Thursday, March 14, 2013
I'm not very smart or educated, but oftentimes, I have thoughts too big for my head. I think about space a lot and its vastness and what that means for us humans who are seemingly an insignificant speck in the grand scale of things. Taking a trip to my local library, I decided to give one of my favorite manga of all time another reread. That manga is 'Planetes' by Makoto Yukimura, and I think it embodies those "big thoughts" I often have perfectly, while still being down to Earth enough just to enjoy as an interesting sci-fi story.
In the not too distant future of 'Planetes', humans have begun colonization space. With a permanent settlement on the moon and numerous space stations, the private sector has even made its way into the final frontier. And wherever humans go, we seem to leave a trail of our garbage in our path. That's where the crew of the DS-12 "Toy Box" comes in. Fee, Yuri, and the young Hachimaki are its crew and their job is space debris collection. Basically, space garbage men. Hachimaki doesn't really like his job, and his dream is to one day have a spaceship of his own so he can explore space in complete freedom. To do that, he has to save up a lot of money, so he decides to join the first manned mission to Jupiter. It won't be easy. For any of the crew of the DS-12. Yuri must come to grips with the death of his wife from an accident caused by space debris. Fee has run ins with anti-space colonization terrorists while worrying about her family back home. Hachimaki is willing to trade in his humanity for the sake of his dream. Space is hostile and unforgiving, and in 'Planetes' we take a look at the daily lives of people trying to make the best of it.
I think one of the most fascinating sub-genres is slice-of-life. There's just something about a form of media that just focuses on the daily lives of people. Even the seemingly mundane aspects can interest me. People just talking or doing their jobs. 'Planetes' captures this aspect really well. The manga doesn't depend on a complex, overarching story, but instead focuses on building interesting characters and showing their daily lives. Some days are business as usual, with character interactions as a highlight, and some days are as exciting as things can get. That's not to say there is no story at all. Hachimaki's goals are the most notable driving force of the story. But it's interesting. I think even he realizes in the end that it's the simple things, like the friends he has made, that make life(and this story) worthwhile. It's almost as if as a character, he wants to be in a story driven manga, but in the end, he finally sees the appeal of slice-of-life.
I mentioned in my opening paragraph that this manga can have "big thoughts" if you want it to. A lot of the time, I'm not smart enough to understand them, but I think with philosophy, just trying to understand is what it's all about. You don't really have to come up with a concrete answer. Thinking is the key, and this manga certainly gets you thinking. Some questions are thrown right in your face and are woven in to the very fabric of the characters. Yuri contemplates where the Earth's atmosphere ends and where space begins. He at first tries to explain this with science, but eventually comes to realize that these boundaries and limits are made up by us humans. We are in outer space right now. Space Ship Earth. Other questions are a little more subtle. The manga, through the characters, asks the hows and whys of love, war, discrimination, life and death. But knowing that I don't understand a lot of what is being asked and told, I can tell you that this philosophical aspect is a bonus layer, and that you can just sit back and enjoy a great sci-fi read too if you like. No need to get all deep and wrack your brain if you don't want to.
The print quality is pretty standard. It does include some nice color pages though. Tokyopop gets a bad rap, but if they only did one thing right, it was licensing 'Planetes'. Too bad it went out of print even before the company shut down it's U.S. division. I don't think it sold very well in the first place. Even though the market was still growing at the time as compared to the currently declining U.S. manga market, I think it would sell better now in this environment. I believe more adults are reading manga now, and it wouldn't get buried beneath the endless piles of mediocrity that Tokyopop was releasing at the time. Not to mention, if the hype surrounding the license of 'Vinland Saga' is anything to go by, more people know about Makoto Yukimura and his work. I really hope 'Vinland Saga' does well. Maybe then, Kodansha U.S.A. will do a 'Planetes' reprint, and this wonderful series will be able to reach the people who missed out the first time around.
Like I said, this manga is out of print, so I'm not even sure there was much point in me "reviewing" this series. You may be able to buy some overpriced volumes on EBay or Amazon(I love this series, but some of the prices people ask for out of print manga are ridiculous). I was lucky enough to have a local library that stocked this amazing title. Do yourself a favor. Search your library's database, and if they have 'Planetes', check it out immediately, because it is the best use of twenty six chapters in manga history.