The Von Braun is preparing to set sail, and all likely crewmates must head to earth. In the wake of last episode’s mine defusal, the Debris Section has found itself with a new lease on life. Having leaked the footage from the event, the section is hailed as heroes, and become too politically popular to fire. That’s all that their footage accomplishes, of course – INTO is a multinational corporation, and so the revelation that they’re laying mines for their political enemies doesn’t really have any other effect. In an age where the United States already bombs civilians to take out kill-worthy targets, it’d be more fantastical for INTO to actually be harmed by this setback.
But INTO is not the focus of this episode – Hachi is. Having already tendered his resignation, Hachi spends this episode fighting his way through the Von Braun recruitment tests, competing against thousands of other hopefuls for one of only eighteen slots on the crew. There, he meets both Cheng-Shin and Hakim, both of them fighting for one of the same slots. But the Hachimaki they meet down on earth is an entirely new man.
Hachimaki spent a great deal of Planetes’ running time avoiding thoughts of the future. Though he joined Technora at the same time as Claire and Cheng-Shin, his career stagnated while theirs bloomed. Hachi’s response to this was one of the only ones available to most people: partitioning his long-term dreams and day-to-day work, and not really thinking about how the hopeful close end of the dreams would never actually meet the drudging far end of the day-to-day. He lived in the present, because his future was a lie.
The return of Hachi’s father shook up his idle dream, along with the willpower he regained through fighting his space trauma. And the allure of the Von Braun gave him purpose. See the solar system! Help the human race! All of that sounded far more compelling than settling for a family on earth, and so he leapt at the chance to join the Jupiter mission. At last, Hachimaki has found the person he’s meant to be.
Of course, Hachimaki’s new revelations don’t make him particularly unique. In fact, the resolution he’s arrived at now places him in the exact same place Claire once was, back when she believed she could really succeed at Technora. Just like Claire, Hachimaki’s focus on his career necessitates sacrificing his social safety net. Hachi abandons Tanabe emotionally in spite of Cheng-Shin’s protests, and even skips his own farewell party. Hachimaki hasn’t grown past the other members of the Debris Section – he’s simply arrived at a different but equally juvenile view of life.
The final preliminary test exemplifies Hachi’s dedication to his new philosophy. Tasked with diagnosing an oxygen leak in an underwater mock-space setting, Hachi diligently works at the problem as a fellow candidate chokes on the water below. As Cheng-Shin races to help the drowning candidate, Hachi only looks forward, earning the attention of the ever-watchful Werner Locksmith. “I don’t need humanists on my team” Locksmith says later, explaining his preference to another frustrated candidate. By embracing his most egotistical and sociopathic tendencies, Hachimaki finds himself favored by the monstrous man who may well move the human race forward.
Things come to a head in the episode’s final scene, where Cheng-Shin admits he didn’t expect to pass the test. Cheng-Shin’s idle explanation of the backroom bargaining that earned Technora guaranteed spots on the ship might well have offered a clue for Hachi, if he were in any state to accept it. But Hachi has been consumed by the fear, arrogance, and desperation of a child.
Frustrated with Cheng-Shin’s casual tone, Hachi leans in to all of his worst instincts. His former bitterness at Cheng-Shin’s success and initial jealousy at his relationship with Tanabe cause him to lash out, blaming Cheng-Shin for his theoretically reliable path in life. Hachi’s anger is understandable, but his target should not be Cheng-Shin, and his actual words are garbage. The villains Hachi should really be turning towards are people like Locksmith, who embrace the monstrous nature of corporate capitalism, or the new Section 2 chief, who embodies the nepotism that reveals the lie of Locksmith’s ostensibly meritocratic beliefs. But Hachi exists in a world defined by men like them, and he lacks the perspective or power to fight back. When our true oppressors are that far away, we often turn to the people close at hand in our rage.
Weathering ridiculous insults by Hachi, Cheng-Shin responds with biting critiques. Hachi deliberately quit his job in order to, in Hakim’s words, “reach a goal you can’t reach if you still have a safety net.” But while that all sounds perfectly heroic, Cheng-Shin asks the very obvious “what will you say if you don’t make it?” Safety nets aren’t webs that hold us down – they’re the personal and professional systems we establish to cushion ourselves because the world is unfair. Sometimes we get fired for no reason, or passed over for promotion because the boss’s son just got out of college, or reassigned because our skin color makes a vice president uncomfortable. Corporate capitalism is a system of institutions designed to create capital at the expense of human sacrifice, whose levers are managed by individual humans guided by biases and bigotries. Our response to a system like that can’t just be “I’ll work the hardest and do the best and succeed” – as Claire demonstrates, that only leads to burnout. And when you sacrifice your personal connections to ensure your professional future, there’s no one there to catch you when you fall.
Hearing Hachi’s pathetic philosophy, Cheng-Shin responds with the pointed “that’s how children chase after their dreams. But you and I are adults!” Cheng-Shin knows his career will move forward in stops and starts, and that the things he has active control over are limited. But Hachi can only accept the world if it’s truly within his own grasp – joining the Von Braun must echo his personal journey out of trauma, or it won’t make any sense. Hachimaki is rewarded this time, as his validation of Locksmith’s sociopathy gets him through the first test. But corporate advancement is guided by a handful of tumbling dice, and sheer effort will only get you so far.
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