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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

License Line: Ground Control To Major Tom

For this week's License Line, I'm looking at one of the many licenses that were lost during the closure of Tokyopop; funny enough, this series already finished publishing under Tokyopop's care but as of now, the license is up in the air. Will anyone pick up a series completed by another publisher? Will these books just simply go out of print and disappear into thin air? I surely hope not - especially if that includes quality titles like this one, about the beauty of space and the junk we find in it. Yes, this week I'm arguing for the case of Makoto Yukimura's acclaimed manga series Planetes (プラネテス) that spans four volumes and won the Seiun Award for best science-fiction series in 2002.

Planetes takes place in a far-off future where the space program has proved successful and living beyond the Earth is not just a dream but a reality. Naturally, as more of the human race takes to the sky, they leave behind in the stars more and more of their trash – space debris that can harm space stations and satellites if not dealt with as soon as possible. Enter the trash collectors of the final frontier, whose job is to either salvage or burn what debris they find on their travels to make space safer and cleaner for everyone else. The series follows the lives aboard the debris collecting space ship known as the Toy Box:  loudmouth engineer Hachi; sweet and driven Tanabe; the brash chain smoker Fee; the quiet Russian, Yuri.

Hands down, Planetes is one of the best manga I’ve ever read, inside and outside of the science-fiction genre. It is a manga with heart and humor that examines the human condition while also providing a refreshingly realistic take on how mankind will evolve after civilization begins truly dominating the stars. All of the social and political problems that have plagued the Earth have leaked out into space, and so has the one problem that has plagued people for millennia: where do I belong? This conflict especially affects our main protagonist, Hachi, whose relationship with outer space is at best complicated. Not only it is a deep, involving manga but it is a gorgeously drawn one too; the spacecrafts and various technologies seen throughout the series were clearly researched extensively beforehand.

As a Kodansha title, Planetes will likely find no home at any American-based manga publisher like Yen or Vertical.  Considering the success such space titles like Twin Spica are having with North American readers, I’m sure Kodansha Comics’ US-based enterprise could see the merits of bringing back this gorgeous acclaimed series – and at four volumes total, it wouldn’t be an expensive series to revive either. Several Tokyopop titles have already been saved by Kodansha and like-minded publishers; why shouldn’t Planetes be next?