The Easiest Job in the World: Planetes

PSNR.Planetes.26.mkv_snapshot_02.41_[2010.04.24_23.48.06]

This is not a review.

A friend and contemporary in anime blogging gave me the task of writing how great Planetes is and gave me three days to do so. I thought at first that this was the easiest job in the world because Planetes is great, and to me, undeniably so. But then, how exactly is it great? There’s so much goodness in it – be it contemplative, corny, inspiring, laugh-out-loud funny, tear-jerkingly-sad, melancholic, and grindingly great. What would I talk about? Where should I start?

In the end it is an easy job after all. To me, Planetes is great because it told a story that is set in a fantastic fictional world and yet that story is made of the truth about things. It told stories, it told real stories about how it is to be an adult. It told my story too (and I’m in the middle of my own personal Planetes arc). And I will tell you if you would do me the honor of reading.

You see, this man is me and his story is my own:

planetes 26 dolf tells it how it is

Dolf founded Traum Space Development, a venture company with Fee Carmichael. Traum had a good run until meeting natural limits to growth, specifically an inability to scale operations at the level Multinational Corporations can.

There’s no turning back from humanity’s new way of life. And we have to rely on space for the energy to support that way of life. Space development requires that you work on a large scale. Funding. Organization. Political clout. Without those you get swallowed up by another entity.

Dolf let Technora acquire Traum and was absorbed into the larger firm. He found himself a Division Manager, and Fee became a team leader within the Debris Collection Section where she can still pilot a ship.

planetes 08 fee dolf chad and others old crew photo planetes 08 dolf sells out traum to technora

Being an outsider, he was not welcomed by the Technora incumbents, who tolerate him because of his stellar productivity. His excellence became a threat however, and he was banished to a shell company ‘subsidiary.’ Dolf turned that around and used the opportunity to broker a deal with the chief developer of the ship headed to Jupiter which gave him leverage over Technora.

Dolf cut a deal with the distasteful Dr. Locksmith to find his own independence as a manager and rejected Technora’s overtures to give him a ‘lapdog’ VP position. Dolf is a badass, and I am too.

…well not really, but there are some personally striking parallels. I won’t get into some details of my own story since it’s ongoing (I’m in the thick of some nasty drama). While I haven’t been in management as long as Dolf has (maybe a decade or so for him to my 6 years or so), I’ve gone through some of the shit he’s gone through and prevailed in.

planetes 08 claire rondo tells it how it is

When I was an entry-level grunt (I was often this at many jobs: lecturer at university, copywriter, production assistant, producer for radio news and public affairs, paralegal, etc) I couldn’t wait to become ‘one of them,’ and by that I meant management. It was either become them or hate them.

I had left grad school with a Marxist view on things, and mingling mostly with fellow entry-level grunts I found it easy to distrust management. To us they were but gatekeepers who distribute favor and rewards. The real work was done by us proles. I felt we were the ones who always get shafted while managers get to order us around and get paid much better.

I was so fucking wrong.

Around 2004 I got my first break and was hired on the spot as a manager for training and development in a call center. The guy who hired me and was supposed to be my boss got promoted within months of my joining and I was floating until absorbed by the human resources department. Within that unit I built my own Organization Development sub-unit.

Middle management was the fucking worst place to be in. Supervisors, and front-line managers have the unenviable problem of having so much responsibility with laughable authority. I was in a huge company, around 4,000 employees which would balloon to about 6,000 when I left. I was able to observe so many middle managers at work. They were answerable to so many higher-ups, who gave moving targets and inconsistent directives. Us middle managers would have to sell these to the staff.

The staff had us. How so? It’s because they could just quit; when they do, overall productivity suffers and it’s on us. There was such a huge demand for skilled call center workers at the time so the proles really had us by our nuts. We really didn’t make any important decisions – only carry out directives from senior managers.

planetes 26 hachimaki work is kinda like family

When I was a grunt I hated managers (I couldn’t distinguish managers from each other then). We fellow grunts enjoyed manipulating them, tricking them, running rings around them. When I was a middle manager, I couldn’t help but begin hating the staff (not my own staff who were awesome, but staff in general) who were selfish, narrow minded short-sighted good-for-nothings.

But I hated senior managers even more.

