Planetes – Episode 15

With Fee and Yuri both having earned a scattering of focus episodes, the only one-note characters remaining in the debris section were the buffoonish bosses and long-suffering temp worker Edel. Those bosses remained buffoons this week, but Edel finally got a chance to shine, pinning down a winding episode that broke from fourteen’s close focus to check in on basically all of the show’s minor characters. Things are stirring together now, even if anything approaching a focused narrative still seems very far away.

Planetes

We opened with the team’s full-time employees all getting together for an annual physical, which conveniently demonstrated that Tanabe’s already having a positive influence on Hachimaki. This scene’s narrative purpose was largely just to center the focus on Edel’s mysterious existence, but what I most liked about this little moment was the solid expression work across the whole crew. Planetes doesn’t have an ostentatious visual style, but it is extraordinarily good at giving its characters consistently distinctive expressions. There’s not so much flashy animation in these later episodes, but the dedication to these characters’ visual expressiveness is still very nice to see.

From there, the episode jumped restlessly across a variety of narratives, building up a first date between Hachi and Tanabe while pushing a handful of other narratives just a few feet down their tracks. Planetes is following close to a dozen major characters now, if you count recurring episodic players like Claire and Dolf, and they all seem relevant to where the show is ultimately going. This is a story about a few people in the debris section, but the way those people construct a family is ultimately being reflected back on the overall corporate structure of Seven itself in several ways. Dolf responds to the incompetence and facelessness of corporate policy by attempting to recreate a family he can trust – in contrast, Claire’s attempts to rise up the corporate ladder are undercut by consistent reminders of how little that world cares about her.

Planetes

While Claire and Dolf got some minor scenes here, the immediately relevant threads concerned Tanabe and Hachi’s date and Edel’s personal life. On the date side, possibly my favorite scene of this episode came about when Cheng-Shin ran into the two of them getting drinks. I was seriously worried when Hachi opened with “this isn’t what it looks like” shenanigans, since that’s an easy sitcom gateway to exactly the kind of nonsense drama the last episode engaged in. But instead of having the characters act like children in order to fill twenty minutes, Hachi did something I completely didn’t expect – he told the truth.

Hachi was caught off guard by Cheng-Shin, but he acted with dignity in handling the situation. Not only did he apologize to Cheng-Shin for hiding his and Tanabe’s relationship, but he managed to do that while avoiding downplaying Tanabe’s own agency. And Cheng-Shin responded with the same even-keeled disposition that’s made him such a reliable friend. It’s been clear through both framing and dialogue that Cheng-Shin understood Hachi’s feelings long before Hachi did, and so he was ready to give the new couple his blessing with only a brief dig at Hachi’s expense. Seeing adult characters act like adults is an oddly rewarding experience.

Planetes

Of course, this is still Planetes, so cute scenes of Hachi and Tanabe trying to get some privacy ultimately end in a classic trip-fall scenario, complete with dorky farting horn music. And when an unexpected visitor pops up from behind their hotel bed, their date narrative finally merges with the reveal of Edel’s own past.

As we’ve learned before, space travel is far from an equal-opportunity experience. Both Claire and Dolf exemplify space travel’s unfairness in their own ways – Dolf in the many times he’s forced to reckon with incompetent but politically invulnerable coworkers, and Claire in the consistent reminders that people like her aren’t welcome at the top. Though Tanabe and Hachi don’t lead glamorous lives, they’re still privileged in their own ways – in fact, this very episode opens by underlining that fact, through Tanabe’s awkward lack of understanding of why Edel has to hold down several jobs.

As it turns out, Edel isn’t naturally inclined for this world. She escaped from an unhappy life in a dead-end town, where she apparently married her pimp and suffered consistent abuse. Though she’s rarely expressive, she takes pride in her work here – she’s honestly moving forward, and even if meaningful career mobility is unlikely, she’s doing everything she can to take advantage of the opportunities available to her. She’s grown up, perhaps more than Hachi and Tanabe ever will. And sometimes growing up means shooting a speargun into your former husband’s two-bit forehead.

Planetes

Things ended somewhat anticlimactically here, and Edel just didn’t get enough meaningful screentime for her reveals to parse as emotionally satisfying, but this was still a reasonable role-player episode. Not all characters in an ensemble production like this can be equally well-developed, and so you have to make choices. Fee is both inherently engaging and key to the show’s physical narrative operations (she’s the pilot and Dolf’s friend). Yuri speaks to the show’s themes directly, and tempers the hot-headedness of the general cast with some fatigued wisdom. Edel is simply another one of the gang, and so her character development is forced to share a bunk with an episode half-dedicated to moving unrelated narrative pieces around. Edel is still a quiet person, but this episode successfully granted her a quiet dignity.

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