The first volume of Planetes has five different stories. They’re vignettes. I’ve read this volume before, I remembered the vignettes. Even if the first story doesn’t feel much like a vignette.
The story opens with a spaceship disaster. Actually it opens with a cute married couple and then the disaster, because it’s sad when disaster strikes. Except the husband—Yuri—survives and goes on to become a debris collector in the future. The future being the comic’s present tense.
Yuri’s not the only debris collector on his ship, there’s also serious Fee and joker Hachimaki. Because Yuri’s so quiet and Hachimaki’s so loud, Hachimaki quickly becomes the “lead” of the story. He’ll be the lead of subsequent stories in the volume, but in this one it really feels like he’s usurping the actual lead.
It’s an okay story; it doesn’t pass a reality sniff test but it’s okay. It certainly distinguishes creator Yukimura Makoto and Planetes as a little different. And very willing to tug on the heart strings.
The second story is about Hachimaki meeting a girl on the moon base. He has to go to the moon base because people weren’t meant to live in space and it screws up their bones. Except this girl turns out to have been born on the moon and so can’t go to Earth and there’s a gentle romance until it turns out she’s twelve, which is kind of creepy and Yukimura doesn’t ever deal with it. There’s also some more stuff with Fee in the story, but it’s not until the third one where she gets the focus.
The third story, and where Planetes distinguishes itself as something other than thoughtful, realistic space stuff, is about Fee craving a cigarette and being willing to take down interplanetary terrorists to get one. It’s pretty awesome. Yukimura’s not as good with the fast-paced action as the gradual stuff—Planetes is better when it feels like 2001 versus Star Wars—but the writing makes up for it. Lots of fun. And thoughtful too, with the terrorists.
The fourth story is about Hachimaki taking Yuri home to meet his family. There, Hachimaki contends with his annoying little brother and Yuri possibly flirting with his mom. There’s also some okay-ish character development for Yuri, though it feels like Yukimura is shoehorning it in, and a lot of humor involving the little brother.
The last story is about Hachimaki having space paranoia or something and how he works through it. It’s a fairly serious finally, without much action or payoff, making it a very uneven finish.
Overall, Planetes peaks a little too early. The last couple stories, ostensibly imperative for character development, just aren’t interesting. The one with Hachimaki’s family plays way too much to humor (at Hachimaki’s expense) and then the last story positions him as dangerously vain, with Yukimura again avoiding exploring it fully.
There’s a lot of cool stuff to Planetes, but it ought to be adding up to something by the end of the volume and it doesn’t. Yukimura’s capital A ambitions, at least with the characters, never work out. The little stuff, like Fee’s cigarette obsession or Hachimaki’s flirtation, works out a lot better. Yukimura just hasn’t got it with the character development… even though he focuses on it.