Planetes: Volume 1 Special Edition (ep.1-5)
In 2075, eager but maladroit Ai Tanabe, the heroine of the sci-fi broadcast series Planetes (2004), arrives at Space Station ISPV-7 and discovers she's been assigned to the Debris Section: the department charged with cleaning up the orbiting junk that threatens interplanetary navigation. Ai immediately begins squabbling with her jaded partner, veteran spaceman Hachirota "Hachimachi" Hoshino. The set-up of a feisty newcomer joining a team of hardworking but underappreciated grunts recalls Patlabor, and the feuding friendship between Ai and Hachirota is anime boilerplate. But Hachirota has more depth than the usual diamond-in-the-rough character, and the setting allows for some imaginative storylines. The result is an entertaining, if not terribly original series.
The two-disc set is loaded with extras that go beyond the standard interviews with ADR director Tony Oliver and voice actors Kirk Thornton (Hachirota) and Julie Ann Taylor (Ai): photographs of real space debris that's fallen to Earth, and a discussion with NASA officials, who explain there may be 15,000 objects 10cm or larger orbiting the planet at speeds approaching 8 km./sec. (Rated 13 and older: violence, alcohol and tobacco use) --Charles Solomon
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Long story short: if you're a hard science-fiction fan with an eye toward realism, this is the anime you've been waiting for (I often get the feeling that if Arther C. Clarke were to write a series, it would turn out pretty much like this one). If you're an anime fan, here's one of the best examples of the medium you can find. 26 episodes, infinite enjoyment.
(And while you're at it, you'll want to read the manga of the same name. The two versions of the story overlap, but each has its own unique elements.)
The second disc has interviews with Tony Oliver (who is also the English ADR director), Kirk Thornton and Julie Ann Taylor, as well as members of NASA's REAL Orbital Debris Department! There is also a photo gallery showing real debris that has fallen back to Earth, audio dramas in Japanese and the normal trailers you find on a anime disc.
This special edition is truely special and does not cost you an arm and a leg. A must for any fan of anime, sci-fi, Wendee Lee (YEAH) or anybody who enjoys a good, solid story!
If I were to try to describe the spirit of this show, I would say it is very like the legendary Wings of Honneamise. In both that film and this series, we are presented with a world that has lost it's idealism, its hopes and dreams, and is being swallowed up by greed, laziness, and self-interest. Like that universe, here it is shown repeatedly that despite the cold, unfeeling, uncaring world, there are always little ways that the true beauty of humanity (and indeed, the universe) can shine through. If this show has a motto, it's gotta be something like "There's a big, scary, cruel world out there... but I don't believe in it."
This romantic idealism is personified by the kind female protagonist, Ai Tanabe. Introduced in the first episode and one of the two main characters from there on out, Ai is one of the greatest, to say nothing of most human anime characters I have yet witnessed. At once timid, shy, sweet, tough, strong, and righteously motivated, her character makes a perfect foil (perfect match?) for the rough and cynical Hachimachi (the headband wearing wannabe). The true genius of their relationship is, of course, that despite the fact that Hachi is always acting like a person totally grounded in reality who only cares about himself, he actually has dreams, ideals, and deep feelings that he hides deep down. In other words, he's just like her.
There are many other characters, and all of them save one or two receive considerable character development time in this series. In the beginning and middle of the series, there are entire episodes devoted just to the back story of a single character. And of course, despite the realistic setting, we see again and again what might be called miracles by the true believers and amazing coincidences by the unmoved.
Through the course of the show we get to see some wonderful drama, greatly enhanced by the use of the silence of space and some very appropriate music. Again, the realism of the series serves to further strengthen things, as we find ourselves thinking of the characters as real people, and feeling their deep inner struggles.
If I had to describe the animation style of this show, I'd say it looked somewhat like the style of The Cat Returns. Everything has a somewhat pastel coloration, people and buildings look detailed, but somewhat sketchy (as opposed to the sharp angles or overly round looks most are familiar with). The spaceships, machinery, and other fine points are meticulously detailed, and CGI is used carefully and sparingly (again, only enhancing the presentation).
If there are any downsides to this excellent show, they would probably be either the comedy (which I personally love, but some people find too bizarre), the somewhat awkward beginning of the first episodes, and perhaps the ending theme (it just doesn't seem to go with the epic feel as well as the opening theme which I absolutely love).
Everyone who is a fan of serious science fiction, drama, or just plain old good anime or good TV shows in general needs to watch this series. I was hooked from the first time I saw the intro with the first rocket ships taking off, and knew it was a classic when the final episodes had me in tears. This one gets my highest recommendation.
Also note, the interviews with NASA "orbital debris specialists" continues on volumes 2 and 3 (I haven't purchased volume 4 yet, so I can't comment).