Japanese animated tv series (2003-2004). Sunrise. Based on the Manga by Makoto Yukimura. Directed by Gorō Taniguchi. Written by Ichirō Ōkouchi and Makoto Yukimura. Voice cast includes Ai Orikasa, Kazunari Tanaka, Unshô Ishizuka and Satsuki Yukino. 26 25-minute episodes. Colour.
In 2075 first-world corporations dominate space and the exploitation of its resources. As their activities leave space debris around the Earth and Moon, posing a threat to their operations, they have refuse collection departments. Planetes initially focuses on the Technora Corporation Space Station's "Debris section", viewed by other employees as the bottom rung of the corporate hierarchy. New Debris staff member Ai Tanabe (Yukino) is young and optimistic, immediately clashing with cynical colleague Hachirota "Hachimaki" Hoshino (Tanaka): they are the astronauts on a collection ship piloted by the capable Fee Carmichael (Orikasa), who is unfazed by most things, except when prevented from smoking.
Though debris collecting as described would be uneconomic, much thought has gone into the science and practicalities of living off-Earth (the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency provided "research assistance" to the Anime, the manga being less concerned with the science): for example, the Kessler syndrome becomes a plot point for a terrorist attack, whilst the health problems resulting from residing in space for any length of time are raised: a twelve-year-old girl who was born on the Moon requires constant medical treatment; other characters develop cancer.
Early episodes are used to build up a picture of the Debris section, its staff and work: but gradually the state of the world is revealed. The benefits of space exploration are all going to first-world countries; third-world countries are mired in death, poverty and conflict.
Hachimaki resigns so he can compete to be on the crew of the Von Braun Spaceship and take part in the first manned flight to Jupiter: he decides he must be utterly selfish in his ambition. However, the Von Braun is used by the Space Defence Front, a terrorist organization, as a tool to blackmail world leaders into guaranteeing the benefits of space exploration are shared by all nations. The Space Defence Front's "ends justify the means" philosophy is mirrored by the Von Braun's chief designer, Werner Locksmith (Ishizuka), who is unconcerned by any fatalities resulting from his work (his first name and that of the ship are clearly intended to resonate).
Starting out as a light "slice-of-life in space" anime, Planetes eventually evolves into a fairly dark look at first world/third world Politics and the willing dehumanization of self fostered by some participants in space exploration; however, the series does end happily, if a touch old-fashionedly. It is notable that the resolution is not achieved through the actions of the protagonists, but from high-level political manoeuvrings. The strength of the show is in its scientific and political world-building, the characterization and Humour sometimes being a little broad. This is an impressive Hard-Sf anime, which won the 2005 Seiun Award for best media. [SP]