I mentioned in my last episode writeup that so far, Planetes was succeeding largely on premise and polish. On top of that, I also briefly talked about how both the show’s genre structure and its ending song somewhat gave away the fact that this was likely Hachimaki’s story, as he reignites the passion that sent him into space in the first place. This second episode reaffirmed all those points, and further underlined how important good storytelling fundamentals can be. On top of that, it was just a fine vignette that stared directly into the abyss of an unfulfilling professional life. For a show about spacemen in a glorious scifi future, Planetes is far more grounded than the vast majority of anime out there.
The opening scenes here quickly established how good Planetes is at creating and juxtaposing a variety of tones. The pre-opening scene, which we eventually learn features Hachimaki when he himself was a rookie, is one more sequence that smartly conveys the slow fear of movement in space. Giant objects all around you, nothing solid to hold onto, and this overwhelming sense of spacial isolation. This is a show about garbage collection, not laser fights or robot duels, and so it’s important for Planetes to ensure the audience understands that movement in space is by itself dangerous, frightening, and occasionally awe-inspiring. Scenes like this one hit that note time and again.
In contrast, the post-opening scene is all goofy office shenanigans, as the gang performs a luck dance to please the gods of the lottery. As we learn more about Hachimaki’s lofty goals, the rest of the crew banter about human sacrifices in the background. The show’s art style is equally well-suited to this material; in fact, the pastels of the color design seem intentionally subdued for the sake of making everything seem mundane and faded, and the designs of the various communal areas continues to be flatly utility-oriented. They’re all solid reminders that Planetes is just as good at the everyday, mundane office tone as the space-based alienation.
It’s in this scene that we learn Hachimaki isn’t really as cynical as all that – in fact, he has a notebook full of schemes for getting his own spaceship. None of his plans are practical, but that doesn’t matter – if he keeps working, he’ll get there eventually!
Of course, that’s not how life actually works. Hachi’s dreams are quickly contrasted against the career trajectory of his friend Cheng-Shin, who joined the station around the same time. While Hachimaki crosses endless anonymous days of trash collection off his long calendar, Cheng-Shin is already working as a pilot, soon to be carrying actual passengers. The middle section of this episode nicely conveys how working life can get us caught in the everyday, while we assume the long-term things will take care of themselves. Hachimaki crosses off assignments and teaches his rookie new tricks, then fritters his tiny salary away on booze and lottery tickets. He’s working hard, so he’ll get there eventually. It’s not something to worry about.
The promotion of Cheng-Shin startles Hachi back to reality, as he emotionally acknowledges what he’s known all along – that he’s not taking one step after another, he’s simply floating in space. There’s no career mobility in trash collection, and no hopes of a salary that would actually bring him closer to his dream. Though his own mentor once told him he could “take his time,” that was three damn years ago, and not a thing has changed (I particularly liked this perspective shot of his calendar, emphasizing the oppressive mundanity of the future before him). A dream without a path to get there is just empty mental gratification. Spinning in his lonely cabin, he wonders to himself, “what the hell am I doing with my life?”
The episode’s finale doesn’t truly answer that question, and given this is a grounded adult drama, I get the feeling easy answers won’t be forthcoming. But it’s still a remarkably well-composed sequence that makes intelligent use of all the narrative variables introduced thus far. Early on in this episode, Hachimaki takes time to explain to Tanabe the way her suit thrusters work, saying “you gotta be able to determine your center of mass in an instant.” Even at the time, the sequence feels exactly right for this show; like with the first scene in space, it is absolutely essential that Planetes ensures the audience can parse the specifics of its drama. The mechanics of movement in space are handled from the ground up, much like a good shounen will establish its rules one at a time, so when the action arrives, we have the dramatic context necessary to make it understandable.
The finale makes full use of that context, along with tying back into both Hachi’s own time as a rookie and Cheng-Shin’s recent promotion. As in the first episode, Planetes’ total mastery of its genre fundamentals elevates everything – shows that use their narrative resources as judiciously as this just feel right, dramatically sound in a way that’s not always overtly acknowledged, but clearly impacts the audience experience. This particular climax is a tightly constructed emergency situation that gives Hachimaki a reason to actually feel like a hero, while not betraying the intractable complexity of his underlying career drama.
Like in the first episode, the ultimate resolution is “this job sucks, but there are moments of glory here, too.” Hachimaki has been returned to the knowledge that playing the lottery and crossing off days won’t get him where he wants to go, but that doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate some of the views along the way. He can take pride in training Tanabe, and pride in the fact that his work actually has meaningful consequences. It turns out even a job as tedious as heroic spaceman can be rewarding from time to time.
This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.