2 out of 5
Once more: you should absolutely read Planetes. Even if I feel like it ultimately very much fails as a comic, I would not deter anyone from reading it, and might even recommend it as a good starter for getting into comics / manga, as evidence of the kind of quality art and characterization that’s possible, while also offering a unique blend of moods – comedy, drama, action – that’s hard to do so seamlessly in other formats.
It is these same qualities that very much hinder it, though, and due to failing to find a focus, or really follow through on any of its ideas except what I would consider its thematically cheesiest – love saves the day, y’all – it ends up hitting below the potential / promise of Dark Horse’s first collection.
The future of Planetes gives us a resource-bled Earth, but it’s not post-apocalyptic. We’re just common fixtures in space, now, trying to find new planets to strip, with terrorists / activists standing in the way of a fomenting project which is to hit Jupiter for these reasons. We start with the crew of space-junk collectors aboard the DS-12, and slowly touch upon the politics of the future setting, coming around to DS-12 member Hachimaki being our mostly POV, his laser-focus on joining the Jupiter mission paralleled against his other DS-12 mates – such as the straight-laced Fee – and good-spirited space newbie Tanabe.
There’s a hard science backing to Planetes that, to a reader like me liking that, is disappointingly left to drift to the sidelines in favor of Yukimura focusing more on the people in his tale, and how this future world stacks against our present – are we better off? Worse? Or the same?
At the start of volume 2, this approach has become more solidified, and it lends the telling some linearity, “growing” the characters instead of just checking in with them; the collection starts off incredibly strongly. But it further becomes apparent that that growth is just incidental: Makoto’s after a more all-is-one mentality; we’re just stopping by blips in everyone’s lives, and it’s not really amounting to anything. This means that each individual chapter (or pair of chapters) can be beautiful, or funny, or exciting, and all are paced and arted magnificently, but they’re like short stories – next chapter, we kinda start over.
If the sum of this was more than its parts, that would be something, but in trying to tie these blips together, Makoto settles on – as mentioned – something shallow: love brings us together. La dee da. This feels almost insulting to some of the darker, reflective character moments that are ever-so-briefly allowed in, and makes the initial inclusion of the terrorist gambit especially odd, seeing as how we continue to touch upon the public’s disregard for the Jupiter mission, like it’s going to matter in some way.
I do believe that that’s part of the point – more things change, etc. – but for such a confidently presented project, I wish that the sentiment either came across more strongly, or that it felt like there was some rhyme or reason to why and when we switched points of view. Planetes may represent a very humble, realistic future (which could be said to be conceptually “hard science-y,” I guess), which does make for an easy, breezy read; however, that m.o. would be more acceptable in a longer form narrative that really stretched out. With these brief snippets – and the misleading plotted elements that come with them – the series really comes up short, like a preview of some larger tale.
Still: read it. There are better stories, but not many presented with this level of polish and, flawed – by my opinion – as it may be in its application, naturalism.