Wednesdays Watching Anime – Planetes

October 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

Our OP for this week is from Planetes, “Dive in the Sky” by Sakai Mikio!

I admit, at times I have a little trouble envisioning what this series is supposed to be. Am I reviewing a given OP on its own merits, analyzing how the music and images work together to present a feeling or message? Am I contrasting an OP with the anime it prefaces, to show how and how well the former is able to represent the latter? Am I just using an OP to start a conversation about its anime? I like all of my posts to start a conversation, but I’m mostly talking with myself here, so I have to be realistic.

Anyway, I’m asking myself these questions right now because of the OP for Planetes satisfies all of them.

First of all, this is a beautiful series of images, set to appropriately stirring music, with the figure of main character Hoshino “Hachimaki” Hachirota running in front. Without being heavy-handed, it creates a visual metaphor for the dream of flight and space that is instantly recognizable. I like how far back in history the narrative goes, starting with manuscript illuminations and figural bas-reliefs that are clearly ancient if not easily placed in an absolute chronology. I also like the global perspective, which doesn’t assume that rocketry was first dreamed up by Renaissance thinkers and then given form by Robert Goddard. It’s unsurprising from a Japanese work, of course, but it still hints at a global outlook that is rare in sci-fi anime, most of which are content simply to extend national divisions into space or to invent new ones de novo.

In fact, the only failing of this OP as an OP is really its adherence to the accepted formula for an OP, namely wedging character introductions between the history lesson and the general imagery of outer space. Many of the people that you see are either minor characters throughout the show or major ones that figure rarely in it, so breaking up the rhythm of art in a more realistic style with their goofy anime mugs is a poor choice, in my sight. Still, it’s only a failing because the OP is otherwise so good.

Furthermore, the OP’s allegory of human spaceflight is excellently representative of the experience of watching Planetes. Once the show’s plot really gets going, a little more than a half-dozen episodes into its runtime, it makes a distinct argument about the immense private and public costs of that centuries-long dream, particularly what it means that the dream remains strong despite those costs. Technically speaking, the show is titled “ΠΛΑΝΗΤΕΣ,” a word in Ancient Greek meaning “wanderers” or “vagabonds.” The intent isn’t just to evoke the cognate of “planets” in modern-day English. No, the wanderers are the people driven to leave their familys and communities in order to journey into the cosmos, an environment fundamentally inimical to life. The wanderers are the debris orbiting the Earth, first helping humanity to reach space then threatening their attempts to remain there. The paths and intersections of these different wandering bodies, the struggle to prevent collisions and to deal with the consequences of those that do happen, all these things are the business of Planetes as an anime and all of them are captured in the OP, which presents rocketry and flight as a continuous succession of failures occasionally begetting success.

Finally, yeah, watch Planetes. I always dread making the pitch to a given friend, once they’ve passed through the first round of easy anime recommendations like Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell: SAC, and are looking for something more challenging or unique. I dread it because a brief synopsis is deeply unimpressive — “garbage collectors in space deal with their stressful job” — and because the first six episodes suffer from a common early-2000s disease among seinen anime, wherein the comedy is frontloaded so that the mature themes of later episodes don’t scare the casual audience away before they’ve gotten comfortable with the show. Early on, Planetes heavily showcases jokes about diaper-wearing astronauts, spoiled rich kids, clumsy pickpockets, amateur filmmaking, and wannabe ninjas. Annoying “funny” characters, like the incompetent managerial duo of Philippe Myers and Arvind “Robbie” Lavie, are preferred to psychologically complex professionals like Fee Carmichael and Yuri Mihalkov, who mostly just do their jobs. Granted, most of the jokes either disappear or have payoffs later, and every notable character gets a backstory that is minimally compelling at the very least, but it’s hard going, especially if I’ve just sold you on the anime as a “hard” sci-fi look at humanity in space.

Just soldier through it all, skip episode six where the “moon ninjas” feature prominently, and thank me later.

Hachi, Ai, and Yuri do their job in Planetes

Hachi, Ai, and Yuri do their job in Planetes

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