Planetes’ penultimate episode is called “The Lost,” and opens with the voice of our friend Locksmith reading off a list of unfamiliar names. Given the title, I initially figured these were the people lost in the battle against the SDF. But as it turns out, we don’t really care about those names – instead, this was the list of crewmates who’d actually made the cut. Six months after the SDF’s attack, Hachimaki has succeeded in his dream, and is one of the final eighteen headed to Jupiter. But instead of exulting in victory, Hachimaki seems distant. Empty.
The minutes tick by, SDF agents steering humanity’s “future” towards the Sea of Tranquility City. Suspended in darkness between the earth and moon, the Von Braun has never looked so fragile. At a time like this, it’s easy to forget the human cost of such a grand, breathtaking achievement. A million lives lost is a crime too vast for us to conceive of, while monuments are easy to believe in. A symbol can mean more than any number of innocents.
Planete’s twenty-third episode is one steady build to a long-awaited explosion. Early scenes reveal the SDF meddling with INTO’s broadcast satellites, putting us in their own leadership’s perspective for the first time. From a vague threat or thematic counterbalance, the SDF have become one of the principal actors in Planetes, touting a philosophy that the show may actually agree with more than any other. Though their overt rhetoric leans towards apocalyptic nonsense and naive environmentalism, everything we’ve learned about their actual members indicates they’re simply fighting back against INTO’s global hegemony in the only way they can.
Continuing with Planetes’ cheekily appropriate episode titles, episode twenty-two is called “Exposure.” Though you might initially assume that refers to exposure in a “safety in space travel” sense, it becomes clears throughout this episode that they’re referring specifically to a camera’s exposure. Gigalt literally gifts Hachimaki a camera containing his final teaching, and physical motifs aside, the idea of exposure guides the drama of this episode.
Planetes’ twenty-first episode is called “Tandem Mirror.” It’s an appropriate name for this episode, which focuses on both Locksmith’s great invention in an overt narrative sense and also on various other mirrors in a metaphorical one. Both the gleaming new Von Braun and the tandem mirror of the original, wrecked craft come into play this episode, but this episode also investigates how members of Planetes’ cast mirror each other in a variety of ways. How Hachi and Tanabe still have so much in common, even as they’re drifting apart. How Hachi is still haunted by his own reflection, in spite of succeeding in getting on the Von Braun. And how Hachi isn’t mirrored by those he’d once believed in, like his rival and ambiguous friend Hakim.
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.
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.
Planetes’ seventeenth episode was an oppressive demonstration of the inhumanity inherent in the exploration of space, and of the corporate institutions that erect themselves to foster and defend that inhumanity. That was a heavy episode, and was itself following an episode focused on post-traumatic shock, so it’d make sense for the debris crew to finally got a break this time. And in fact, they do end up getting a break: a permanent one. The debris section is disbanded. You’re all fired.
Planetes’ seventeenth episode begins with a shot of an open hand, as pills are shaken into it from an unmarked container. As the next shot reveals, these are Gigalt’s pills, a symbol of his fraying health here used as the very first thing introducing us to this episode. Victory and legacy and career trajectory, all pointless in the face of our constantly encroaching mortality. Gigalt is a decorated employee and a credit to his company, but at this point he’s becoming just another old man.
Planetes’ sixteenth episode opens with heavy, panicked breathing, thick gasps presented to us before we even understand what’s happening. That’s intentional, as we soon learn – Hachi has spun free in space, and so in order to simulate his immediate confusion, we are left in the dark as well. Extreme closeups convey the claustrophobia of the situation, mixed in with shots framed to highlight the vast emptiness of space. And the sound design remains important throughout, that breathing soon finding itself accompanied by creaking, hissing noises from Hachi’s suit. As his breathing accelerates and pulse becomes audible, those mechanical noises impress on us a constant and oft-overlooked truth – that for all his confidence and security, Hachimaki is only separated from disaster by the thinnest layer of human engineering.