They couldn’t make up their fucking minds. They had no idea how to run the place. They were putting us in the firing line while they issue directives from the safety of their offices. Worse, they put on airs. They think they’re so awesome and expect to be treated special due to their rank.

I did love my boss though, but they shafted her. When they forced her out (due to character assassination and blackmail), I turned in my resignation as well. I landed on my feet in an international corporation and was now a senior manager myself who reported directly to the Board of Directors and the Chairman himself.

Now I finally am a man.

Now it will be different. I get to do real business now, or so I thought. To be fair, I did and am proud of the work I accomplished. But at this level, it’s really shitty too. Now the egos are really, really huge. And people fought. Boardrooms were cesspools of inauthenticity. People say yes, but mean fuck you. Now the work is about making deals.

You try to make deals with really shitty people. I got played. I played harder. I told myself I would never fuck anyone over. I’m proud that I never did. The dread that crept up to me was that the higher your rank, the more compromised you become. The higher you go up, the less people you can trust. It’s not even personal! This isn’t just about the inside of the corporation – it extends to the world of clients, partners, suppliers, and the government.

planetes 26 third world industry

Now I finally am THE man.

I found myself in government last year, in a government owned and controlled corporation (a GOCC, the fucking worst of both worlds). While nowhere as naive as I was at 22, at 32 I was no longer concerned at becoming popular. Having been issued a clear mandate as a chief of my own division, I was prepared to be hated and would not compromise.

After fighting and scrapping both known enemies and traitors, I witnessed the chief executive get replaced by the President of the Republic. This new guy, he actually had the cheek to tell me how big a part I’m going to play in his administration, and gave me a great assignment. I finished it in record time under duress.

After submission, he then purged the whole organization of everyone I am associated with, me included. Due to the upcoming national elections in June, I can’t get appointed to my next organization until July. I’m fucked, but not defeated.

You see, the things that happened to me is similar to Dolf’s career but his prevailing over adversity isn’t the source of my power. Among Planetes characters I may seem like Dolf outwardly, but the core of me is Tanabe Ai. I actually fucking love doing good work. I may not be as detail-oriented, or even an operations guy like Dolf who can run things like clockwork (I’m a planner, an idea man), or as industrious as Tababe, but like her I love – period. The things I do are worthwhile because I do it with love.

planetes 26 hachimaki tanabe lots of kinds of love

Planetes is awesome because its portrayal of how organizations behave, and how people behave within it rings true. I’ve seen these slices of life in many lives among the office ladies and salarymen in my own milieu. I’ve seen these play out in university, an advertising firm, a broadcast network, sales organizations, a political party during an election campaign, a call center or three, a BPO or three, a conglomerate, and in government.

You will meet awesome, awesome people. Sometimes, these same people will suck. Most people do, but sometimes they will surprise you with awesomeness too.

Jobs are often easy or hard depending on the people you work with, or work for. Saying how awesome Planetes is, working with the context of my own experience of the show is really the easiest job in the world.

Further Reading

Enjoy the TV Tropes page, from which I excerpt this:

Mohs Scale Of Sci Fi Hardness: Perhaps the hardest science fiction ever produced. Let’s assess; Detailed orbital mechanics, realistic effects of space on health, dependency theory, diapers under spacesuits, and invisible laser beams. INVISIBLE LASER BEAMS. Even the gratuitous In Space Everyone Can See Your Face is justified as mere thematic close-ups on the characters’ faces — with their faceplates down. Its premise — the collection of space garbage to prevent multimillion-dollar spacecraft from being scrapped by screws — is a Real Life problem but economically unfeasible (nowadays we Just Ignore It – military satellites are fitted with maneuvering thrusters to dodge but nobody cleans it up), but this is actually a major plot point — though the job is essential to actual commercial space travel, the fact that nobody can find a way to make money off it means they ignored it right up until the accident that killed Yuri’s wife.Then the Debris Sections were formed in response to public outcry — and staffed by underpaid office drones with gear older than they are.

Yes! This is how businesses and governments behave too!

If you want to introduce someone to Planetes and you don’t want to show a review, here’s the secret (otou-san 12/09/2009)

A great look into Hachimaki, who I practically ignored in this post (Shinmaru 01/27/2010)

A collection of concise posts on interesting moments in Planetes (schneider 2009)

Planetes speaks the language of love (gaguri 08/21/2009)

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in analysis, Diary of an Anime Lived and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to The Easiest Job in the World: Planetes

  1. I don’t really have much to add, but a great post. It was really interesting to see how the organization elements in Planetes related to your own experiences, as well as having some value for me since I’m going to be entering a somewhat similar field as some of your jobs soon. Good to know what to expect.

