Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 9th 2005
DVD 2: (2 disc set)
Members of Half Section finish their journey to the moon for some vacation time, though it turns out to be anything but dull. The apartment arranged for Ai has some truly unusual neighbors, while Hachimaki must face the peril of an arranged marriage meeting! A later stay in the hospital by one character results in encounters with a couple of special individuals, each of which leaves an indelible impression on Half Section's astronauts. Upon returning to work, the Half Section team struggles to deal with the possibility that Fee might be promoted out of their section, but things look up when a visitor assigned to run the section through security training turns out not only to be a former Half Section member, but Hachimaki's sensei as well! While Ai agonizes over an unpleasant secret she has learned, Yuri finally finds the thing that he has been diligently looking for over the past five years.
Planetes is a title which is difficult not to love. While other titles strive with every fiber of their production to be the hippest and coolest new series around (e.g. Samurai Champloo or Samurai Gun), Planetes achieves such status by merely carrying on with its storytelling and letting the coolness happen naturally. Other sci-fi series might use flashy mecha battles, jazzed-up superhuman duels, energetic, lifelike robots, or bold musical scoring in an attempt to impress a viewer, but how many scenes in those other series can achieve the sheer “Wow!” factor of two characters driving what looks like a modified Humvee down a highway on the freakin' moon as if it were nothing out of the ordinary? Sci-fi entertainment over the decades has so conditioned us to blithely accept the incredible that it is easy to forget how truly extraordinary even some of the simplest actions are in space. Planetes reminds us of that, vividly and realistically, and that is what makes it a special series.
Each of the five episodes in this volume brings up some issue about life in space which can have interesting ramifications. Though episode 6 is the most light-hearted and silly, with its moon dwellers who like to think of themselves as ninjas, it does point out how the reduced gravity on the moon can make a person feel superhuman even though they're just as susceptible to harm as normal. Episode 7 starkly portrays projected effects of long term life in space, such as how greater doses of cosmic radiation can spawn problems with cancer or the impact that life in a reduced gravity environment can have on children. Episode 8 shows how the dramatic temperature changes caused by shifting from the night side to the day side of the Earth can complicate the recovery of space junk, while episode 9 logically predicts a new form of illegal dumping of toxic substances. Episode 10 vividly illustrates how dangerous and destructive a shower of “microdebris”—some of which is a millimeter or less in diameter—can be in space. Tying all of those issues together are Hachimaki's continuing efforts to muddle through his life and Ai's continuing education on life in space.
The improvements in story quality for this volume come more from what is lost than anything that is gained. Lavie and the Section Chief, arguably the most annoying characters in the first volume, thankfully have reduced (or, in some episodes, virtually nonexistent) roles in this volume. Though Hachimaki and Ai still argue, their arguments are less frequent, grating, or whiny than those in the previous volume, suggesting that they have grown more comfortable around each other. This opens up certain romantic possibilities, of course, though it remains to be seen whether or not they will develop into anything. Yuri is still underused (he doesn't even appear in two of the episodes) but does get feature treatment in one episode, where he contributes the series' most poignant content so far. A couple of the guest appearances also make quite an impression, especially the girl that Hachimaki meets in the hospital on the moon.
Though it lacks the flash and gloss of the most visually stunning recent titles, the realistic artistry is still quality work. It is loaded with impressive technical detail, no doubt because the Japanese equivalent of NASA is listed as a consultant for the show. Character designs are not only well-proportioned but realistic and believable; while Ai might be cute, she doesn't have much of a figure, and the older, more curvaceous Fee looks only a small step above ordinary. A couple of the more minor male characters do toy with caricature but are never taken that far. Details on equipment and vehicles are very impressive, while CG effects are flawlessly melded in. Top-notch animation provides a convincing feel for movement in low-G and zero-G environments and help keeps the tension high in the handful of key action scenes.
The English script remains remarkably tight throughout this volume, even retaining the use of “sempai” and “sensei” in both the dub and subtitles. The names of the moves used by the “ninjas” in episode 6 are also retained, though they are translated in the subtitles. English dub performances for core cast members are an improvement over the previous volume, a result both of the actors getting more comfortable with their roles and the script providing fewer opportunities for them to overact. New roles are reasonably well-cast and well-performed; the voice of Nono (the girl Hachimaki meets at the hospital) doesn't sound as young as the original seiyuu and is done with a slightly different style, but Lara Jill Miller (Scheris from sCRYed) isn't a bad choice for the role and performs it effectively. The vocals in both English and Japanese continue to be supported by excellent and varied musical scoring.
As with the first volume, this one includes a bonus disk (all in a regular-sized DVD case) packed with a solid array of extras. The clean version of the wonderful opener, which was so sorely lacking in the first volume, is present here, allowing viewers to see all the small on-screen print (and how riddled with grammatical errors it is). Also present are the clean closer, company previews, and Part 2 of the interview with the engineers from NASA's Orbital Debris Section. Part 3 of the Audio Drama, which this time focuses on Fee's discussion with Ai on the faults of various characters and Ai's inability to recognize some of those faults in herself, offers an amusing side story which fits in sometime during episode 7. Rounding out the bonus disk are an eight minute interview with Jameson Price, the English VA for Yuri, and a “Debris CG Model” which provides a feel for what it might be like to pilot through the debris field around Earth circa 1998. As before, nearly all the print on the casing is on the slip cover, which allows for some very pretty artwork on the case's exterior.
With its second volume Planetes rectifies most of the minor problems which slightly hampered the first volume, creating a fascinating and thoroughly engrossing volume of anime which not only looks great but also truly captures the essence of what it means to work and live in space. If Planetes doesn't already own you, it will by the time this volume is done.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Superior technical detail, fascinating issues about life in space are raised, solid extras.
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