Planetes is, by design, set in an international future with a cast that reflects that diversity. Elements of the story still to come will demand that diversity, and considerable effort went into avoiding stereotypes. It is a pity that the gender roles aren’t quite that progressive.
With a few exceptions the gender roles in Planetes are frankly abysmal.
The passenger craft all have male pilots, and female flight attendants. The uniforms for both are surprisingly retro, almost as if the animators are deliberately evoking a 1970s or earlier feel for the passenger craft. Lucie is basically there to chase a husband .
The control section is full of female traffic controllers supervised by male managers, and the efforts to undermine Claire are atrocious. This contributes to Claire’s attempts to overachieve in order to punch through the discrimination. This has started to fall apart for Claire, but how far she will fall is yet to be revealed .
One of Ai’s friends is a mechanic, but rarely seen.
Hachimaki’s attitude to Ai is complicated, and respect does develop there over the course of the series, but early on it is highly problematic. There is at least one occasion of Hachimaki telling Ai to return to Earth and just get married.
As was seen yesterday in Scenery with a Rocket Hachimaki’s mother is also content in fairly traditional roles, including the widow to the sea (of space) as Goro is rarely on Earth. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t have a name beyond Mrs Hoshino.
Ai is a partial exception. Ai went to huge lengths to get to space, and works hard for the skills she earns in the series. However, and I will admit it is partially justified by other events, Ai eventually settles for leaving space as Hachimaki’s wife.
Fee is another, and entirely awesome, exception. Fee is who she wants to be, and chooses to stay that way throughout the series. Fee is a character I would point to as a role model for any girl.
The final exception worth mentioning is, surprisingly enough, Edel. Edel’s personal story arc is all about regaining agency and achieving a secure life on her own terms. There’ll be more on her back story on Day 17 In Her Case, and her arc runs in the background until the very end of the series.
Despite these exceptions, the gender roles for Planetes are firmly set in a 1970s Japanese corporate matrix of salarymen and office girls. This is disappointing, especially given the subtle attention to the general diversity of the cast.
Diversity, with one glaring exception, is where Planetes shines.
Two core elements  of Planetes are the International Treaty Organisation (INTO) and their opponents the Space Defence Force (SDF) . The former almost forces a multinational, and multicultural, makeup to the primary cast.
There are three Americans (Fee, Edel, and the Chief), an Russian (Yuri), two Japanese (Hachimaki and Ai), and an Indian (Ravi). Gigalt Gungulgash is probably an Indian, and his other student Hakim Ashmead is from the middle east. That both Gigalt and Hakim are members of INTO just reinforces the genuinely multicultural nature of the space community in Planetes.
As seen in Boundary Line, Claire and Temara are from the fictional South American country of El Tanika .
Planetes presents most of these positively, including most of the non-white characters, but that isn’t where the handling of diversity in the series truly shines.
However, before I get to that, I want to rant a little about Arvind Ravi. OK, full disclosure: I have never been to India, and my knowledge of the country is limited. I have worked with a number of Indian IT professionals though, with the emphasis on professional.
I can’t imagine that working in space would require any less professionalism, and to see such a character in Planetes has deeply disappointed me this time through. Ravi is almost as much of a caricature as the owner of the Kwik-E-Mart in The Simpsons. Ravi is quite frankly a painful character to watch.
Diversity and Politics
The reason Ravi is standing out so much for me is that, for the most part, Planetes is awesomely subtle at avoiding stereotypes.
As should be clear by now the transition to fusion based on Helium-3 upset a lot of apple carts on Earth, and the SDF is largely drawn from the nations and regions impoverished by this change.
This includes a lot of current oil producing nations, and turning these en masse into terrorists would have been an easy way to plot that part of Planetes.
This didn’t happen.
Instead there has been a consistent effort as far back as Return Trajectory to portray individuals rather than groups.
To show individual motives, and exceptions, rather than saying “all muslims are terrorists”.
To be honest I hadn’t realised this and might not have had Zemanta not alerted me to the Ahmad Ibn Fadlan shoutout.
Once I was clued in however, it is reasonably easy to notice the careful presentation of individual motives and the avoidance of stereotyping.
It is true that some characters hold stereotyped views, but these characters are generally presented as unlikeable .
Planetes deals with some tricky political issues around terrorism in a post September 2001 world but manages to avoid casual stereotyping throughout. This is an impressive achievement.
Overall I rate the gender roles of Planetes as “Oh dear”, the general diversity as “Solid”, and the integration of the diversity into difficult politics as astonishing.
To quote Meatloaf: Two out of three ain’t bad.
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: Gender, Diversity, and Politics
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: Mecha and Cover Art Galleries
The Mecha Gallery on the third disc is pretty sparse, but does have a couple of nice shots of the Toy Box.
The Cover Art gallery is more of a character and mecha gallery, and is considerably larger than the Mecha Gallery. It should also be avoided for those who haven’t seen the series before – there are several spoilers in here.
 I have, so far at least, resisted using SDF as an acronym for the Space Defence Force. I just know that late one night I’ll read it and wonder what a Superdimensional Fortress has to do with Planetes.
- Thirty Days of Planetes – Day 12: Boundary Line (piratesobg.wordpress.com)
- Thirty Days of Planetes – Day 13: A Modest Request (piratesobg.wordpress.com)
- Thirty Days of Planetes – Day 14: Scenery with a Rocket (piratesobg.wordpress.com)