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Planetes follows the story of a team of space debris collectors that must struggle with often dangerous missions and the threat of having their section shut down. The story also deals with love, loss, terrorism, and many environmental/humanitarian issues that our species will likely have to face someday.
By the year 2075, decades of missions and projects have left Earth's orbit cluttered with space junk-bits of rocket, defunct satellites, and other debris. Such space garbage needs to be collected, a task farmed out to private corporations such as Technora. Hachirota "Hachimaki" Hoshino is a young employee who has always wanted to own his own spaceship, but now seems stuck in a workaday rut as little more than a glorified dumpster driver. To his annoyance, he is saddled with rookie recruit Ai Tanabe, who has yet to appreciate that life in space is fraught with dangers-the slightest mistake in a jet firing or the smallest tear in a space suit can spell instant death. Their fellow employees include American Fée Carmichael, a compulsive smoker whose habit is doubly dangerous in oxygen-rich environments, and Russian Yuri Mihalkov, a widower whose wife was killed when a tiny screw hit a low-orbit craft's window at high velocity. Their troubles in orbit include confrontations with illegal dumpers, terrorists who want mankind to stay Earthbound, and lunar eccentrics who use the low gravity to imitate the flying leaps of ninja.
The idea behind Planetes is not new-it lifts elements of both Star Dust and Mighty Space Miners-but its execution is sublime. Its future is not the wish-fulfillment fantasy of Gundam, but a mundane, troubled place like something out of Larry Niven's Known Space series. Space travel is possible, but only within extremely limited confines-a trip to the Moon still takes several days, and later episodes include the immensely detailed preparations for the first manned flight to Jupiter; compare this to less realistic sci-fi shows like Gunbuster, which can happily encase Jupiter in a steel shell in a simple throwaway gag. Yes, it's true that anime's potential is infinite, and creators can show us whatever they can draw. But, like Patlabor before it, Planetes gives equal weight to the science and the fiction, and is all the better for it. Based on a manga by Makoto Yukimura in weekly Comic Morning.
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