The GeeksverseREVIEW | Planetes, Vol. 1 (Dark Horse Manga)

REVIEW | Planetes, Vol. 1 (Dark Horse Manga)
Published on Wednesday, December 16, 2015 by
In today’s review: Dark Horse Manga’s omnibus-style reissue of Makoto Yukimura’s award-winning science-fiction comic Planetes.

  • planetesv1Paperback/black & white (with color sections)/$19.99 (US)
  • NOTE: Book is oriented for right-to-left reading
  • In stores 09 December 2015
  • Story & art: Makoto Yukimura
  • Translation: Yuki Johnson
  • English adaptation: Anna Wenger, Brendan Wright
  • Lettering and retouch: Susan Daigle-Leach
  • “In the 2070s, increased interplanetary travel has led to crisis-level amounts of dangerous space debris, and someone has to clean it up.Planetes follows the space-garbage crew of aspiring explorer Hachimaki, mourning Yuri, and secretive Fee, collected in two omnibus editions, printed from the original files and complete with bonus color pages!”
  • “Winner of two Seiun Awards, Japan’s highest honor for science fiction.”

Many contemporary comics and graphic novels tagged with the science-fiction label, at least in North America, are short on the science and long on the fiction. What are often marketed as science-fiction comics these days would probably be described by those more particular about genre distinctions as “science fantasy”: Pulp-styled adventure narratives with little in the way of rational speculation of the effects of scientific and technological advances on society at large, functioning, for all intents and purposes, as sword-and-sorcery tales or westerns with ray guns, spaceships, and oddly humanoid aliens. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but it does leave a bit of a gap in the market for those readers looking for more traditional science-fiction fare in comic book form.

Dark Horse Manga’s recent omnibus-style reissue of Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes helps fill that gap. The first volume collects the first twelve chapters of Yukimura’s critically-acclaimed near-future space exploration-themed work, which were first released in English across multiple paperbacks in 2003 and 2004 by TokyoPop. More than just a compilation of the TokyoPop material, the Dark Horse book has slightly larger page dimensions, art scanned from the artist’s original files, extensive color inserts, a tweaked English script (editor Brendan Wright is credited with the adaptation, along with the original TokyoPop edition’s Anna Wenger), and new lettering by Susan Daigle-Leach that is a significant improvement over that seen in the earlier English presentation.

The short stories featured in Planetes, Vol. 1 follow the exploits of a small, international crew of space debris collectors, astronauts tasked with removing the accumulated space junk in orbit around the Earth that pose a threat to space travel and space-based technologies such as satellites and space stations. The stories are presented in a linear, chronological fashion that, taken together, constitute a much larger overarching, character-driven narrative. Each story, however, is structured in such a way that it can serve as self-contained character sketch that also provides sufficient background exposition about the state of space travel and space exploration in the 2070s.

Yukimura is a master of mood, seamlessly transitioning from slapstick comedy to sentimental drama to high-stakes action with ease—although the most successful stories are those which focus foremost on character relationships and the mundane and not-so-mundane details of life in the space-based communities of the future. Especially notable are the stories “A Stardust Sky,” “A Girl from beyond Earth,” “Tanabe,” and “A Cat in the Evening.” It’s not all perfect, however. The author misses an opportunity to thoughtfully address the topic of terrorism in space, with the Space Defense League (an eco-terrorist organization devoted to keeping mankind from further exploring space) serving as wan, caricaturish antagonists in the stories “A Cigarette under Starlight” and the two-part “A Black Flower Named Sakinahoka.” Still, all the stories collected in the volume have their strengths and are thoroughly engrossing and entertaining in their own way.

The art in the book features a blend of expressive, stylized figures and faces and highly-detailed props and backgrounds, which should be no surprise to those familiar with Yukimura’s meticulously-researched work on the popular historical manga Vinland Saga. Planetes‘ spacecraft, space station, and spacesuit designs are extrapolated from current models and real-world concepts, lending the book’s future tech a level of plausibility rarely seen in “sci-fi” comics. Worth noting, too, are the scenes that involve astronauts engaged in EVA (extra-vehicular activity) tasks: Yukimura has a knack for imparting the disorienting feeling of moving through outer space, where conventional notions of up and down don’t exist, without rendering the panels a confusing, hard-to-read mess.

Dark Horse Manga’s Planetes, Vol. 1 is a well-executed reissue of one of the best contemporary science-fiction comics published in English to date. Very highly recommended.

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