    (Though I never got into Marxism and toned down most of my unrealistic idealism at the end of high school, so hopefully I won’t face quite the same initial culture shock, hehe :P )

    • Thank you and I wish you all the luck.

      I don’t think anything prepares you for the world outside ‘university.’ I need to qualify that because my first job was as a lecturer for my alma mater. I was a lecturer at 20 years old and I started seeing a world I couldn’t imagine: my professors (now colleagues) slacking off, cutting corners, etc. I was certainly not prepared to completely pwn them in graduate school (where we were suddenly classmates). I mean, how can these be the same people I looked up to?

      Some of them hated their jobs, were going through quarter-life crises, being crushed by life (and by love, too), conflicts with each other, politicking for department resources… oh my it was something. Perhaps my favorite was how they, behind closed doors openly talk about the students they favor.

      You needn’t be a Marxist or subscribe to any specific grand narrative to experience culture shock at some level.

      But wait, I remember love too!

      I remember Ms. Lani Macatangay, my thesis adviser as an undergrad and the faculty adviser of the Nihon Kenkyu Kai student organization lent me her Macross: the Complete OST CDs. Now THAT was completely unexpected and made of the most awesome stuff in the galaxy.

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  3. Shinmaru says:

    LOL, GOCC even sounds like a disgusting word to say. I swear my nose wrinkled after mouthing it just now.

    I’m about a half a year into my journey in the working world; I’m pretty lucky to have a solid working environment with some cool co-workers, although I can definitely identify with being frustrating at the shifting needs and desires of higher-ups and lack of clear communication, haha. Given the industry I’m in (journalism, specifically newspapers), though, constant change is to be expected, so it doesn’t annoy me too much.

    The greatest trick Planetes pulls, I think, is making all these interoffice workings interesting without overblowing them and making them more than they are. It’s something many people can identify with, precisely because the BS office politics are often so petty (although there are often multiple levels behind things, too, as you demonstrate).

    • LOL we actually say the individual letters GeeOhCeeCee. Congratulations on being in a solid set-up for work, and for recognizing the situation for what it is.

      Indeed they are never overblown, well, nothing is overblown when it comes to these slices. Planetes does have extreme histrionics: ninjas, Fee and her feats in the name of smoking come to mind; these serve very specific purposes and does well with those that their presence doesn’t upset the verisimilitude of the show.

  4. omisyth says:

    And now I think that basically in two years when I’m out of uni, I’m going to hate my managers, get fucked over by managers, and suffer with a few close friends over the course of 10 – 15 years.

    Looking forward to it!

    • I wish I could’ve stayed a student longer. I graduated at 20 and went to work immediately. One thing I never experienced is sticking to one job longer than 2 years. I heard it’s supposed to be the norm in this day and age, but I acknowledge that there is a romance in being part of something over an extended period of time.

      /listens to Avenue Q OST

  5. drmchsr0 says:

    Episode 12 is an anomaly, made simply because the director flipped his lid and decided to go for broke. And it was GLORIPUS.

    It also has Nobuyuki Hiyama voicing a role that is totally out of his scope (he usually does screaming, hotblooded mecha pilots) and he handles it GLORIOUSLY.

    But every episode I have watched seemed to be crafted out of PURE LOVE. It’s rare to see that in a show.

    • I thought the ninja episode was a ‘go for broke’ one too. And yes, I definitely felt the love for the material in every episode. I feel that at the end of it all, every moment meant something or at least was a brick in the building of each meaningful thing in the show.

  6. gaguri says:

    It’s amazing how much planetes say about working environment, almost as much as Hataraki Man (which itself is a mature exploration of working environment), and have so much more to say about other things like the issues of terrorism, barriers of language, personal growth, love, so much that it’s hard to take it all in after only one viewing. I think I was first captured by the relationship between Haki and Tanabe, but on my second viewing got to appreciate just how immense and meaningful the show was at a larger scale.

