krpalmer: (anime)
[personal profile] krpalmer
Now that I'm in the habit of rewatching anime series every so often, I don't seem to lack for ideas of what to return to; they show up well in advance of what seems the right time to start watching. It may be, though, that I started with the feeling that the last series I would rewatch this year would have to be in some way significant, as I already had the different feeling that most if not all of my repeat viewing in 2009 should and would be of the component series of Robotech, 2009 being the distant and futuristic date when the fighting began in that saga. When the idea came to me to rewatch Planetes, a science fiction series I finished only a bit over two years ago by my records but which somehow feels further back in the past perhaps thanks to all the stuff I get through these days, it seemed like a good one.

As it turns out, I first experienced Planetes a while before I watched its DVDs, reading its manga version. It was in the early days of the "manga boom," right when companies had started to make a virtue of not bothering to mirror the artwork from the way it was read right to left in Japan, trimming page sizes and prices to attract new readers and attention. A manga about three astronauts three quarters of a century in the future picking up debris in Earth orbit that might crash into more important space flights interested me, and it may have helped that I was also getting into reading "comics weblogs" at the time, some of which seemed to take an interest in the series as "respectable manga." When I finished the not-that-long series, I was left with something of a "So now what manga do I read to impress me as much?" feeling, similar to how I felt when I finished the Genshiken manga a while later. However, the manga didn't seem to sell in breakout quantities, and I recall happening to run into a weblog comment by someone complaining in what just might have been a "sour grapes" way that all the impressive moments in Planetes had been early on, and that one misstep was following those early moments with introducing a new character who was just too idealistic for her own good...

I don't think the comment bothered me that much or even inclined me to altogether agree with it, though, and at some point I did pick up that Planetes was also being made into an anime. At that time, though, a mood did seem to be gathering here and there that manga was near-invariably superior to the anime made from it, colour, motion, sound, music, and voice work not outweighing how the character artwork had to be simplified so that they could be drawn many more times and the story could get watered down, stretched out to the point of invented tedium, or cut off in an abrupt conclusion. (However, it seems that in the end manga as a whole perhaps never had the chance to displace anime in my interests, and a big part of that may have been the scandals puffed up by some fans over moments that might offend tender North American sensibilities being drawn over, thus constraining to dramatic extent what publishers I now seem able to buy from in the first place; I have contemplated how one central source of that frenzy was a message board dedicated from the beginning to anime... although, perhaps, a good number of the titles I've always seemed most interested in started as anime.) Still, I sought out a "fansub" of the first episode as the anime premiered... and may have been ambiguous about how the anime had reconfigured the story to introduce the rookie new character Ai Tanabe right at the start, and present things from her viewpoint... Another reconfiguration to the story was giving the characters a definite "home base," a "wheel in space" station in the 2001 tradition. Along with this, though, where in the manga they had seemed to be free operators, collecting debris in a run-down spaceship, in the anime they were employees in a neglected corner of a large corporation. This corporation needed new characters, and it seemed at the start that some of them amounted to comedy relief...

For whatever reason, I only watched two or so episodes as "fansubs" before I seemed just too occupied one way or another to keep chasing the series that way. I eventually heard, though, that the anime had been officially licensed for DVD release in North America, and I had the definite impression that what I had seen without paying amounted to enough of the series that I might as well buy the first DVD. As with some other cases I can think of, paying for my anime and having a bit more of it to watch first off than I left off at somehow seemed to improve my opinion of the series. One thing that struck me as the DVDs came out every few months was that the anime had been rearranged a bit from the manga, mixing those early, "impressive" moments a bit further into the series. As well, as the characters, new and old, were developed further I began to get more interested in them.

It did seem, though, that the anime wasn't a best-seller either. The first three DVDs of the series had come with fancy plastic slipcovers over their cases and bonus discs including extras from Japanese-language "audio dramas" to interviews with the people in NASA's real-life orbital debris division (at the moment, they don't get to go into space themselves to pick up anything). The last three DVDs in the series had to do without the slipcovers and the bonus discs, their extras being squeezed in with the episodes. This was a brief scandal among anime fans dissatisfied that the cases didn't match up on their shelves, but I suppose I was able to cope so long as I could finish the series. The anime seemed to take elements of the manga and put them together into a more "action-packed," perhaps even more dramatically traditional conclusion than the manga, but to me that seemed a good example of being confident enough in the adaptation to make changes that benefited the story.

When I started rewatching the series, one thing I started pondering quite early on was those old comments about "optimistic visions of the future." The characters in Planetes don't see their world as perfect by any means, but in a way that impresses me more than an utopia created by some author's patented plan. It may not be so much extrapolated from our present as simply a projection of our present, and at times I did think that the slide-rule brigades would be eager to criticise the amount of weight that seems to have been lifted into space, but it's also tempting to say that Planetes is interesting for focusing on its characters. Even people who might seem to have minor supporting roles when introduced get a good deal of development, past and present. As well, while I had thought before that the anime had a more "action-based" conclusion than the manga, I perhaps realised on rewatching it that it keeps plenty of time in reserve to show just how the characters cope and recover. All in all, Planetes may be oddly respectable from certain perspectives on anime, but I enjoyed returning to it again.

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