Planetes 1-3 (Makoto Yukimura)

The Plot
In the not so distant future, humankind has made orbital space-flight relatively routine. Hakimachi, who dreams someday of the freedom of owning his own space ship, works as a space trash collector, clearing dangerous debris from orbit. But he knows that won’t ever earn him enough to fulfill his dream, and he has his sights set higher. His shipmates aren’t sure whether to encourage him or convince him he’s being a fool.

My Thoughts
Before I get started on talking about the content, I must mention a huge issue I had with these volumes, a problem I place squarely at the feet of Tokyopop, who organized the English edition. The DATES. Oh my god, the freaking inconsistent confusing dates. Pretty much every new story arc began with a date, and it’s clear from the text that the volumes proceed along strictly chronological terms except for one prequel side story at the end of volume three. Unfortunately, the date progression Tokyopop provides is as so: 2068 > 2074 > 2075 > 2070 > 2075 > 2075 > 2076 > 2075 > 2077 > 2056 (flashback) > 2077 > 2077 > 2050 (flashback).

That’s just sloppy, and I find it hard to believe that this is the fault of the original. Just a short online search turned up scans of the French edition which had no such issue. This sort of idiocy on behalf of the editorial team is simply unforgivable. It is obvious no one read this through before it went to press.

Now, the story itself is more interesting than I thought it would be upon first glance. The conceit is a good one: spaceflight has become relatively routine, another industry. And yet there are still the elite, the explorers, and the grunts who do the maintenance, the work that makes the rest possible.

The main character, Hachirota Hoshino, aka Hachimaki, dreams of owning his own spaceship and answering to no one. In the meantime he works as a debris collector on a ship with a crew of three (later four), and saves his salary.

He soon decides this isn’t the way to riches, and determines to join a new group set to head for Jupiter. In spite of his many issues both physical and mental, he is finally accepted to be part of this crew. In fact, the man in charge has become very determined to have Hachimaki on board, for reasons which remain unclear.

Outside this central plot we meet a few other secondary characters who receive more than a passing introduction. Fee and Yuri, Hachimaki’s crewmates from the beginning, are interesting enough, but I can’t think of anything in particular to say about either of them. The most annoying of the secondary characters is Tanabe, an androgynous looking girl whose behavior is irritating and whiny from start to end. Inexplicably, Hachimaki eventually falls for her and at the end of volume 3 they announce their intentions to marry.

More to my taste is Hachimaki’s disreputable father Sirius Black Nanjirou Echizen Goro Hoshino. Goro is a famous and accomplished astronout who was part of the first team to go to Mars. He is semi-unwillingly tapped to head the Jupiter mission.

The plot itself and its vision of a not-so-distant future is strangely compelling. I found myself interested almost in spite of myself, because on its surface this isn’t the sort of story that I like to read. This considerable strength wars with the manga’s weaknesses: Tanabe, who I wanted to strangle, and Hachimaki’s continual hallucinations/philosophical fugues. The latter, often starring Evil!Hachimaki or a random talking cat, pull down what would otherwise be a fascinating tale of the future. They seem to be inserted because the author could not figure out how to otherwise include these maunderings on the nature of humans vs. outer space, and are a dreadful example of telling, not showing.

In Short
This science fiction story is at its strongest when actually attending to the plot and not digressing into a metaphysical mumbo jumbo of talking cats and phantoms. I enjoyed it more than I expected and look forward to seeing how the characters progress in the final two volumes.