on a debris mission, Yuri has come out to help with the collection. Yuri’s help isn’t necessary, but remaining on board Toy Box with a Fee that has been smokeless for 10 days isn’t a viable option.

Hopefully her smokers chair will be repaired by the time the mission is over.

This is when Yuri notices that the debris is relaying a video feed. The spacesuits can’t pick it up, so they ask for Fee to confirm it.

The level of grovelling required to get Fee to answer is amusing in and of itself.

The video is an announcement from the Space Defence Front that is hacking into the space broadcast channels. This is a threat to drive humanity from space, and it pans across most of the cast wherever they might be at the time.

As the announcement ends the “debris” fires boosters and moves into an orbit targeting ISPV-7.

Fee reacts immediately and drives the Toy Box in pursuit.

This is an attempt to generate the Kessler Syndrome by using the over pressurisation of ISPV-7 to cause a hull breach.

Fee is driving the Toy Box beyond its limits as the crew on ISPV-7 are accepting their fate. Meanwhile there’s still more of the romantic subplot as Ai and Hachimaki argue over who should use the rescue bubble. The truth about Lucie does come out here.

Fee manages to ram the missile and drive it off target. This results in the Toy Box re-entering the atmosphere and burning up. However Fee manages to make it to an escape capsule.

Fee is lying in a life raft in the middle of an ocean. A laptop is showing Hachimaki talking about a commendation from the OSA. The Debris Section is berating her for recklessness, and wondering what they’ll be using from now on.

Fee really doesn’t care: she finally has a smoke, the sun is coming up, and it is a wonderful thing to be alive.

Things To Come

All but one of the major plot elements are now on the table: the Space Defence Force will be a major, if shadowy, player in Planetes from now on.

It will also become evident that the Space Defence Force didn’t entirely lose this round, and that they will learn from what went wrong here.

Summary

Despite the clumsiness of the Ai/Cheng-Shin romantic plotline, I still adore this episode.

Fee’s increasingly desperate attempts to just get one cigarette inspire hilarity and sympathy in equal measure. Most of the Space Defence Force infodump is tied into these scenes, and it is easy to miss in the humour.

This is exactly how it should be done: the viewer gets the necessary information to understand the rules of the universe but doesn’t have to endure long expositions or “as you know bob” conversations.

The action sequence at the end also sets the stakes: this is an attempt to end human presence in space by generating impossible to deal with levels of debris.

A Modest Request and Boundary Line completely change the nature of the series: this is now serious business beyond the daily grind of clearing away debris.

Superbly written overall, and achieving everything it needs to achieve, A Modest Request is one of the best episodes in Planetes.

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: English Cast Interview

The disc three interview is with Wendee Lee (as the utterly awesome Fee), and follows the same format as before: technique, background, approach to the character, etc.

The interview did mention that Ms. Lee got started in Robotech. The interview didn’t mention which role, so for the record it was as Vanessa Leeds, one of the original Bridge Bunnies! Accept no substitutes!

The interview also mentions that Ms. Lee has been moving into directing dubs, and that list of credits on Wikipedia is also starting to be fairly impressive.



[1] Now it is only extremely difficult to make me feel sorry for smokers.


[2] And if that Mary Poppins paraphrase triggers an earworm: Bwahahaha!


[3] Lucie still loves Cheng-Shin at this point.