You know, I was ready to get extremely mad at this episode. Based on the setup of the first half, it looked like the show was going to throw half a dozen new wrenches into Tanabe and Hachi’s relationship, delaying progress purely for the sake of more juicy, artificial drama. But while this episode was a little heavy on the will-they-or-won’t-they stuff, it actually pulled their story together with some real grace. Tanabe and Hachi’s relationship has at times been Planetes’ weakest element, but it turns out you can’t keep a good ship down.
Anyway, the sparks started flying in earnest this week, as the debut of debris section’s new ship gave Hachi a chance to revel in the joy of being a spaceman once again. Of course, this segment was actually framed from Tanabe’s perspective, as she smiled warmly at seeing her crush so very happy and himself. Tanabe’s feelings for Hachi have been profoundly earned by now, and represent one of Planetes’ stronger pieces of character writing. Hachi is far from a perfect man, but he is all the things Tanabe sees in him – dedicated to both his work and his ethics, passionate in all things, great with kids, and even occasionally sensitive in his terse, brutish way. Hachi sells a gruff appeal that can often be very difficult to convey; our sympathy for him is certainly in part a product of time in proximity, but the show has sold every meaningful element of his appeal through its extremely sturdy storytelling.
That said, Planetes’ workmanly storytelling can also occasionally be its undoing. Planetes doesn’t play out like a weird passion project by an auteur writer or director – it’s a professional episodic drama, one that hits safe narrative beats and sells itself more through consistency and detail of execution. And when the classic drama/sitcom templates Planetes relies on show their limitations, the show can suffer in consequence.
That holds very true for this episode’s central conflict, even down to the scene leading up to the Big Obstacle. The episode moves quickly towards a semi-intimate moment between the lovebirds, as the memory of their near-kiss on earth hangs over their shared work duties. Planetes’ excellent expression work does heavy lifting both here and throughout the episode – everything is clear in the dialogue, but as I said above, it’s really the tiny strengths of execution that make Planetes so strong. Even the framing is strong here, positioning us with the ferret to emphasize the silly mundanity of their conversation. But the moment Tanabe says “I’ve been meaning to tell you something,” the doom of narrative inevitability takes hold. I was basically making Lucie’s expression here all through the next conversation.
The managers banning office romance because plot demands conflict is definitely this episode’s lowest point, and the followup to that declaration hits some mildly tooth-grinding cliches as well. Tanabe puts his foot in his mouth in a way that feels more than a little contrived, and the two have a fight that plays out exactly according to prime-time drama standards, even down to the initial focus on their feet to convey their agitation and lack of true connection. When Planetes is bad, it is bad in the way much American television is – safe to the point of laziness, relying on tired conventions as opposed to anime’s own usual stable of failings. Fortunately, in the shadow of that arbitrary conflict, Planetes’ other characters take up the duty of being terrific – Claire has a stark moment of acknowledging her hopeless position, and Yuri reflects on his trip to earth with Fee.
That brief Yuri scene might well be the single best-composed moment of this episode, though it ultimately does find some stiff competition. Framed against the glass once again, his feelings on the future make for a direct contrast with his earlier self. Where he once looked out into space and saw only the void, now he stares through directly at their new ship, at the future they’ll build together. Planetes is too grounded of a show to dally in wild visual metaphor, but its characters’ relationship with the great abyss around them always makes for a powerful evocation of their diverse identities.
As usual, this episode’s emotional conflict is eventually resolved through a physical conflict that mirrors its character drama. Episode fourteen’s final act is classic Planetes, as the employee of division three who inadvertently prompted Hachi and Tanabe’s fight ends up bringing them back together. Like so many of Planetes’ previous episodes, this sequence was deeply confident storytelling from start to finish – Lavie’s role, Hachi’s chance to demonstrate his greater qualities, and Hachi and Tanabe’s ultimate reunion all played out with the understated professionalism Planetes has come to embody. Planetes is somewhat like the debris division itself in that way – perhaps not the flashiest show, maybe not the prettiest to look at, but absolutely confident in itself and its mastery of its craft.
And of course, Planetes also offers its own special gifts. This episode’s final scene is one of those, as the song that once signified Nono’s vision of home plays against Hachi and Tanabe finally settling their score. The framing of this sequence is lovely – still stuck halfway in their bulky suits, their awkward positioning smartly echoes their emotional vulnerability. They fight, as always, but there’s no venom in their words. Hachi uses an incredibly dorky pickup line. Both we and Tanabe see how much he’s laying himself bare, and can’t help but be charmed.
Planetes finally did the thing this episode, after many episodes of slowly woven romance. I’m happy, and surprised, and excited to see what happens next – anime so often stop at confession that it’ll be a genuine thrill seeing what this dating couple looks like. These characters are charming, and this show is too. Planetes is a great little thing.
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