Planetes – Hachimaki is the Michael Jordan of astronauts. No, really.
No Kimi ni Todoke post from me this week because ep16 is 95 percent recap, and I’m sure someone like Kabitzin will do a better job than me of conveying what a WTF recap episode it is.
Instead I’d like to focus a bit on Planetes, which I finished recently and loved, and in particular on the stretch of Hachimaki’s character development from eps 16-21, because it relates in an interesting way to some books I have been reading recently. Obviously there will be Planetes spoilers in this post, so read with caution.
Hachimaki has a near death experience at the beginning of ep16, but he faces not just his own mortality but also the death of his dreams and ambitions. His battle with Acute Spatial Disorder forces him to face how stagnant his life is with the Debris Section (even though his thankless job keeps many people safe) and the very real possibility that he may never be able to go into space again. Hachimaki likes Ai, but at the same time, the depth of his ambition will never let him settle for a life on the ground living like any other person.
I’m a big fan of the NBA (go Lakers!) and have been reading a lot of books about basketball lately — The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith and most recently The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam. (Random aside: The section in Breaks about Kermit Washington is the closest I’ve come to tearing up while reading anything since I was a kid. That guy has an inspiring and heartbreaking story.) When Hachimaki fights off his ASD in a single episode, I called bullshit, but the path his character treads afterward, combined with the insight from those books, had me looking at and understanding Hachimaki from a completely different angle than I might have otherwise.
The Jordan Rules details the Chicago Bulls’ 1991 NBA Championship season, but it can also be seen as a study of a person — Michael Jordan, the famous Bulls shooting guard who is known as the greatest NBA player ever — who is ruled by his ambition and unstoppable will. Jordan was obsessed with statistics for much of his career, loved winning scoring titles and pulling triple doubles (10 or more points, rebounds and assists) out of thin air, but his one goal each season was to win a championship, and to win it his way. That’s it. And he would drag his teams kicking and screaming as far as he could go.
Jordan had great ability to match his ambition, and he frankly acted like a major asshole to his teammates while constantly testing them to see if they could match his intensity. For most of his career, Jordan couldn’t respect his fellow players; none of them — not even the great Scottie Pippen, perhaps the most gifted defensive player in NBA history — could match Jordan’s mix of otherworldly athletic talent and ruthless ambition. Jordan punched a teammate in practice to reassert his dominance over the group. He cracked cruel jokes to keep his teammates in their place, and he often isolated himself from them, rolling with his own groups after games and leaving them in the dust. And he was competitive to a fault, one time dedicating all his energies to mastering ping-pong so that he could defeat a rookie who had beaten him at the game.
The one way to earn Jordan’s respect was to stand up to him and let him know you wouldn’t take any of his bullshit. The people who put up with Jordan — who passed his constant tests — earned his respect, and he would stand by them on the court, even if he didn’t necessarily like them. If Jordan didn’t like a player, though, that player would constantly receive his wrath, because he despised those who could not keep up with him. If you were on his team, you contributed in a significant way to winning a title, or he wanted nothing to do with you. Period.
That is Hachimaki’s mindset through these episodes, except trade in “winning an NBA championship” for “going as far as possible into space on the Von Braun“. When Hachimaki’s ambition gives him a taste of what he might be missing if he never goes into space again, he kicks himself into overdrive and dedicates himself completely to getting on the Von Braun. His ambition pushes him to the point where he makes stone cold judgments about everything and everyone in his life, including Ai: He sees Ai as being satisfied with her life as a part of the Debris Section crew, whereas he is not; therefore, he cannot associate himself with her. When Hachimaki is pushing himself and running on the treadmill for hours each day, even while Debris Section is frantically trying to save itself, he has already made a conscious decision to separate himself from them and try out for the Von Braun.
Hachimaki says it himself: Getting onto the Von Braun is everything to him; it consumes him. He deliberately places himself in a situation where he either makes it onto the Von Braun, or his life is ruined, because he’ll have no money, no home, no job, etc. This is another common theme in these basketball books — that the athletes don’t just want but need that extra challenge to force them to raise their game to another level and scratch ever harder at the absolute peaks of their talents. Hachimaki reasons that the “safety net” of his job with Debris Section would only hinder him as it hindered Cheng-shin, against whom Hachimaki lashes out when Cheng-shin admits that he never expected to make it onto the Von Braun, and that he isn’t even disappointed he lost.
Hachimaki’s anger at Cheng-shin is made clearer as he gets closer to Hakim, who actually does possess the talent and drive needed to keep up with — and perhaps surpass — Hachimaki, although for totally different reasons than Hachimaki expects. The defining moment of this arc, for me, is when Hachimaki confronts Hakim, who is about to blow up the Von Braun‘s Tandem Mirror Drive. Hachimaki is more upset about the fact that Hakim is not the intense rival Hachimaki saw him as than he is about the fact that Hakim is a terrorist. In the section about Celtics great Kevin McHale in The Book of Basketball, Simmons describes his tenuous relationship with fellow great Larry Bird, who resented the fact that McHale, who was just as talented as Bird, was not consumed by basketball the way he was. Because McHale didn’t push himself harder, Bird did not have to push himself harder in turn to keep his status as team leader. Bird wanted that challenge; to not receive it is a betrayal of sorts.
That is the type of relationship that drives Hachimaki and Hakim as far as Hachimaki is concerned. Hakim is someone who would have pushed Hachimaki to the greatest possible heights because he would have needed to unleash every possible ounce of his talents to keep up with Hakim. That kind of respect is not easily earned; not only is this an affront to Hachimaki’s ambition, but he takes it as a stab to his personal pride that his goal isn’t good enough for a man he saw as his equal. Hachimaki catches Hakim in the act because he instinctively senses that Hakim has lost his edge due to already accomplishing his goal (getting onto the Von Braun and seizing a chance to destroy it), whereas Hachimaki is still fighting tooth and nail for his goal. But the cold greed of Hachimaki’s ambition causes him to not see Hakim the terrorist (who has a legitimate gripe) but Hakim the fellow student of Gigalt, and a potential rival who has let him down.
Viewing Hachimaki in this way helped me understand him more (even if he’s still an unlikable prick in this arc), and it led me to another interesting thought: Bill Simmons posits that we — as in sports fans — want our athletes to be bloodthirsty killers. We want them to take their ambition and skill as far as it will go, driven by obsessive competitive thirst. But we only want the good that comes with that, the end result of seeing athletes at the peaks of their powers achieve the highest goal in their respective sports. We don’t want to deal with the bad, with what relentless competition forces some people to become. We want baseball players to hit home runs, but we also want to hypocritically admonish them for taking steroids. We want Michael Jordan to destroy his competition, but we also want to criticize him for carrying grudges his entire life even though that is what fueled the competitive desire we cheered on.
Is that the same thing we want from our anime characters? We want the good of their heroic actions while taking the moral high ground and condemning their faults. The people of Plantes‘ world probably want men like Hachimaki to go as far as they can into space, but if they were to know how he nearly ruined his personal life in the process to make it happen, they might condemn him. I saw Hachimaki treat Ai like shit, and while I certainly didn’t approve, I understood a bit — greatness isn’t something that comes easily, but it feels wonderful to have it. Sometimes people will do whatever it takes to obtain it. That might make them terrible people (if only briefly), but it also makes them human.