Planetes vol. 1 (DH 2015 edition) – Makoto Yukimura

3 out of 5

There is no world in which you should not read Planetes. It is a brilliant bit of sci-fi, mapped to slice-of-life and sprinkled with hard science elements that help to ratchet it into place for its more wandering aspects. And while these aspects are part of what gives Planetes a very uniquely emotional point of view for its genre, they are also, well, wandering, and make the series’ sense of focus quite in flux. Is this a story about Yuri coming to terms with the loss of his wife, finding new purpose in his space debris-clearing job in a post-Earth 2070? Or perhaps it’s more broadly about the crew with which he works – a 3+ team on the DS-12 – which also includes Fee, and Hachi, the former with a cigarette addiction that doesn’t combine well with encroaching anti-smoking laws, and the latter trying to forge his own path in a family with a famous astronaut father and an up-and-coming brilliant brother. Or perhaps it’s about the Space Defense Force’s recent bombings on satellite / moon operations, protesting the general shift from strip-mining Earth of resources to the upcoming mission to Jupiter for, essentially, the same.

…As we ping-pong somewhat casually between these concepts, with Yukimura sliding easily between nigh-slaptstick humor, pitter-patter dialogue, and Vagabond-esque dreamlike thoughts / imaginings, it seems that we should broaden our expectations from one focus to many, all of these pieces forming a view of what living in this future world may be like, and how it’s reflective, still, of our current times and tribulations.

…Except that at the same time that we are being introduced to new characters, and expanding on the SDF, and the politics around the forthcoming Jupiter launch, Yukimura begins driving hard on Hachi’s narrative, using his unquestioning focus on space (above family; above relationships) as a vehicle for exploring how our obsessions guide us. Within this narrative line, though, the focus keeps splitting as well, with the series of revelations Hachi endures ultimately rather fuzzy, and, with a bit of romance in the mix, maybe a little shallow as well.

This is the overarching slice-of-life aspect, which, within each chapter, is engrossing. Those chapters are not exactly linear; they’re beats within Hachi’s experiences over a few year span, gearing up in his training to be part of the Jupiter mission. Yukimura’s art is clean, and never without clear focus, the creator intuitively understanding how to use “cuts” to speed up or slow down moments, serving the action / drama / comedy / surreal aspects all well. You can walk away from each chapter feeling like you’ve gotten a full story.

But the combination of the chapters makes the whole feel lesser-than; it dilutes that sense of focus found within each part and makes the overall intentions of the series very unclear. While I suppose we could boil away the SDF / Jupiter storylines and just say it’s about Hachi, this makes the time we spend on the details of those aspects (not to mention some of the other characters) seem less relevant to the extent of being extraneous; and if we flip to say that those other pieces are the focus, we spend a heck of a lot of time in Hachi’s dreams, which are interesting, but maybe not as poignant as intended, at least at this point in the story. (Or rather, when they are poignant, it doesn’t seem to play out in the rest of the narrative.)

I got back to the start, though: there’s still no reason to not read this. It’s not messy, exactly – it feels very purposeful – I just find myself able to walk away after each chapter without a burning need to return, and maybe without much to consider after-the-fact, either. So it’s more fleeting feeling than I think it should / could be, while also being such an amazing and engrossing work within each individual chapter.