    I don’t know about western working environment, but I do feel that in Korea middle managements get the most shit. If the grunts fail, it’s the supervisors fault. If the director gives shit orders, supervisors gets the blame (because no one dares to question directors). I agree that the much of your success/joy/hardship of job is dependent on who your work with/for, so it’s important that we level up our specs so we can actually get to choose where to work at! (<—working on it…lol)

    I don't know the kind of drama that's affecting you right now, but you sound so confident and resolute I don't see how you can possibly be defeated at anything the reality throws at you. Good luck and hope for the best!

    • Thank you. I’m strong also because I’m not alone. My extended family, and my formidable wife… how can I not be strong even just to be worthy of them?

      Middle managers really do get the worst of things. I invite you to watch The Wire, an HBO series which to me, is the pinnacle of scripted narrative television. Among many brilliant things, it depicts the existence of the middle manager across a stunning spread of organizations (the police, city hall, newspapers, schools, drug gangs, and more).

      I will watch Hataraki Man next, but to keep talking about Planetes, it does have a broad set of subjects; all of which are treated with careful detail and a sensitivity towards presenting it as grounded in reality.

  7. Vendredi says:

    Great post that really gets at what makes Planetes so touching; it’s very ordinary and familiar, yet presents the ordinary and familiar as something so very extraordinary. There’s always the temptation to throw in an element of the fantastic, or long-winded monologues – Planetes in that sense feels like the exception. It’s not the same starry-eyed idealism one gets in say, shounen anime, but it still presents a hopeful message, tempered with a little more experience.

    • Thank you. I’ve mentioned this is another blog’s comments section and this is also from my discussions with otou-san about Macross Plus:

      The good thing about mature stories with adult characters is that there is room for regret in their lives, that there’s failure of some kind, an incompletion or something.

      Look at the really interesting folk: Lavie, Yuri, E-chan, Hachimaki, Claire, and yes Dolf. They had stuff they regretted doing, or regretted failing at getting.

      Contrast with Tanabe and her receptionist friend: they’re the new and untested, and they get broken in some way along the narrative — both involving Chen-shin in some way, among other incidents.

      But indeed, Tanabe is the idealism in the show, and look at what they did to her first before validating her ideals.

  8. Will of the wisps says:

    Interestingly enough, when one is a grunt, it is actually an enjoyable experience to talk about how everything is wrong, how the administrators are dumb. I certainly know we do this often in the hospital. The government don’t know what to fund. The health minister is an ass hole. The hospital administrators don’t care about front line health care professionals. In the end, it becomes part of the stress relieving exercise. Something went wrong? Blame it on the management.

    • Hehe sounds just about right.

      The thing is, the middle managers more often than not, are really stuck between a rock and a drill. They want to do good by you, but they want to please their own bosses too. And often the interests are conflicting.

      Then, consider what the middle managers talk about: how stupid all of you are, how you can’t do the simplest of things right. Then they balk talk to their own bosses.

      If you sample the authentic reasons for voluntary turnover, you’ll see that conflict/dissatisfaction with bosses is on top of the list. Very few people leave because their underlings are dumb — they can be replaced. You can’t change your boss easily.

      One time I fell asleep on my chair after a long night’s work (graveyard shift) and one of my staff took a photo of me and emailed it to my boss. What do you think of this move?

      • Will of the Wisps says:

        True enough. Don’t forget we grubs backstab each other to get ahead all the time, too, though. It is time like this I think I should work for myself instead.

        • Then you’ll discover the wonderful world of clients and suppliers! Then… government regulators and taxmen!

          • Will of the wisps says:

            There is no escape from it, is there? Well… I can always go finish off more grad school…

          • Will of the wisps says:

            Also, I am in despair!

            I don’t even have a wonderful name like pink supervisor!

          • You can grin and bear it like a man, or escape this way:

            1. Work to save up some capital.
            1.1 Quit your job.
            2. Make an online retail business for consumable goods (niche product, very high markup, high price point)
            3. Completely outsource all operations until automated. (this is the most important)
            4. Your target income should be around USD 15,000.00 to 20,000.00 per month
            5. Live in Argentina, or Southeast Asia (Thailand/Philippines) and enjoy the ridiculous exchange rate.

            Be sure to call on me and I’ll help you spend your cash.

          • Will of the wisps says:

            That would mean that I spent years slaving through university for nothing, though. This discussion was a good reality check for me (e.x. life sucks at the middle management positions) — especially after being stuck in school for so long.

          • Slaving through uni for nothing?

