Over on twitter, an exchange with Don inspired me to start a potential series on anime recs. There's always a chance I'll lose interest, or get distracted, but here's a good start.
PLANETES is a near-future SF tale about garbage collectors in space. Stick with me if you think that sounds boring.
The anime was made in 2003, and it was based on a series of manga that came out several years beforehand. The seed idea is the Kessler syndrome: space debris colliding with each other can make a huge amount more of space debris. It's relevant now, even. Space junk could disrupt communications networks. Just a year and a half ago, a US comsat was destroyed in a collision with a Russian satellite. New Scientist published a piece on space junk potentially cutting us off from space.
The story opens in 2075, and there's a settlement on the moon. That means there's a lot of shuttle traffic between Earth and the moon. A tiny piece of space junk can rupture the hull of a spacecraft, and that's what our intrepid misfit heroes try to prevent.
Newcomer Ai Tanabe joins the crew of the Toy Box, where she meets Hachimaki, Fee Carmichael, and Yuri Mihailkov. The story follows her integration into the team, and her training in EVA manouevres. Hachimaki wants to join the mission to Jupiter, but debris collection isn't very prestigious, so he has to fight for it.
There's also politics, both terrorist plots and interpersonal/company politics. The wikipedia entry has full details, with spoilers in the "plot summary" section, and episode summaries.
Planetes has been compared to Patlabor (another great series I should write about), as a band of misfits trying to do their jobs while being low team on the ladder. It's full of humor and dramatic tension in good proportions. The budding romance between Hachimaki and Tanabe is done realistically and well.
One episode focuses on Fee's need to have a smoke. On the space habitats, there are designated smoking enclosures, with extra filters, etc, so the life support systems don't get gunked up. She goes from enclosure to enclosure, only to find that they're closed. The reason they're closed is the Space Defense Front's attacks. The thread of Fee's frustration is woven skillfully through the larger political issue.
It's a great show, and one that I don't think has gotten enough recognition in the US.