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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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)