This week's list takes a look at seven priests with less than holy personalities.
Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 10th 2006
As the first INTO meeting in space begins, the Space Defense Front makes its boldest move yet: they seize control of the Von Braun and threaten to use it as a weapon unless the INTO council accedes to their demands on a critical upcoming vote. Most of the past and present members of Debris Section find themselves caught in the midst of the plan, including one who has joined forces with the terrorists, and some do not come out unscathed. But while Ai desperately seeks out Hachimaki and clings to her belief in the strength of love, he has his own battles to fight, both with the terrorists and within his own mind. Reckonings are at hand for him, Ai, and Claire, ones which will shape both the personal and professional futures of each.
Although Planetes started out as a series focused more on the technical aspects of living and working in space, it gradually evolved into a more character-centered story about a driven young man's efforts to win a coveted position on the first manned mission to Jupiter and the effect that has on his psyche and relationships. A growing side theme has been the discontent that some on Earth have about the attention devoted to space-related endeavors, especially in the perceived cost of humanitarian aid to underdeveloped countries. This is represented by the radical terrorism of the Space Defense Front, which forms an uncomfortable (and presumably intentional) parallel to current real-world terrorist zealotry. In this final volume their efforts become full-blown, and while the resolution of the main crisis takes only the first two episodes, the after-effects of it on certain characters resonates through the last two as well and the threat of terrorist actions lingers until almost the last minute.
The action climax of the series comes late in episode 24, leaving the remaining two episodes to concentrate on resolving the character development in the series. While this may not sound like a terribly exciting approach, there's still a lot which needs to be dealt with at that point, and chief on that list are Hachimaki's sense of isolation and his relationship with Ai. Both are resolved quite pleasingly as the series returns to its roots for the very end, and make sure you watch through the final credits, too. Nono also makes a couple of brief appearances, and Cheng-shin, Lucy, Dorf, Colin, and especially Hakeem all make significant appearances, too, while some minor supporting characters from earlier volumes have cameos.
Since its earliest episodes two factors have distinguished Planetes from the bulk of sci-fi titles out there, and those do not change as the series completes its run. One is the emphasis on the minutiae of space work and life, the other is that space is as much the focus of the story as the setting. The harsh realities of space life and work make for some scary moments for one character in this volume, the kind of tense scenes unlikely to be found in any other sci-fi anime title, while just being in space, or what space represents, is always on the minds of all the characters. This is not a series where space is just a part of the background; it is a real and integral part of everything that happens.
The beautiful exterior space shots, which are often enhanced by CG effects, are still the artistic highlight of the series, as is the extreme attention to extrapolated technical details in all the equipment and environments for the series. Character designs and costuming standards ignore common anime conventions, focusing more on realism than exaggerated features or cutesiness (except for Ai's oddly maroon-colored eyes). This volume is much more intense and bloody in its visuals than any previous volume, and while this content is not extreme it does call into question the accuracy of the listed “13+” rating. The animation holds up very well as series animation goes, with even the more complex movements in Zero-G or low-gravity environments looking suitably natural and fluid.
The musical score and sound effect work capably support the storytelling and visuals, most notably by emphasizing realism in the sound effects (or lack thereof) for actions taking place in space. Although the superb opening theme remains unchanged, the graphics for the opener have been updated periodically since the earliest episodes – and watch closely for a subtle but meaningful change to the opener for episode 25. The closer remains unchanged for episodes 23-25 but the extended closer for episode 26 is essentially the Epilogue and features a great new song.
The English script stays respectably tight to the original dialogue, even maintaining the use of terms like "sensei" and "sempai" and the original Japanese words (with following translation) in a crucial wordplay game in the last episode. Performances in the English dub were initially weak, but they have improved considerably since the first volume and now should satisfy any dub-favoring fan. The vocal styling for Hachimaki, Cheng-Shin, and a couple of other supporting roles is different enough from the originals that sub-favoring fans won't easily feel comfortable with this dub, but it is a solid effort overall.
Extras have been more limited since Bandai ceased including the extra disc after the third volume, but at least the company hasn't completely skimped on extras here as it has with some other recent titles. In this volume can be found a collection of clean openers, a clean version of episode 26's closer, part 9 of the Audio Drama (this time focusing on the retirement party for the Chief), and two chapters of the Digital Comic. Commentary options for the last three episodes can also be found in the Scene Selections menu. The somewhat playful commentary is done by the original director and screenwriter and the two lead seiyuu, with the commentary for episodes 24 and 25 being one continuous piece where viewer questions about the series are addressed.
There are anime series out there with better action, more liberal use of humor, and more consistently intense drama and character interaction than Planetes. All it does is tell a good story that won't fail to keep the viewer's interest, deliver a satisfying conclusion, and provide a stellar level of realistic detail to its view of life and work in space in the latter half of the 21st century. Although it has a good share of human interest, its most important contribution to anime in general (and sci-fi in particular) is to restore a sense of wonder, thrill, and even danger to the mundane aspects of space, something often bypassed in an effort to make the next slam-bang sci-fi thriller. That, more than anything else, is why it's one of the best sci-fi anime series in recent memory, and that's why you should be watching it if you haven't been already.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : A-
+ Superb technical detail, satisfying conclusion.
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