Having long explored the winding corridors of Seven, spent at least a dozen missions cramped inside the Toy Box, and twice visited the moon, this week’s Planetes took us somewhere the show had never visited – the earth itself. With Fee’s heroic exploits leaving the crew without a ship, the debris team was given some needed time off to visit friends and family. And so we finally visited Hachi’s home, as Tanabe and Yuri tagged along to meet his mother and brother.
The very premise of this episode was a nice gesture towards Planetes’ larger worldbuilding continuity. Not only did the crew need time to get a new ship, but Fee’s actions even made the news – and when Hachi’s mother brought up Yuri’s excellent Japanese, he was able to speak about his wife more freely than before. Planetes’ grounded worldbuilding isn’t limited to its hard take on a science fiction future; the fact that both physical and emotional actions have immediate and long-lasting consequences helps create a sense of solidity in its storytelling.
Of course, this is still Planetes, so the group’s meal is promptly interrupted by a rocket flying through the screen door. Hachi’s brother Kyutaro’s introduction was funny enough (I particularly appreciated the visual gag of the family just happening to have a bunch of spare screen doors), but it also points to the difficult negotiation Planetes is always making between serious, grounded drama and slapstick farce. A show like Love Live can actually navigate this more smoothly – it leans both its drama and worldbuilding into the tonally farcical, and then just relies on the relatability of the characters’ feelings to make its emotions land. But Planetes deeply values its grounded, realistic worldbuilding, which means the contrast between that and its absurd slapstick can occasionally cause dramatic disconnect.
The episode splits from there, as Hachi and Tanabe go shopping while Yuri helps Kyutaro work on his rocket. On the Tanabe side, a reunion with one of Hachi’s old and now-married friends prompts more awkwardness about the state of their relationship. There’s a great sequence where farcical horns (Planetes has a pretty goofy soundtrack in general) are contrasted against very close shots of all of Tanabe’s physical actions, emphasizing the fraught focus of the two characters. But in very Planetes fashion, the launch of a nearby rocket brings the two of them back together. Hachi and Tanabe are basically children when it comes to articulating their feelings, but they both sincerely love the allure of space travel. As Hachi explains how his love of bikes was superseded by rockets, the two of them almost kiss… until they’re interrupted by one more friggin’ rocket.
While Hachi and Tanabe are working through their very high school feelings, Yuri is dealing with something much more complicated. Kyutaro’s botched launch ends up crushing his compass, the symbol of his wife that he dedicated half a decade to recapturing. Staring down at the distorted metal, he solemnly thinks on this loss, before telling Kyutaro not to worry about it. Yuri’s dignity is frankly one of my favorite elements of this series; he’s only received one true focus episode, but he’s a necessary rock in a crowd of hooligans.
Hachi, on the other hand, is still largely a kid. While Yuri’s first thought upon breaking the compass was to protect Kyutaro’s passion, Hachi sees this crime as a reason for his brother to give up on rockets altogether. Hachi can’t see his brother as Yuri does, as a young man with a passion worth pursuing – he’s just Hachi’s little brother, the dumb kid playing with dangerous toys he doesn’t understand. And so the two battle it out in a way appropriate for their personalities, as Hachi’s mother cheerfully tells Tanabe that “the good thing about the men in this family is they don’t die.”
The episode’s finale returns to Yuri, as he tries to explain his ambiguous feelings to Kyutaro. When Yuri was a young man, he traveled far and wide in search of some element of certainty in the world. “Having something that is beyond doubt is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?” he asks. Twenty-year-old Yuri deeply desired that certainty, and hoped that traveling to gain enlightenment might provide it. Life is much easier if everything is certain – but as Yuri eventually learns, there is no certainty in this world, no ultimate truth. As Temara Poitier said a few episodes back, when we look down at the earth from the sky, we can see no borders.
“Thank you for breaking my compass,” he tells Kyutaro. And he means it – while Yuri’s compass was certainly precious to him, breaking it reminded him of something he’d learned long ago and forgotten. There are no boundaries between earth and sky, and there are no clear objectives in life – and that’s a good thing. Yuri had been clinging to both the compass and the memory of his wife as a point of certainty, but that wasn’t a healthy way to move forward. Breaking his compass let him see that once again.
Planetes’ thirteenth episode concludes with a lovely montage, as each of the members of the debris department briefly reunite with their terrestrial families. Yuri does not have the guidance of such a family anymore, but as he relinquishes his locket to the heavens, he seems at peace with that fact. Even the borderlines of family are ambiguous in this world; as Fee and Hachi and the others have so consistently demonstrated, the family of the debris team is just as real as anything else. Setting his compass free, Yuri smiles into the horizon, as their transport ship carries them safely home.
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