In today’s episode of Planetes, Hachi and Tanabe arrive at the moon only to discover it’s full of weebs.
I mentioned in my last writeup that I was fairly, but not one hundred percent sure Planetes was in on the joke. That episode was silly, but it still conformed to something resembling a conventional narrative shell. Some of its camp was clearly intentional, but the underlying humor of the contrived story didn’t have to be. It might have just been an unintentionally funny episode.
Well, there weren’t any doubts this time around. But it does take a little while to get there – first off, Planetes’ sixth episode opens with more of the understated worldbuilding that has helped to consistently make this show compelling. Though Tanabe is excited about the moon’s low gravity, the first thing we clearly learn about the moon is that spaceports here are pretty much the same as airports in our time. And on top of that, issues of class still define moon society, even to the point where the poor live far below the rich, closer to the center of the moon.
But that’s enough serious stuff, it’s time for MOON NINJAS. This episode doesn’t really have a B-plot – pretty much the entire running time is dedicated to the concept of “what if a bunch of unemployed dudes on the moon watched a bunch of ninja movies and then decided to waste their time bouncing around in stupid homemade outfits.” THIS IS A VERY GOOD CONCEPT. THIS IS A VERY GOOD EPISODE.
Even before the ninjas take over, Planetes seems to understand that low gravity plays perfectly into its campy, broad comic style. Characters like the two bosses already feel like Looney Tunes, after all – given Looney Tunes-esque physics, obviously the show should indulge in stuff like Tanabe leaping on to Hachi in fright, or being literally dragged behind him as they Scooby Doo run away from ninja attackers. And hell, if you lived in the moon-slums and didn’t have any job prospects, why wouldn’t you spend your free time make ninja-y use of all that low gravity?
So yeah, moon ninjas. There’s plenty of goofy physical and visual comedy to enjoy here, from the absurdly mismatched outfits of the amateur ninjas to the way their tricks pretty much all come down to “hey, we can float, but maybe not very well.” But better than the specific absurdity of their premise are the many ways these ninjas clearly and intentionally embody so much of what is dorky about fandom in general, and Japan fetishism in particular.
These guys aren’t just nerds – they are turbonerds, the kind of dudes who’d possibly prefer to think of themselves as honorary Japanese people. Their attacks are accompanied by strings of meaningless Japanese words, they assign each other names that don’t actually exist, and they bicker over what they’ll call the requisite Girl Member, or kunoichi. They ask Hachi if everyone in Japan has a black belt, and solicit him for tips on their ninpo techniques. They sit in an oppressive circle surrounding their newest member, and don’t seem to have any second thoughts about the strangeness of their behavior.
The episode is much better for not condemning them in any meaningful way. Yeah, their response to being unemployed is pretty ridiculous, but hey, ninjas. This isn’t a show about engaging with the perils of fandom obsession, this is a show where people meet ninjas on the moon. And so we get great lines like “what good are you and your ninpo if they can’t make one girl happy?!?”, and Tanabe getting wholly caught up in the moment and declaring that ninjas are fine as long as they have love.
Both Tanabe and Hachi kinda shine in this episode, too. It’s great seeing Tanabe slowly come to accept her ninja friends as the new normal, and also fun seeing Hachi play the clear hero for once, saving the ninja leader’s lost kunoichi and devising a clever plan to avoid a fire. The central goal of this episode is to sell you on these ninjas being endearing even though they’re ridiculous, and little tricks like the traditional folk music accompanying their final battle go a long way towards ensuring everything is as charming as it is ridiculous. I could say this episode acts as a cutting statement on fantasy media as an escape from a sparse and dignity-free job market, but I wouldn’t believe it myself. I’m sure Planetes will get at least somewhat more serious eventually, but I am very happy to have watched a celebration of ninjas from the moon.
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