Story/Art: Makoto Yukimura
What They Say
In the 2070s, increased interplanetary travel has led to crisis-level amounts of dangerous space debris, and someone has to clean it up. Planetes follows the space-garbage crew of aspiring explorer Hachimaki, mourning Yuri, and secretive Fee, printed from the original files and complete with bonus color pages!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Originally released by TOKYOPOP years ago, Dark Horse Comics has performed a license rescue of Planetes and I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t get into the manga at the time it came out and even though I quite enjoyed the anime adaptation I had little interest in pursuing. Part of it is that the anime builds its own life around the concepts presented here, a series that ran just four volumes overall between 1999 and 2004 from Makoto Yukimura. Yukimura has certainly gone on to other projects over the years and his current run on Vinland Saga as released by Kodansha Comics is definitely strong. But this is the series he cut his teeth on it and there are certainly elements that show it.
This edition brings us the first two volumes of the four produced in omnibus form as we’re introduced to the 2070’s. Taking place at different points over it and focusing on a couple of different characters, it’s main focus is on a young man named Hachirota Hoshino, who is known as Hachimaki. Hachimaki works the inglorious but highly necessary job of debris collector where they work through the various orbits required to try and get as much of the material that’s out there. With a rapid expansion into space the smallest of debris travelling at a high velocity can utterly destroy a vessel or portion of a space station. Put a lot of it together and you get a debris storm that can be incredibly dangerous. Hachimaki works with a pretty good crew with the pilot, a young woman named Fee, and Yuri, a Russian crew member of the Toy Box ship they operate out of it. Eventually they do add Ai, who we had a lot more of in the anime as the newbie introducing us to this world, but here she’s more minimally used overall.
The series across the 400 or so pages here introduces us to the dangers of working such a job as well as the challenges. While all of this is good stuff, I really like the workaday elements to it that are introduced. Though they’re all in space – and almost all of them will do anything they can to maintain their presence there as opposed to working on Earth – there is a welcome mundane element to it that’s earned. As important as the work is, and as majestic as the view is, if you’re working up there off and on for twelve years or even half that it takes on that kind of feeling. So seeing these elements play out amid the banter (and lack of romantic entanglements) of the crew and others they deal with adds a kind of realism that’s really appreciated. It’s not Space Brothers detailed, but it has similar tones in many ways.
Hachimaki’s story is one that doesn’t feel like it’s the primary story at first because the initial focus is more on Yuri, who himself had lost his wife in a debris related accident several years before. His quiet and stoic refocusing on this job and little else is an interesting angle to explore, though he’s thankfully not melancholic about it as there are moments of levity and humor that he has as he’s moved on. There are some nice ties to the past that come up from time to time and you really get to feel the emotion from him in those early pages. It comes across more as a short story that ended up going over far better than expected, which is what expanded into the crew as a whole and a greater focus on the younger, single, and free Hachimaki.
Hachimaki is a lot of fun to watch as he’s driven by his goal of having his own ship someday and being in charge of his own destiny. But to do so he needs an immense amount of money to make it a reality. His plan is one that takes shape more towards the end of the first half here and into the second half where he becomes focused on signing onto the Jupiter mission that’s being put together. With a seven year journey planned, there’s a lot of competition and seeing his angle works well. Even more interesting, though underplayed for what it could be, is the Space Defense League, a terrorist group determined to keep mankind on Earth so as to not spoil the galaxy and strip mine it like we’ve done Earth. There’s so much that could be done with this in so many directions, and more just on the impact of the bombings that go on, that it left me nearly clawing at the book to reach its potential. It’s certainly interesting as it unfolds and Hachimaki ends up drawn into it in a personal way, but it really left me wanting a stronger and more nuanced hand to deal with it.
Though my preference is for the anime, the Planetes manga is an engaging read overall, especially to see the first big debut of a real talent that has grown so much since then. His artwork here is wonderfully done and there’s such a love and passion behind the locations, the ships and the nature of life in this environment that it makes it easier to move past the story flaws that exist. The crew that we get here is explored well and I enjoy the way it jumps around between them and the timeline to tell certain stories without adhering to a strong linear narrative. This volume brings a ton of material out, including the little four panel bits as well, and it just comes across wonderfully as a whole package. This is the kind of release that the book has needed for a long time and I’m excited to finally see it land here for fans and new discoveries alike.
Content Grade: B+
Art Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: B+
Age Rating: 14+
Released By: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: December 9th, 2015