Who hasn't dreamt once about going into space, or yearned to know what there is beyond Earth? Or even imagined living in space? Space travel for not only a select few people will become, sooner or later, a reality, be it in the next 50 years or even more than a century. Planetes is a psychological sci-fi manga that covers the story of a crew of space garbage man, cleaning Earth's outer space of space debris. The story doesn't seem interesting at first glance, but in reality it has so much more to offer, making it for anyone with a slight interest in space a must read.
The story of Planetes is set in the year 2075, where working and travelling in space has become common. It revolves around the garbage man crew of Toy Box, Yuri Mihalkov, who lost his wife due to a space accident, Fee Carmichael, a chain smoker and mother, and finally Hachitora Hoshino who wants to have his own spaceship to travel in space. Later on a new crew member, Ai Tanabe, will join the crew, that will play an important role.
The plot doesn't just revolve about cleaning out the debris, which of course is a serious matter and problem for space travel. The individual lives of the crew members and goals are shown. Take for example Hachitora or "Hachi" in short: he will do anything he can to be part of the Jupiter mission on the spaceship "Van Braun" to gather the fuel of 2075, Helium-3.
One thing that struck me was how realistic Planetes was; all problems that occurs are all very well displayed and explained, the different methods of travelling, as well as the different equipment and machines. Yukimura goes as far to explain in detail why some changes were made to current space equipment standards.
Some humor is to be found as well; this is however well-balanced with the drama and is great for the story as it keeps it fresh. It's not all just about space, it also touches subjects like space environmentalist trying to halt space exploration, the economy, and it even deals with racism.
The addition of the background stories of some of the characters is very heartwarming and a nice change to the story. It is narrated and displayed magnificently. This will be helpful later on to understand the characters decisions. Take the example of Fee, who tries to smoke but just can't do it to numerous problems that surges; it just makes you feel really sorry for her.
The realistic aspect of Planetes isn't achievable with only the story: without the realistic and well presented characters it would be impossible. The characters presented are all very well thought out. Each character has its own background story and its own flaws, making them have a realistic feel. Some of the characters actions may become annoying over time, but the reader will find himself rooting for those characters over time.
Character development in Planetes is impressive too. With help of the background story, goals and interactions with other people, the main characters undergo transformations that later will mark their path; in addition it makes the reader reflect over on the choices the characters makes.
The variety of characters is satisfying as well. There are people of all nationalities, rusians, indians, japanese and even black people. By narrating the story of Fee's uncle, it simultaneously displays the issues of racism and how it helped Fee's character to develop.
The art of Planetes is impressive. The display of the different panels, how everything is drawn is done masterfully. The most impressive thing are the backgrounds. These are done in such detail that you could just stare at it to find all those little details. The vastness of space is represented very well: it induces and displays the loneliness living in space can be.
There is nevertheless an issue with the drawings of the main characters. These are done quite simplistic and makes it for the reader quite difficult to tell sometimes some characters apart from each other. However, the secondary characters are drawn well and are varied. One thing to note is how well some character expressions are drawn, conveying to the reader how the character feels or tries to say without the need of dialogue.
Planetes was without doubt a very good read that is very enjoyable from the beginning to the end with the impressive realistic story, the background stories as well as the side stories, and of course the characters. I personally found that story could continue and focus a bit more on how Yukimura expected humanity to be in 2075, as well as the Jupiter mission, but this is a very small drawback.
Thanks for taking your time reading.