Planetes Vol. #1 (of 6) (

By:Bryan Morton
Review Date: Thursday, October 27, 2005
Release Date: Monday, September 26, 2005

What They Say
In the year 2075, space is filled with all kinds of debris: disused satellites all the way along to pieces lost by ships or space stations. All pieces of debris are potential dangers for crafts flying in space. To collect these hazards to space navigation, companies set up teams to collect these hazards and purify the environment in space: They are the "Debris Sections".

Ai Tanabe is a young recruit full of principles and dreams: she will join one of the teams where few are considered strong. Whilst working with the "Debris Section", Ai will meet interesting people filled with doubts and aspirations!

Episodes Comprise
1 - Outside the Atmosphere
2 - Like a Dream
3 - Return Trajectory
4 - Part of the Job
5 - Fly me to the Moon

The Review!
It seems humans can't go anywhere without leaving rubbish behind them. Fast forward to 2075, and we've even got garbage collectors working in space...

Audio is provided in English, Japanese & French, with each track being presented in 2.0 stereo. I listened to the Japanese track for this review. There's quite a bit of directionality used here - with zero-gravity allowing characters to float in from any direction, the audio track is put to good use to place where characters are. This is also one of the few shows to accurately portray space as silent, so there's some creative use of background music to cover for the lack of background noise during scenes in space - a little bit of scientific accuracy that I really appreciated. There were no apparent problems with the audio encoding.

The show is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect, enhanced for anamorphic playback. Visually, this is one beautiful show, particularly when they get into space and start using Earth as a backdrop to some of the scenes. Backgrounds are highly detailed and good use is made of colour to bring the show to life. Unfortunately, Beez's old bugbear of subtitling glitches spoils things slightly. <> is used instead of "" for quotes and instead of italics, which takes a bit of getting used to, while several lines of dialogue across the disc aren't translated. There's also one instance of !NOM? being displayed instead of a character's name. These are all problems that could be avoided with a little proofreading.

Tanabe features on the front cover, looking fresh-faced and eager in her office uniform. Earth hangs in the background with the Debris Section at work above the surface. The front-cover background wraps round to the back cover, which also includes screenshots, episode titles and a technical information panel. Inside, the curve of the Earth is again used as a background, and character profiles for Hachimaki and Tanabe are featured (these are copies from the on-disc extras).

The disc menus are available in English and French - I used the English version. The menu takes its theme from the head-up display used by the Debris Section's EVA suits, and runs through a "boot-up sequence" before you get to the main screen. Options for language select, episode select and extras appear at the bottom right against a view of the Earth and another floating spacesuit, with a few sequences from the show shown as "incoming transmissions". The opening theme plays throughout. The language and extras scenes are silent static screens, while the episode select menu runs are series of clips from each episode. The menu options are all clear and easy-to-follow, and the lack of any animated transitions makes it quick to use.

The main extra is an episode 1 commentary by the Japanese director and voice actors - this is in Japanese with English subtitles, but the dialog from the show is left un-translated. It's always interesting to hear the VAs talk about their take on the show, and this commentary is no exception. There are also character profiles of Ai, Hachimaki, Fee and Philip, "translation notes" explaining the translation of a Russian name used in the show and the usage of "sempai", along with clean opening and ending sequences and original Japanese trailers. Unfortunately, the NASA interviews that featured on the US release aren't included, but what's here is a good selection nonetheless.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
It's 2075, and Ai Tanabe has landed what she thinks is her dream job with Technora Corporation - she's hoping it's her path to her dream of becoming an astronaut, but while her posting to the Debris Section (tasked with clearing rubbish from orbit) may get her into space, the people she has to work with are a unique bunch that look certain to test her patience, and definitely change her view of astronauts. The rest of the company calls Debris Section the "Half Section" - they're half-staffed, half-trained, half-assed, half-cocked, half-hearted, half-crazy... you get the picture. Tanabe's a very idealistic young woman, and it doesn't take much longer than five minutes for her to figure out that her new colleagues are about as cynical a group of people as you could ever meet.

Hachimoto Hoshino ("Hachimaki") is the person she'll have the most dealings with - he's a reluctant member of Debris Section, argumentative and very cynical, but he's professional when on the job. It's his dream to one day have a spacecraft of his own, but the Debris Section probably isn't the best career path for getting him one. It's a dream he takes a fair amount of stick over, but he's determined nonetheless. Fee Carmichael is the pilot of "Toy Box", the Debris Section's own ship, and a dedicated smoker - which can be a problem in space. She's one of the more down-to-earth members of staff, and often the lone voice of reason. Philip Myers is the boss of the section, although it's hard to tell - along with magic-obsessed Arvind Lavie, his "second-in-command", he spends a lot of time doing very little work and generally being ignored by his staff. Yuri Mikhailokov, Fee's assistant, rounds out the full-time workers.

The first few episodes cover Tanabe's efforts to fit in with her new colleagues and get to grips with her work - while "orbital garbage collector" doesn't sound remotely glamorous and isn't a job that gets much respect from other workers on the station, it's far from an easy job, and Hachimaki's insistence on calling her "rookie" don't help either. As time passes, though, her determination to be accepted sees her rapidly get used to things, such as using her spacesuit's maneuvering pack. The real turning point in being accepted comes when Colin Clifford, the son of the director of INTO (the future equivalent of the UN), visits the section and spends most of his time there putting down their work and insulting the staff. While Hachimaki, Fee and the others bite down on their growing anger out of fear for their jobs, Tanabe eventually cracks and lands an impressively powerful punch on him. From that point on, the others accept her as one of the team.

Planetes is really all about the characters - the setting provides an unusual background for them to meet and interact (and for the animators to do some stunning pieces of background artwork for EVA scenes), but the real meat of the series is how the mis-matched bunch that make up the Debris Section grow personally, and deal with each other. The nature of the job means they're often stuck in close proximity to each other for long periods of time so there's no option but to learn to get along with each other, but the wide variety of personalities doesn't make that easy. There are also some great comedy moments, although these tend to be visual, for example seeing Myers and the others do their lucky lottery dance complete with body paint, the look on Tanabe's face after thumping Clifford, or the lunar shuttle that looks just like a flying cellphone.

For all that the space setting is just a background for the characters, science nuts will appreciate how much effort seems to have gone in to making Planetes' representation of life in space scientifically accurate. Space is silent, Tanabe has to learn how to handle herself in zero-gravity, and corridors on the station have hand- and foot-holds to help people maneuver more easily. It's just one of several areas of the show that has an attention to detail that's impressive.

If there's one thing that I could criticize, it's that the pacing of the episodes can be a little on the slow side - but that's really a minor issue when the rest of the show has been so well put together.

In Summary:
Planetes has pretty much everything you could want in a series, with a very likeable cast, episodes that are very easy to watch and just draw you in and presentation that at times is just beautiful. Pacing may be an issue for some, but this is one series I can recommend wholeheartedly. Go check it out.

Japanese Language 2.0,English Language 2.0,French Language 2.0,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Dutch Subtitles,Episode 1 Commentary (Japanese),Character Profiles,Translation Notes,Textless Opening and Ending

Review Equipment
Panasonic TX-W28R30P 28" widescreen TV; Pioneer DV-626D player; Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.

Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 2 - Europe
Released By: Beez
MSRP: £19.99
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Planetes