A young woman in a commercial space liner shifts in her seat dejectedly when suddenly, a screw impacts her window at many kilometers per second. The year is 2068, and this accident causes the world’s attention to shift toward the problem of space debris. Decades of space development have left hundreds of tons of detritus floating in orbit, any small bit of which could spell certain doom for an unfortunate spacecraft. In the year 2075, Tanabe Ai arrives at space station ISPV-7, or Seven for short. Bursting into a control room she excitedly–and loudly–announces herself as a new employee assigned to Debris Section. Initially not receiving any reaction from the control staff, Department Manager Dorf Azalia informs her that she should have familiarized herself with the station’s layout, as she is currently in Control Section. His assistant, Claire Rondo, points her towards ‘Half Section’, located at the very bottom of the station. Arriving at the Debris Section office, Tanabe bursts in and begins her announcement once again, but this time is shocked into silence by the rather unprofessional environment she has suddenly found herself in. As she meekly begins to ask where Debris Section is, Hachirota Hoshino–dressed in a spacesuit from the waist up and on an angry tirade about Debris Section’s treatment within the company–knocks her the rest of the way into the room. At first excited about seeing a real astronaut, Tanabe’s timid excitement turns to horror when she notices Hachi’s diaper. When she points this out she is immediately rebuffed by Hachi, who reminds her that all astronaut where diapers in the field. Nonplussed, Tanabe suggests that the current situation could be thought of as sexual harassment. This elicits an immediate and terrified reaction from assistant section manager Philip Myers and assistant section supervisor Arvind Lavie–who fear being sued. Their outburst causes a ferret to get loose, which causes hilarity to ensue. When peace is restored in the office, Lavie introduces Tanabe around and Myers tells her that it has been three years since they got a new employee. Debris collecting is not a very profitable venture, but Technora’s Debris section does even worse than most. Collecting space debris is difficult, dangerous, and boasts little chance of promotion. But, as Fee Carmichael–captain of the debris recovery ship Toy Box–remarks, it is a job that has to be done. Other Debris Section employees include Yuri Mikailkov, first officer under Fee, and Edlegard Rivera, the silent and efficient temp worker. Also, Tanabe’s current tormentor, Hachirota–known as Hachimaki (Japanese for headband, which he constantly wears)–an extravehicular activity (EVA) worker, and Tanabe’s new partner. After the introductions, Hachi is ordered to take Tanabe down to be fitted for her spacesuit. Tanabe is very serious about her new line of work, which immediately puts her in more conflict with the lackadaisical Hachi. She has always had a romantic view of astronauts and space, while Hachi plays the pessimistic realist. Later that day, Tanabe laments the realities of her new job over lunch with her friends from training (all of whom were given better positions than she). Her friends remark that Debris Section has been nicknamed ‘Half Section’ by the rest of the company due to only having half the staff they were supposed to. ‘Half Section’ also has a reputation for being half-trained, half-assed, half-cocked, half-hearted, half-crazy, and so on. The ever-stubborn Tanabe strengthens her resolve and decides that she’s not going to let her new coworkers–especially Hachi–get the best of her.
Tanabe and the crew of the 30-year old DS-12 Toy Box sets off for a new assignment. Their objective is to destroy a memorial plate which is currently on a collision course with an important military satellite. Tanabe worries that it isn’t right to destroy something with a message of peace, and Hachi remarks that a memorial would never be able to bring about peace anyway. Their ensuing argument is cut short by Fee who reminds them that their job is important to the development of space. Unconvinced, Tanabe continues to preach love and peace–but is quieted when they discover that the memorial plate was created by INTO as propaganda at the end of a war. As Hachi readies the plate to be dropped into the atmosphere, he asks Tanabe why she wanted to come to space. Tanabe, depressed by the realities of world around her, remarks that she wanted to know what her limits were. When Hachi drops the plate–fifteen minutes behind schedule—it ignites into a beautiful shooting star. Fee tells Tanabe that the plate’s course should take it right over the country whose children the plate was supposedly built for. So perhaps it still can bring hope to those children–even as debris. As the sun rises over the Earth, Tanabe wonders if Hachi purposely delayed the drop for this reason. Unfortunately, she later learns about the overtime pay she and Hachi receive when they stay out passed their allotted time.
So kicks off Planetes, one of the more unique shows to come out in recent years. One of the first things people notice about Planetes is the extreme amount of care that went into building its extremely realistic vision of the near-future. From little touches like eschewing sound effects in space, to actual modern day concerns like space debris (NASA does, in fact, have a Debris Section–though they obviously don’t go tearing through space picking up trash). The animation is extremely clean and fluid and the soundtrack is top notch. When you boil it down, though, Planetes is a character driven show, and this episode does a good job establishing the clashing world-views of our two main characters, Tanabe and Hachi.