Even Hachimaki was a rookie at one point, and in episode nine, we’re finally introduced to the man who taught Hachi everything he knows. A month of security inspections prompts the return of Gigalt Gungulgash, a veteran debris hauler turned OSA agent, now here to make sure the Half section have got all their security-related affairs in order. And so we spend an episode looking both back at the past and on towards the future, in a present moment that reflects both our old triumphs and long-standing regrets.
The legacy of tutelage is key in this episode. As Hachi teaches Tanabe and Gigalt taught Hachi, we eventually learn that Gigalt himself was once taught by Roland, the old soldier of space flight who made his grave on the shores of the lunar sea. Gigalt is shocked to learn of Roland’s death, as it seems he still wanted to meet with the old astronaut one last time. But old ghosts lurk all around the corners of this episode, even as the characters laugh and drink and reminisce on the good times.
This episode also introduces another pair of threads, though neither of them reap immediate dividends. Reflecting on Hachi’s old girfriend Claire, Gigalt tells Tanabe that he nicknamed her “Swan” because her graceful outward affectation was matched by furious paddling under the surface. Claire is charting a difficult professional course for herself; attempting to move up to the point where she can control her own destiny, she consistently finds herself without allies. While someone like Hachimaki might feel insecure at seeing someone who joined at the same time as him reach such overt heights, Hachi is utterly supported by the people around him. As Fee said in her own focus episode, an environment you can trust can give you more power and security than any amount of corporate progression. Claire is paddling hard, but her progress puts her all alone in an unfriendly sea.
Claire also serves one other small purpose in this episode – making Tanabe feel insecure about her relationship with Hachi. The show is clearly steering the two of them in some kind of romantic direction, though so far that’s mostly expressed through each of them lightly poking at the relationship status of the other. It works, more or less – Hachi’s fondness for Tanabe is still only being expressed in vague, offhand ways, but Tanabe’s respect for Hachimaki is clear. We’ve seen more than enough sequences of Tanabe being impressed by Hachi’s fundamentally upbeat and competent nature to understand her attraction, and this episode is full of strong expression work intended to hammer that home. After nearly a full season of relationship-building adventures, little needs to be overtly stated for this chemistry to parse as real.
It’s probably worth unpacking both halves of that sentence, though. As far as “relationship-building adventures” go, it’s important that these characters haven’t just spent time in proximity – they’ve consistently exchanged values and internalized what the other feels, and also been given chances to see the multiple sides of each other’s personality. It’s a bit tougher to see this on Hachi’s side, since he’s such a tsundere, but there have been a variety of clear moments of “jeez, Tanabe is an impressive person,” and it’s also clear that Tanabe reminds Hachi of the more positive elements of his own younger self. And on Tanabe’s side, her shift from distrust to clear admiration for Hachi has involved both witnessing his dedication to his job and also seeing the many moments where he drops his facade, laughing with a kid on the way to the moon or defending the honor of debris collection against those who’d mock it.
And as far as “overtly stated” goes, Planetes has been consistently good about respecting the viewer’s intelligence when it comes to gathering both worldbuilding and emotional context. That’s certainly clear in this episode specifically, as both Tanabe and Gigalt’s emotional shifts are never overtly articulated, but simply expressed through their eyes as they consider the actions of those around them. It’s also clear in a worldbuilding sense, as the presence of the Space Defense Front as some kind of anti-colonization terrorist organization is left to be inferred through the ways other characters discuss it. And it’s clear in the show’s overall tonal worldbuilding, where sequences like Hachi asking Tanabe about any possible boyfriends while they’re floating in space naturally imply the mundanity of space travel in this world.
But all of that is general to much of Planetes, and this episode still offers plenty to discuss. The episode ends in a more climactic confrontation than any before, as the final security inspection mission ends up running into illegal debris dumpers. Seeing Tanabe shout about “debris haulers of justice” was fantastic, but perhaps the biggest treat here was the moment when Gigalt is knocked free of the debris ship, and momentarily believes this is truly the end. Like with the seventh episode, everything worked together here to really hammer in that sense of terror and alienation in the void of space. Operatic music and distant shots created a sense of vast, oppressive space, while intimate shots of the helmet or Gigalt’s malfunctioning equipment tempered that vastness with claustrophobic counterpoints.
Gigalt seemed briefly at peace in that moment, accepting his death as following in the footsteps of his own teacher. And yet, when he is rescued by Tanabe, his expression changes. Hearing the light arguments between his own student and the new recruit being trained by that student, he smiles. Like in the seventh episode, the alienation of space is contrasted against the alienation of death, and the answer emerges as “we build on each other, and thus are never alone.”
Gigalt ends the episode by giving Tanabe her own nickname, and then revealing he too is suffering the effects of long-term space exposure. His earlier declaration that “when you’re in space, you don’t retire until you die” is given harsh context; this work saps the life from you, and there is only one way out. But Gigalt has a legacy, and is loved by those who he has taught to love this place. His voice carries through to Hachi and Tanabe in turn, the call of a race extending forward into a vast and perilous beyond.
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