Judge Joel Pearce says this anime is the best show about intergalactic garbage collectors since the short-lived Quark, starring Richard Benjamin.
In space, a bolt can screw you.
The first volume of Planetes was one of the most pleasant surprises I've had reviewing DVDs. As it turns out, the second volume carries on the excellence, once again following the space debris collection team known as the "half section" on their dangerous, unique, and occasionally hilarious adventures.
In this second volume, the developers have added another weapon to their arsenal: parody. The first episode on this disc is a divergence from formula, and it was a frightening experience. Rather than the plausible science fiction of the first disc, it has Ai and Hachirota running into a group of hostile space ninjas during a trip to the moon. Space ninjas? I was pissed. After all, what I loved so much about the first volume was the conspicuous absence of space ninjas and other such anime nonsense.
But the show's makers know what they're doing. This plot quickly begins to make sense, and comes back around to the show's usual feel before too long. The first two episodes have little action (aside from the aforementioned low-grav ninjas), but they help to establish the society of the future. No matter how much our society advances, there will still be people who get taken advantage of, who end up stuck in situations they never asked for. In the end, these two episodes are more touching than silly, and I like having a break from the usual story.
I was, however, also glad to get back to the debris missions, where Planetes really shines. There are another couple missions in the remaining episodes on the disc (there are five episodes in all), and they are just as breathlessly suspenseful as those on the first set. The excitement of the series comes from the characters we've come to know and love. They are all deeply flawed, but trying to do the best they can in difficult circumstances. In most situations, realistic characters can be afforded an occasional mistake. Here, though, a tiny slip-up could kill them all. The series pays more attention to science and physics than most science fiction, and even if it isn't always accurate, it never feels silly.
The bulk of the time is spent on the ship as the characters struggle through their everyday lives. It's obvious that Ai and Hachirota are heading towards a relationship, thanks to their constant bickering and her inability to tell him how she feels about him. This romantic tension is the weakest part of the series thus far, if only because it has gone unresolved for so long. It's time for both characters to move on—either to a relationship or not. The rest of the time on the ship—from discussions of the social and political problems of the future, to the lighthearted banter of half section—is top-notch. We start to get to know some of the other characters in this volume. The last episode, centered on Yuri, is downright moving.
In some ways, this is as close to a well-made North American ensemble situation comedy as anime has ever reached. At its best moments, it reaches the level of Scrubs or MASH, using human comedy and wit to expose the dangers and tragedies of human life. Unfortunately, the series ultimately fails to stay there, using too much filler material to pad the rest of the running time.
I noticed a lot more flaws in the animation this time around. The series was obviously cheaply produced, using a lot of short cuts in the animation. The backdrops are largely static, although they have been carefully drawn. There is also occasional trouble in the character movement, which must be challenging for an animation team that isn't used to drawing characters moving in low gravity. The transfer is relatively clean, and the weaknesses in the animation won't even be noticeable on many displays. The sound is solid as well. I am less impressed with the dub this time around, especially because the English performance of Hachirota sounds far whinier and wimpier than the original Japanese. Still, regardless of which language you choose, Planetes is a pleasant show to listen to.
Once again, the extra features are on a second disc. There is another voiced sequence with rough drawings (essentially a deleted scene), as well as an interview with two men from NASA discussing the viability of the science involved in the series and the necessity for space debris removal. It's interesting to have this factual data at hand, even if it's not necessary for enjoyment of the series. There are also some interviews with English cast members, as well as a CG video of actual space debris. There's a lot more of it than we would imagine, actually (like it's not enough that we have polluted the earth so much). Beyond that, the disc houses the traditional entries: textless credit sequences, and some trailers.
Brief ninja antics aside, this second volume is further evidence that, when all is said and done, Planetes could be an anime masterpiece. There are some weak moments, but they are few and far between. For the most part, it is pure and unique science fiction, with a keen eye for reality and a fun sense of humor. The DVD is fantastic, too, and highly recommended for all anime fans.
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