Planetes, Vol. 2

By Makoto Yukimura. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Morning. Released in North America by Dark Horse Comics.

The 2nd omnibus volume of Planetes has as many powerful moments as the first, including possibly the most iconic marriage proposal in all of manga. But, just like its subject, one gets the feeling that the series has proven a bit too big for its author. The 2nd half of the series has a series of story arcs that feel like endings, but it keeps going on for a bit, and reminds me somewhat of a series that has been extended by its editors rather than its author. Of course, this offers us the opportunity for a magnificent arc focusing on fee, so I shouldn’t complain too much. But space has no ending, and neither does Planetes, which simply keeps rolling along till the very last page.


Of course, Hachimaki is still the star, and after his vision quest he’s almost a different person, though it’s touch and go as to whether he’ll survive at all – not that he did himself any damage, but he seems to have lost the will do live his life, something that Sally has to bully out of him with a combination of yelling and nudity. Moreover, he needs someone like Tanabe, even if marrying means they immediately won’t see each other again for seven years. The aforementioned marriage proposal, done as a game of shiritori, is justifiably famous, but I think may be surpassed by two other scenes – Hachimaki comforting a sobbing Tanabe as she reveals she has no idea what she can possibly write in her will should she be killed in space, and Tanabe’s complete inability to explain why she loves Hachimaki or why she married him – except that she loves him a lot. Tanabe is still the heart of this series.

And then there’s Fee. (Sorry, Yuri, you are forever “the other one”.) Fee has always tried to avoid making the personal political, probably as it’d be so easy for her to do, as we find out here. But with the world superpowers waving their dicks around and blowing up so much stuff in space that an entire orbit is now forever lost, even one person finds it hard to make a difference. We contrast adult Fee’s attempts to balance a job, a family life, and a newfound, unwanted fake with Fee’s childhood, which she liked to spend with her uncle out in his shack in the woods. This allows Planetes to take on the quiet racism of the countryside, adding in a handful of prejudice against the mentally disabled as well. It’s handled with a surprisingly gentle touch, and also allows Fee to realize that she and her son are far more alike than she’d like, but also that she belongs in space.

There’s more I haven’t touched on – Locksmith continues to be a very ambiguous villain, and Hachi’s father gets a nice flashback chapter. But as I said, the manga does not end, but keeps flowing onward till the last page. Hachi’s message to the Earth from Jupiter reflects that, talking about the need to explore space, and how it needs to be done while not losing sight of humanity. It’s a subtle rebuke to Locksmith, and also a great, down-to-earth speech. Planetes remains one of the best space-oriented titles out there, and I’d recommend it to any reader.

Planetes, Vol. 1

By Makoto Yukimura. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Weekly Morning. Released in North America by Dark Horse Comics.

This title has been a fan favorite ever since Tokyopop first released it back in 2003. Now it’s rescued, with a new translation, color artwork throughout, and a larger trim size as two omnibuses. This first one covers the first 12 chapters, ending with Hachimaki’s vision quest, which is an excellent cliffhanger. Rereading it, I was reminded why I found the series so enthralling – it combines interesting and flawed characters, a political thriller plot, and of course the beauty of space exploration, and why people want to go to space, though it makes sure to note that sometimes what people do to get to space can be morally questionable.


Like many titles, the series starts off feeling like a series of one-shots, possibly as it was – many titles are given a chapter or two before they get picked up, which also explains such glitches as Hachimaki’s hair. From the start, though, we have the basical – Hachimaki, Yuri and Fee command a debris collecting ship, making sure that the worst of the objects that litter space are removed so that there’s less risk of an accident. We open on one such accident, which weights heavily on Yuri, the first of our cast we really meet. Ironically, his character arc pretty much finishes in this volume, as he is able to let go of his wife’s death and move on. Likewise, Fee is a wife and mother whose biggest issues are trying to find a place to have a smoke in peace – she’s more of a mentor figure, as well as providing comedy through physical and verbal violence and in her spare time saving all of Earth from cosmic disasters.

No, it’s clearly Hachimaki, and later Tanabe, who are going to be the stars of our show. Hachi is really irritating in that “I am 23 and therefore know better than anyone else” sort of way, and spends much of his time angry at the world, his colleagues, and himself, not in that order. He wants to control his own destiny, but his idea of doing whatever it takes to achieve it feels wrong, especially since we get to contrast it with the creepy villain Locksmith, who is able to write off the death of hundreds in an explosion as good data for his next attempt. In contrast, Tanabe is all heart, and while she’s just as angry and headstrong as Hachi the narrative seems to be on her side most of the time. The two of them are also falling for each other hard, though Hachi finds this idea irritating more than anything else.

This is an expansive series that is not afraid to shift its focus and open up its cast. We meet Hachi’s eccentric father, down-to-earth mother and determined brother; a young girl who’s lived her whole life on the moon due to health issues; and of course various terrorists, who pepper the entire book trying to destroy everything Locksmith and Hachi are working on. No one is presented as totally right or wrong here, though certainly violence is shown to be the wrong answer in general. Towards the end of the book Hachi finally gets onto the crew headed to Jupiter, but a combination of three near-death experiences over the course of the first volume have him questioning everything about himself and what he’s doing. This reaches a point of ridiculousness at the end, when he’s able to somehow stay alive for a week in his spacesuit while having a vision quest.

Planetes is simply a great manga. It has an interesting plot, character growth and depth (Hachi is far less hotheaded by the end), and some gorgeous art. It also rewards us by showing the joys and sorrows of space travel, and why we should still strive to achieve it, despite everything. Even if you’ve already got the Tokyopop volumes, I recommended getting this spiffed up new edition. You can fall in love with it all over again.