Japanese animation, or anime, has a long, rich science fiction heritage; however, anime often gravitates toward giant robots, super powers, and aliens. Sometimes, though, a series comes along that bucks the trend. In the 1990s, that series was Ghost in the Shell, a plausible take on the near future where the lines between the cyberworld and the real world begin to blur. Recently, I stumbled upon another great hard sci-fi anime series, Planetes.
Planetes is set in 2075, the dawn of early space colonization. Space debris has become a serious problem that threatens to endanger man’s advancement through the solar system. The story follows Debris Section, an underpaid, underappreciated group of space technicians tasked with cleaning up the mess. What’s refreshing about Planetes is that unlike most anime, almost every episode advances the main story, which is believable and deals with serious issues like class struggle, politics, and what it takes to achieve greatness. Being anime, the characters are a bit silly at times, but they also have a bit of depth. You grow to care about them, and there are a few genuinely heartfelt moments in the series. While the ending of this 26-episode series was a little lackluster, the overall body of work was impressive.
If you are a sci-fi fan who has never watched anime or stopped watching it because it was too goofy or didn’t have any “intelligent” sci-fi, check out Planetes. It is easily the best hard sci-fi anime series in recent memory.