Planetes Vol. #2 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Bryan Morton
Review Date: Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Release Date: Monday, November 07, 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
6 - The Lunar Flying Squirrel
7 - Extraterrestrial Girl
8 - A Place to Cling To
9 - Regrets

The Review!
The second volume of Planetes takes us to the Moon and back, with a few excursions thrown in for good measure.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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. There were no noticeable problems with the encoding. Subtitles use Beez’s usual white-on-black font which is clear and easy to read, if a little on the small side. There were no problems with the subtitles on this release.

Packaging:
The front cover of this volume has Hachimaki half-into his EVA suit, with an orbital image of Earth behind him. The back has the usual Beez layout of episode titles & screenshots with the disc's technical information panel. The reverse of the cover has character profiles for Myers and Lavie copied from the on-disc extras.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
Along with the usual textless opening and closing sequences & character profiles for Lavie, Yuri, Edel and Claire, two Sound Comics are provided. These are in the original Japanese, with subtitles. The first comic follows on from the lottery scenes on volume one, and cover Lavie's attempt to find a sure-fire way of winning. This is done in a manga style. The second clip looks at what's happening back in the office while Tanabe & the gang are on their trip to the moon and has something of an RPG feel to it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
A disc of two halves, this volume, with the first two episodes taking place on the moon while the gang return to home base for the second two.

Tanabe, Hachimaki & Fee arrive on the moon and head their separate ways. Poor Tanabe seems to have drawn the short straw, ending up in an apartment block inhabited mostly by self-described Space Ninja. "Normal" is not a word you'd use to describe them – but after losing their jobs and spending far too much time watching ninja movies, the notion seems to have gone to their heads. Myers, meanwhile, has secretly arranged a marriage meeting for Hachimaki – all very well except that the woman he’s meeting is the ex-wife of one of the ninja.

This episode is pure comedy, from Tanabe’s first reactions at finding what sort of apartments Myers has booked her into, through Hachimaki’s running battle with the ninja, to the final scenes where the estranged couple spend most of their time bickering even when their lives are in danger. The whole episode is played in an over-the-top way that may not appeal to everyone – the whole space ninja thing is a little bit extravagant by Planetes’ usual standards – but I really enjoyed it for the feel-good fun that it is.

Normal service is resumed in the next episode, which poor Hachimaki spends mostly in hospital recovering from injuries he’d picked up last episode. While there, he meets young woman Nono, who's been stuck on the moon for twelve years now. She's eager to hear stories of Earth from people who have been there recently, and Hachimaki's only too keen to share – if only he could get peace and quiet to do it. Between having Harry Rowland, the longest-serving known astronaut, handing out advice from the bed next to him and frequent visits from Tanabe (who’s showing signs of jealousy at his friendship with Nono), he’s not really getting the chance to do much.

What Hachimaki initially doesn’t realise is that Nono was born on the moon & has never been to Earth – and thanks to the physical problems that come with being born in low gravity, she may never get the chance to. Growing up in low gravity also make her look older than her real age, so I’d guess Tanabe doesn’t have too much to worry about on the romance front. I found Nono to be a really interesting character, once her “true nature” came out – there’s a scene near the end of this episode that really points out the difference in thinking between her and those born on Earth that’s really quite touching & a little thought-provoking – and I’m hoping there’ll be more to see of her later in the series.

The next two episodes return to the garbage-collecting routine, and bring past events back into the lives of some of the Debris Section – first for Fee, whose meeting with the Division Commander is taken by Lavie to be something more than the meeting between old friends that it was (just the thing to get the rumour mill going) and then for Hachimaki, whose old mentor Gigalt, now working for the Orbital Security Agency, returns to the Debris Section to carry out “security training exercises” with the gang. Fee’s episode in particular really fills out her character a bit & helps you understand a little about how she thinks & sees her career.

Running through these episodes are a few recurring threads. Firstly there’s the manoeuvering going on as some of that characters try to figure out who’s interested in whom. Tanabe’s interest in Hachimaki is becoming more obvious through her jealousy over Nono and Claire, Cheng Shin declares his own interest in Tanabe to Lucie, and in his own overly-direct way Hachimaki’s even been checking if Tanabe’s available, although there’s no sign of anyone being paired off just yet.

The second thread is more serious in tone, focussing on the side-effects of living in space, first with Nono’s condition but also with the cancers that Rowland and Gigalt have developed, most likely from radiation exposure. I suppose that’s Planetes’ liking for scientific accuracy at work again. I can’t say for sure how significant this side of things will be, but I have a feeling it’s something that’ll be returned to as the series progresses.

In Summary:
Planetes continues its run of really enjoyable episodes, although the space ninja may not be to everyone’s taste, while raising several issues that look like they’re going to become recurring themes. While it’s still well grounded in a realistic depiction of life in space, the characters and the lighter moments they create continue to make this series a joy to watch.

Features
Japanese Language 2.0,English Language 2.0,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Dutch Subtitles,Character Profiles,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: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Planetes