            The glib response would be “welcome to the club.”

            The thing is, do we really know what we want out of uni? Do we really understand the nature of employment? Employment — the exchange of services (mostly time) for pay is or has become a very uncomfortable set-up. Sure there are great jobs out there, challenging jobs out there, cushy jobs out there, but are these the norm?

            Also, financial freedom almost never happens when your principal trade for income is your time. The moment you’re not clocking desk time or billable hours, you’re not making money. Therefore you’re dependent on the whole set of relationships you deal with at your place of employment.

            Is this what you went to university for?

            Hachimaki wanted his own space craft, when that dream wasn’t working out, he wanted to do cutting-edge astronautics. He got on and won the rat race to get on the Jupiter expedition. If these are the kind of things you went to university for, then stick with your work.

            But if what you’re after is financial freedom, wealth, etc. It doesn’t entirely work out that way.

            FYI I have an BA in Literature, minor in Philosophy. My degree was next to useless. But coming from the uni I went to has its advantages.

          • Will of the wisps says:

            In one sense, I am lucky I am in a professional program. Unions are great, and I do enjoy my future position. However, I saw infighting among different health care professionals and it comes down to a power play… That aspect is not so enjoyable anymore. Thanks for the advice!

          • You’re welcome, and may you get everything you need and most of what you desire.

  9. gloval says:

    Ah, employment woes. Even back in college, I’ve known the shit managers have to go through. That’s partly why even after five years of no promotions I’m not too keen on getting one. I’ve been paid fine for the grunt work, why seek more stress up there? But recently the workload is getting to me, and the non-promotion is hurting my reputation (which is supposed to be expected, how naive of me), and I see quitting is not that far off. If anything, maybe I just need a really long break. It’s supposed to be vacation season, but I’m not getting any real vacation from since a month ago; four of the five recent weekends have been ruined by an incident popping up, and yes that includes the one for Holy Week.

    You got an impressive career record in there. Can I call you Bosing Ghostlightning? Hey, it rhymes! You should try going into business, say, in anime. Don’t dismiss it outright by saying anime isn’t profitable. Let’s make it profitable!

    If that fails, you could join me in network marketing :D No, seriously, I’m thinking of signing up in one.

    • I can’t advise you, but I can share what I experienced myself:

      (No do not call me bosing) I have been involved in a number of failed startups. Ideas are a dime a dozen and most people don’t get the sheer amount of work required to just get started. I’m always hustling and am attempting to get a few things off the ground. Anime and/or manga isn’t a profit venture I am interested in, albeit mechafetish and I have something in the works.

      While I won’t discourage you from participating in network marketing, I’ve went down that road many times (at least thrice) and have not seen an opportunity that really worked the way it was sold. But if you’re both a strong salesperson and like people A FREAKING LOT, then you may like this route.

  10. aquabluesweater says:

    That is definitely a very interesting ‘review’ of Planetes! I love when an anime can really relate quite strongly to real life. You have been through quite a bit and have prevailed. I hope you’re on your way to Jupiter as we speak:)

    As for all these organization, it’s pretty depressing how politics really dominate every facet of the work. The bigger the company, the more of those craps there seem to be:(

    For sure though, we need more people to watch this series!

    PS. You also mentioned The Wire earlier. That’s just one amazing series worthy of all accolade it got! Easily the best non-anime series I have ever seen…

    • Hi there. You’d notice if you read through the archives that neither I nor the guest writers do reviews here ^_^

      Politics is the human condition, as long as there is more than one person in the world the relationship will have a political dynamic.

      I am bringing Jupiter closer to earth for a change ;)

      Glad to see a fellow appreciator of The Wire. It’s easily the best series I have seen as well, almost completely flawless in my eyes…

      • aquabluesweater says:

        That’s true. Only got around to doing it after posting the comment:)

        The Wire is just like anime like Planetes, For those who know, it’s rated pretty highly but the problem is not enough people know about it!

        PS. Do you change layout often too? Your page looks so different with the yellow tone as opposed to the dark tone previously…

        • Thanks for dropping by again. This is only the second time I’ve changed my layout in almost two years. I went from Mistylook, to Redoable Lite (Spring 2009), and now this. I hope it’s a more readable format.

          I will change background colors to match any change in my header image. This will be soon since some good people are contributing banner(s) any day now.

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