Planetes – Episode 20

Having passed the first round of testing, Hachimaki has successfully isolated himself from the world and home he once knew. Even Planetes’ opening monologue seems to know it – instead of the classic explanation of space debris, the narrator now speaks solemnly of the course of space travel, and the mighty grasp of humanity in the current age. The narrator doesn’t play coy about the consequences of this shift, either – the economic partitioning that has underlined so many of the show’s episodes is directly referenced, and the monologue ends on “the Von Braun is about to set sail, carrying with it humanity’s hopes and dreams.” We’ve already seen that exact vision dismantled by Hachimaki’s father, making its appearance here an intentionally grim irony. Planetes is not pulling its punches.


To be frank, I might have appreciated it if this episode had pulled its punches a bit. The hits come fast in this episode, starting with the reveal that Claire is now the newest member of the debris team. Having slowly tumbled down the corporate ladder across the last few episodes, this feels like an insult specifically chosen by her callous superiors: “if you love the debris team so much, why don’t you join them.” Claire’s bitterness at this fate is utterly understandable, making for a natural bit of conflict between her and Tanabe.

I particularly appreciated how little of their communal material hinged on their relationships with Hachimaki. It actually felt like the show was lampshading that default conflict early on, when it had Lavie bring up the possibility of romantic drama to the chief (in a scene that also demonstrated Planetes’ consistently wonderful character acting). “Now we have to fight over the man” is a sitcom staple as common as it is sexist, implying that when two women share a relationship with a man, the relationship with that man defines their relationship as well. It’s trite and demeaning, and though Planetes is generally a better show than that, it has slipped into default sitcom material in the past.


Fortunately, none of that happened. Claire probably does harbor some bitter feelings about Hachimaki, but they have nothing to do with Tanabe. Hachi seems to have found an escape from the dead end she’s fallen into, and on top of that, her initial fall into this place stemmed at least partially from her realization that her own goals would never work out for her. While Hachi can theoretically mess around with his career and eventually be saved by his father’s name, Claire is overtly held down by her background, and must necessarily accept the “at least you can find a family” consolation prize Hachi once represented. Given all this being on her mind, it’s no surprise she shoves off Tanabe’s offers of friendship.

Of course, Tanabe’s offer is kindly meant, as almost all her actions are. Tanabe’s role in this episode is more suspect than Claire’s, and mainly involves her continuing to be ignored by her theoretical boyfriend. Hachi’s evasive behavior towards Tanabe puts him out of the range of true sympathy – even if he truly wanted to abandon his old relationships, the decent thing to do would be to actually break things off with Tanabe. There’s a sympathetic line that could be found in Hachi’s desperate clinging to Von Braun, but this episode doesn’t lean into it, and Tanabe’s material here ultimately culminates in another character sabotage.


Feeling bitter from his last conversation with Hachi, Cheng-Shin’s reunion with Tanabe is so terrible it strains my understanding of his character. Cheng-Shin has generally been a career-driven person, but he’s also been a relatively kind one, and on top of that, his relationship with Tanabe was always fairly superficial. The idea that Hachi’s bitter speech would so affect him that he’d actually assault Tanabe seems inconceivable given our understanding of his character, and makes him less “trustworthy” in a dramatic sense going forward.

I don’t mean that as in, “we can’t trust Cheng-Shin to be a nice guy” – I mean his actions here are so out of character that we can’t trust he’ll act in ways consistent with his prior behavior, thus robbing him of dramatic weight. Like Hachi, Cheng-Shin’s position could be completely understandable, and thus add to the richness of Planetes’ exploration of finding self-worth within a bigoted capitalist structure. Perhaps the audience wasn’t supposed to parse Cheng-Shin’s actions here as unforgivable, but either way, they seem far too out of step with his prior actions.


But ultimately, it all comes back to Hachimaki. While Hachi’s former friends all spiral in his absence, he finds himself in a new Von Braun test, where his newfound “look out for number one” philosophy bumps up against a teamwork-based challenge. Trapped with Hakim and two other prospective candidates in a tiny capsule, Hachimaki must spend ten days working together to demonstrate total mastery of their duties on the Von Braun.

The capsule test is easily this episode’s most effective material, using Locksmith’s well-established sadism to justify a more shounen-style “competition arc” narrative than anything the show’s previously managed. I particularly liked how these sequences consistently used shots framed through the grates of the capsule, which served a variety of dramatic purposes. In a pure visual sense, the bars of the grates emphasized the fact that these characters were all imprisoned – and on top of that, the tight framing of the vent walls echoed the claustrophobic nature of their entrapment. In addition to that, consistently emphasizing the grates also emphasized the fragility of life in this space; Hachi and his companions were placed on the most barren edge of survival, with only the steady flow of heat and oxygen keeping them artificially alive.


In the end, Hachi and his companions were forced to question exactly what lengths they’d go to in order to ride the Von Braun. An artificial emergency left the group with only enough oxygen for three survivors, testing their convictions in the most on-the-nose of styles (I told you this episode wasn’t subtle). The group survive thanks to a risky gimmick, but in the end, the worst does happen: Hachi accidentally makes a friend. It turns out even when he’s being a callous, homewrecking sack of manure, Hachi can’t help but be just a little charming.

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