J’s Take on PLANETES Volumes 4.1 and 4.2

The last two volumes of the manga series “Planetes” by Makoto Yukimura are numbered 4.1 and 4.2. As for actual manga content, they really are one volume. Roughly a quarter to half the content of each is text, background information on space and the world of the story.

Volume 4.1

Hachimaki, the person I thought was our main character, is completely absent from this (half)-volume. He’s off on his way to Jupiter. Meanwhile, we get some side stories and backstories for other people he collected space junk with. One of them gets to know a creepy dude with an Elvis bouffant hairdo and poor grammar. He claims to be an alien. Which fact is supposed to explain why he grabbed another woman’s boob in greeting. Is he an alien? We never know for sure. But his apology for the boob-grabbing seems to go down all right.

Another story is about landmines planted by.. I’m never quite sure. The US government? Maybe. I have to say the politics of the whole thing left me baffled. I don’t know if it was partly the translation’s fault, as there seemed to be several names for one faction. Republic Union or several vague things like that. Anyway, so there’s these mines out there that they’re not supposed to touch. Not supposed to collect as space debris. But anyway she goes home to visit her husband and son, and the son has a billion dogs in their apartment that make quite a racket. She tells him they have to go. He defies her. She learns a valuable lesson about er.. defying people, or acting young, or something. So this helps her decide what to do with the mines. Yea, or something.

And at the end of 4.1 is a lot of text. Part information on the history of space science. Part information on the world of Planetes. Where the one leaves off and the other starts is a little unclear. The verb tenses in at least the English translation do not help. It’s also very poorly copyedited. There are also ‘screen captures’, panels from parts of the stories to illustrate points. Like ‘oh, here’s the awesome advanced wheat that they’re going in the biodome’. Only some of those are shots from 4.2, so they’re rather spoilers!

In the original publication, I assume, the start of each chapter was in color. When it got bound in Japan, were they all still in color? I don’t know. But in English in volumes 1-3, only the start of the first chapter was in color. You could see that the others used to be by the depth of the shading of the black/white version. In 4.1, a couple of random chapters got color panels at the start of them. But not all. I liked that more were in color, but I would’ve also liked consistency! Do 1, or do them all, don’t.. do random ones.

Volume 4.2

To get it out of the way, the random coloring of some panels continued in this half. A couple in color, a couple not, for no rhyme or reason. Maybe they thought planets looked pretty in color and spaceships and people didn’t. I don’t know.

Hey, Hachimaki’s back! And they’re all on their way to Jupiter. Him, his Dad, presumably that chick who randomly got naked and offered sex to him earlier, and some other people. Oh, and the Captain’s angsting about what his first words should be when they get to Jupiter. And gives himself an ulcer. (Wonder if they brought any antibiotics with them to fix that.)

So, hey, Hachimaki gets to address the world(s) when they get there. And he’s learned some awesome stuff over the course of the Planetes story. About love. You need it. Maybe it’s all you need. Da da dadada.

All in all, a disappointing wrapup to the story.

At the end of this (half)-volume is more text! This time, a timeline of the backstory of the series. How we got from 2000s to the 2070s. How we got from Earth to Jupiter. Mostly it’s about fuel. We run out of oil, we need to find something else.

This timeline came too late. I think if you feel a need to include something like this at all, it needed to come much earlier. Volume 2 at the latest. Then maybe I would’ve had a clearer idea of what was going on and why. But then.. part of enjoying science fiction (at least some science fiction) is figuring it out for yourself. So with the timing of the timeline, it’s almost as if the author (or the publisher, or the English publisher) was saying ‘So? Did you figure it all out? Here, count how many things you got right.’ Or perhaps ‘In case it may not have been clear in my storytelling, here’s my thought processes behind everything and aren’t I an awesome world-builder to have thought all this through so completely?’

Final Thoughts: This whole series, by the time I finished it, felt more like snapshots of one possible future, people with some characters to keep it interesting. It never felt like a cohesive story to me. And plot points that were started, were never finished. I don’t even feel like they were left dangling though. They just sort of.. well, were snapshots. Here’s some terrorists, here’s them blowing up stuff. Here’s some mines, here’s some of them blowing up. Here’s an alien, isn’t he weird?

While I might rate individual volumes with 3 out of 5 stars (and did, on Goodreads), for the series as a whole I’m going to have to go with 2. Readable, interesting, but also incohesive and random.