As Planetes’ seventh episode begins, Hachi explains how the moon is often used as a place of recuperation for those suffering from the effects of long-term space habitation. With his leg still broken from his prior adventures, Hachi has plenty of time with his own thoughts this week, and so we hear his internal voice for the very first time. Hachi meets a pair of new acquaintances during his time recovering, as well – an old astronaut named Harry Roland, who spent twenty years in space carving the way for the current era, and a young woman named Nono, who claims to have been on the moon for twelve years. Both of these are dramatic stretches of time; the human body isn’t naturally suited for space travel, and so both Harry and Nono are something of space oddities, stranded from humanity’s terrestrial home.
This is a quieter and more intimate story than earlier adventures. Hearing Hachi’s internal monologues brings us closer to him; we see him expressing vulnerability in wondering what to say to Nono, and his fundamentally romantic nature in the way he speaks of space and his home on earth. Nono is thrilled by his stories of driving his motorcycle beside the ocean, and Hachi seems more comfortably himself in these conversations than in his usual bluster. There’s a gentle warmth in these exchanges, an atmosphere buoyed by some of the show’s most charming music yet.
But everything that makes those sequences cheery is reflected in contrast by Harry’s trials. The direction of this episode is far superior to any of the others so far, firmly establishing the alienating reality of staring out across the moon. Night shots inside the moonbase emphasize the metallic, the clinical, the vast and isolated. Shots of the moon itself echo that sensation, as Harry is captured in glass and corners and window frames.
Planetes has successfully worked to make space flight seem mundane, but here, the perspective of an old astronaut means we truly feel the barren volume of space. Heavy shadows emphasize small human structures in a wasteland of grey. Our encroachment into this place feels frail and tentative when contrasted against the great lunar sea; a small road in a vast wilderness, or a tiny helmet against the cold expanse. Shots are alternately framed as claustrophobic and almost vertigo-inducing. We are strangers here, and our presence is not welcome.
Harry’s story embodies the terror of space. Having given the best years of his life to navigate these dark waters, he now finds he has leukemia, his body betrayed by the ocean he loved. In his last moments, he seeks still to grasp at the further beyond, claiming both that he still has life in him and that he must die in this place. We feel his panic as control slips away, the sound design shifting from eerie strings to simply the heavy breathing inside a cumbersome suit, or echoing Fee’s horn across the long highway in darkness. Harry dies on a rock by a road in the infinite grey, his body given up to challenge a far shore his bones weren’t meant for.
Hachi takes the significance of Harry’s death to heart, and briefly considers if mankind really wasn’t meant for space. If the strongest and most dedicated of us are still spurned by the high darkness, what hope do the rest of us have? Compared to Harry’s sacrifice, Hachi feels just like the tourist Harry labeled him. Hachi also longs for space, but space pushes us back at every turn.
Fee tries to knock some sense into him, but it is Nono who turns his perspective around. As Hachi learns at the end, Nono is actually far younger than she looks – a mere child, in fact, one who grown beyond her age because she was actually born on the moon. Possessing a body too weak for earth’s gravity, she can only experience Hachi’s ocean through stories and pictures. Far from being tethered by physical necessity to return to an earthly home, she is mankind’s firmest expression of dedication to claiming space as its own.
But Nono is not sad about being barred from the earth. Instead, she embraces her own ocean, sharing the moon’s soil and sky with Hachimaki. And she doesn’t think of her body as a limitation – she is certain that one day she’ll be able to visit the earth, and witness Hachi’s sea. Having already conquered the ocean Harry was unable to tame, she puts her faith forward once again, believing mankind’s genius will let her reach a place that is not her home.
This was a chilling, visceral, and ultimately uplifting episode of Planetes. On technical merits, it dwarfed the rest of the series – the direction and sound design were phenomenal throughout, with the use of natural noises like Hachi’s crutch and Harry’s breathing, the poignant framing of Harry’s struggles, and the grand shots of the lunar sea all deserving notice. It laid out its points gracefully and firmly, and arrived at a thoroughly considered optimism. A dramatic high point for the series so far.
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