I got this volume of Planetes by Makoto Yukimura through Ed Sizemore of Comics Worth Reading via my Anime and Manga Blogger Letter Exchange. It actually wasn’t the first time I’d come across Planetes as my (really ridiculously awesome) college anime club showed the anime last year. I’d also gotten a chance to read vol. 1 while at TOKYOPOP, which is probably the one of the few remaining places to have a complete set. Sadly this manga will not be returning to print as it is an old Kodansha title and the two companies don’t do business together anymore.
Planetes (the manga) is about a team of debris collectors working in space 58 years into the future. Their job is to be the space-age garbage guys, except it can get pretty dangerous. The debris can ruin space ships and kill people, which we learn right at the beginning of the manga, as well as make it difficult for ships to pass between Earth and space.
This first volume shows us the lives, ambitions and motivations of the three main characters, Hachimaki, Fee and Yuri. Each chapter and arc carefully shows us each character’s normal lives in the most authentic way possible, despite the (relatively) unrealistic setting. Hachimaki has big plans for himself, but keeps getting hurt on the job, Yuri has deep emotional reasons for being a debris collector and Fee just wants a smoke every once in awhile in order to help her relax after a stressful day.
This attempt at showing us how life is in space is my favorite part of this manga. There is no pioneering some ridiculous new space mission, just what life would be like if you had a job as a debris collector in a time when humans were living in space like it was not a big deal. Drama comes from real issues like eco-terrorism,space-related diseases, families separated by jobs in space and the serious damage that space debris can do if left unchecked. If this isn’t what real life would be like up in space in the future, I don’t really know what life WOULD be like because Yukimura has done such a good job in painting a realistic scenario. He also uses the current history of space exploration as a means of creating this world, which is a nice touch. It certainly shows to me that Yukimura loves the idea of living in space and knows his stuff.
Planetes is all about the story-telling for me because the art just doesn’t really do it for me. That isn’t to say that the art isn’t serviceable or doesn’t have it’s good points, but overall, I cannot get very excited about it. It’s plain old seinen art that has decent-looking characters and incredible technical detail and way too much dark tone. I don’t know if this is JUST me, but a page filled with various shades of super dark tones make things a little hard to read for me. I applaud the skill it takes to draw this well, but it’s not the most eye-appealing art out there either.
Now for the comparisons to the anime!
I have to say that I like the anime a little better. It starts off from the perspective of Ai Tanabe, a character who we don’t see in vol. 1 of the manga, but I am certain joins the cast in later volumes. She plays an important role in the anime of introducing the rest of the debris team to us through the eyes of someone completely new to life in space and to the main characters. Because of this, we get to learn as she learns instead of just being thrown into this new society in space at a very dramatic flashback in the manga.
While Ai’s importance as a main character lessens in the anime over time, she also provides us with a bit of levity when it’s needed. In comparison, the manga is just a huge chunk of heaviness. I missed Ai even though the first volume was chock with some of my favorite stories, because Ai would come in with her cluelessness and cheerfulness, the audience has something to smile about. There’s no character in this first volume like her that allows us to do that. She makes the pacing a bit better in the anime and does wonders for people who aren’t that into seinen,or serious moods as well. She’s the reason why a girl like me has no problems sitting down to watch or read this series in the first place.
I can see why this manga wasn’t as popular as it should have been. It’s hard to digest, the art isn’t that terrific and it came out at a time when the majority of Americans as manga consumers weren’t quite ready to accept something with ridiculous depth and not much else. It makes me sad, but I can’t help it.
I would like to recommend this manga, but I feel that it’s a little hard to recommend it ALONE and JUST after this first volume. This volume alone isn’t enough to hook me on the series (assuming I was reading it before I’d seen the anime, that is) so I would give it another few volumes. If you’re able to get your hands on copies of Planetes, go find a store that sells the anime too. Watch the anime first and THEN dive into this manga. You will enjoy the anime a lot better, but you will also enjoy the manga little bit better than if you would alone or before watching the anime. I would most certainly recommend the anime ANYTIME because it is quite fun and is of a higher quality than your average futuristic space anime out right now.
Thank you again to Ed Sizemore for giving me this copy of Planetes. I certainly enjoyed it IMMENSELY, but for the sake of this review I had to be truthful. I do rather hope that all of you buy both the anime and manga because I feel it’s worth it.