Planetes Vol. 1

By Makoto Yukimura
244 pages, black and white
Published by TokyoPop

Most comics about outer space focus on the big concepts; gigantic space ships zooming through the void, or alien invasions of Earth. Maybe that’s why Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes is so instantly appealing. It’s science-fiction, yes, and it’s very much about outer space… but Planetes‘s focus on quieter, character-based storylines makes it instantly stand out as something much more interesting.

In the year 2074, space is a mess… literally. Years of disregard has left Earth’s orbit full of space junk, bits and pieces of metal and rock that at the right speed can punch holes in spaceships, making traveling through like traversing a mine field. Hachimaki, Fee, and Yuri are three people who try to clean up the debris left behind by mankind… but each of them has their own motives and dreams related to being in space.

When I read the first chapter in Planetes, I quickly realized that I would not be able to put this book down until I finished it. Yukimura’s story of yearning and loss instantly grabbed me, with the story of the man looking for the last trace of his beloved taking a much more introspective and thoughtful tactic than most science-fiction comics attempt. Each chapter of Planetes is strongly character-based, from yearning for a better job to trying to find closure in part of your life. At the same time, though, Planetes‘s stories use the outer space setting to their maximum potential; these aren’t vignettes that were transplanted into a futuristic setting, but ones that demand to be science-fiction in nature. These are about desperately wanting to journey through a new frontier, the dangers that lurk there, and the path that people follow to get there. Yukimura’s Planetes shows an instant understanding for the allure and mystery of space, and the dreams that so many people share in wanting to go there.

Yukimura’s art is as lushly detailed and meticulously perfect as his writing. For a book where technology is such an important aspect of each overall story, Yukimura excels, drawing every single ridge on an air tube or every wrinkle on a suit. It’s extremely important in Planetes that everything looks realistic and doesn’t throw you out of the story, and Yukimura succeeds marvelously at that. He’s created a world which doesn’t just look like it could be the future, he’s created what in the reader’s mind will be the future. Yukimura’s grasp of technology isn’t the only success in the art, mind you. His characters really come to life on the page as well, from Yuri’s haunted expression as he searches for traces of his wife, to Fee’s look of contentment when she goes through the worst day possible in order to smoke a cigarette. With such a human element taking center stage in Planetes, it’s a very important part of the final product.

Planetes Vol. 1 is the kind of book that got me first interested in science-fiction at a young age. The dreams of the future coupled with the reality of the people living in it… that’s great stuff. With the wealth of material getting translated from Japanese and Korean into English these days, it’s easy to have some of the books slip by you in all of the shuffle. Trust me when I say that Planetes is not one that you want to miss. I absolutely cannot wait for the next volumes of Yukimura’s masterpiece; more, please.

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