Anime Review: Planetes (2003)

Planetes is a science-fiction story about the crew of DS-12 "Toy Box", whose responsibility is to remove space debris. The first episode shows a screw bringing down a spaceship, and hence the seriousness of the job. However, clearing space debris is merely a storytelling tool to aid character development. This is one of the best character-driven anime I've watched, across all genres. There's comedy, suspense, surprise and some romance.

The main character is Hachirota "Hachimaki" Hoshino who's struggling to decide whether or not to pursue his dream. Meanwhile, he coaches rookie Tanabe who has just joined the Debris Section. She's simple girl, kind and sweet, and thinks that everything can be solved by love. The captain of the crew is Fee who is easily agitated when denied smoking. And there's the calm and thoughtful co-captain Yuri.

Chemistry between the characters is just magical. They are so realistic in portrayal it's like having new friends. Indeed so, when their back stories and motivation are slowly revealed throughout the series, drawing in the audience to care more. That really hooked me as I just can't stop watching to find out what happens to the characters next, even though episodes don't end with cliffhangers. Some characters found meaning in their lives, some lost it along the way.

The themes in Planetes are philosophical, sociological, and political in nature. There are not just conflicts between people, but also within themselves, which makes the plot so multi-layered.

The story also deals with heavy issues like politics in space discovery, resource mining, terrorism, stress and space sickness. An engineer from an impoverished country comes to space to have his new spacesuit tested but no one except the Debris Section would help him out. Several times we're shown how space affects the health and psychology of people. When Hachimaki was injured, he met a girl at the hospital who was born on the Moon and has to live there because of her weak bones. Later on, Hachimaki almost lost his life in an accident and has trouble overcoming his near-death experience.

Planetes is a real winner with its engaging storyline and well developed characters. I'm really touched by the quality and depth of the animation. The ending left me smiling, wishing the characters good luck for their next phase in life.

5 out of 5 stars.

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