Babel and Planetes: Listen, and Speak Love (愛)

August 21, 2009

planetes

Once upon a time, men built The Tower of Babel in their own arrogance and conceit, aiming to reach the height of heavens. In turn, God punished men by confounding their language. They couldn’t understand each other because they spoke different tongues, so they scattered across the globe, Tower of Babel forever incomplete.

Inarritu’s film Babel is based on this simple premise of people’s inability to understand each other. American tourists can’t communicate with Arabs, Mexicans with American policemen, and mutes with normal people. But the language that Babel is interested in is not American or Arab. It’s the language of human nature. Language of selfishness. Language of arrogance. Language of impudence. Language of desperation. We are speaking all these different languages and that is precisely why we are divided by misunderstanding and hatred. When even American tourists speaking the same language can not solve anything, because they speak only of their own interests and refuse to listen to each other’s situations, how can you hope to achieve peace and unity? God has not made different tongues to punish us. God has created greed, jealousy, rage and desperation.

And yet, the movie gives us a faint light of hope amidst the darkness, from the Japanese policeman who listened to the mute’s cry of loneliness, and the Arab who listened to the American tourist’s plea. They didn’t listen to words. They listened to other people’s heart. And they spoke back with a language of love and understanding.

planetes

This theme of division between people due to lack of understanding is also the core message of Planetes. Although the series starts off in an episodic format with ‘slice of life’ stories about garbage men in space, the plot takes a more grim and serious turn, as those who believes in the importance of space exploration collide with those who wants more resources to be spent in helping poorer countries. At macroscopic scale, there is the Space Defense Force, representing the part of us that pushes forward and breaking new frontiers. Then there is the Terrorists, who aren’t happy with the richer countries monopolising space resources while the poorer ones are left behind.

And at microscopic scale, Hachi’s struggle with Hakim represents that conflict between those who wants the humanity to progress, and those who wants the humanity to look behind. But who can say which side is right? It is true that Hachi was blinded by his goal, and jettisoned his friends, families and lover, and refused to listen to anything Tanabe had to say. But without making any sacrifices and taking those forward steps that left his loved ones behind, would it have been possible for him to attain his goal? Most likely, his dream spaceship would exist only in that picture he drew, and never being materialised in life. So what is the solution?

"All you need is love!" - Tanabe Ai

"All you need is love!" - Tanabe Ai

The obvious solution seems to be finding the appropriate balance. Unfortunately, it is hard to find the balance that both sides can agree with. Everyone speaks of their own interests, aren’t willing to listen to other voices of desperation, and end up shouting only hatred and violence. Although there is no God to punish men in Babel, people have imposed powers to imitate god. And the ones being punished are always the weak and helpless, which is pretty much what the Space Defense Force are doing in Planetes. Consequently, the Terrorists resort to violence to let their voice be heard. One has to wonder though if terrorism will really force people to sympathetise with their plea and not incur further hatred and misunderstanding.

planetes2

But there is hope, just as we found hope in Babel when the characters listened to each other. When Hachimaki ran too fast and too far without looking back and found himself drowning in loneliness and despair, he found something as he reached out his hand. He realised that the space he was looking at was small. Everyone is connected to each other, we depend on each other. And the thing that connecting it all was understanding and love (ai 愛).

planetes

It may sound incredibly cheesy, but watching something like Babel makes one feel like love really is the answer to all our problems. (whether it’s political or ethnic dispute, lover’s quarrel, or even between anime industry and fansub community). And watching Planetes takes you on a journey to a whole new view, a beautifully grand view of earth from space. In episode 11, a scientist from El Tanika (a third world country divided by civil war) looked at the earth and shed his tears. “All we can see is earth, and even when you can’t see any borders from here…”. Perhaps more people need to look at earth from the above, because the truth is we are all connected together, and the only universal language that connects us together is love.

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11 Responses to “Babel and Planetes: Listen, and Speak Love (愛)”

  1. Bill Chapman Says:

    Thanks for this! I hope you’ll allow me to comment on “the only universal language that connects us together is love.” There have been various attempts to bring people of different countries together, and the most successful one is Esperanto. I think this planned language deserves wider support. Of course it is not a linguistic panacaea, but it works.

  2. ghostlightning Says:

    Cheese is good. I rather really, really love it when the cheesiest of themes and/or motifs is delivered through the grittiest/most awkward/darkest/near-bitterly humorous storytelling.

  3. 2DT Says:

    Since we’re talking about Judeo-Christian mythology, god didn’t “create” hatred and greed. Those are imperfections of our human clay: cracks created by sin, which separates us from heaven. So when we embrace love on a human level, spiritually we are abandoning our limitations and communing with the divine. We rebuild a Tower of Babel in the heart and touch god, which I suppose is the point.

    Thought-provoking post. I enjoyed it.

  4. Panther Says:

    Planetes remains the best anime I have watched to date, what with its great theme, the application throughout the series of the aspects you mentioned, and how real it could just happen and also occur as an extrapolation of the possible events of today.

    There are important messages in Planetes, but you also missed that the issue behind Planetes at the end got resolved behind the scenes, much like what, perhaps, or should I say, does, happen in the world today.

  5. gaguri Says:

    @Billy Chapman

    Hmm, I appreciate the efforts of Esperanto, but I guess the problem isn’t with actually understanding the words that are coming out of our mouths, but whether we are ready to listen to another.

    @ghostlightning

    Exactly my sentiments =D

    @2DT

    Wow that’s really poetic, I never thought it in such a way. Thanks for that.

    @Panther

    Planetes is, indeed, one of the best anime I have watched as well. I think the blogger at Omohide said that Planetes starts off slow like Haibane, but like Haibane, when it’s good it’s extremely good.

    Yea I didn’t really talk more about the show’s resolution, as it was getting bit long. I think it resolves in a similar manner as Babel, albeit bit more optimistic. We see the Space Defense Front accept the terms proposed by the Terrorists, so we begin to see higher ups trying to listen to people from the bottom, but then again, the show ends with the terrorist bombing at the moon, which implies that the division between people will likely to continue. Just as in Babel, people will continue to be misunderstood and ignored, even if some are trying to change it.

  6. vendredi Says:

    The comparison with Babel is pretty apt, having recently finished this series. I think the most poignant scene comes near the end of Planetes, where Nono speaks with Hakim and asks him to show her where the borders of his country is, and Hakim finds himself unable to answer (the basic gist of the scene at least, any more details would be rather big spoilers).
    It’s painful how Hakim cannot even see his own country from space, but yet at the same time speaks to that theme of interconnectedness.

    I think that’s the charm of Planetes – it may be a cheesy message, but at least it says a great deal without using having to use a lot of words, and it never tries to sledgehammer you with a metaphor.

  7. gaguri Says:

    The end was very poignant, and I guess I should have included that scene as well in my post. Although Hakim was fueled with rage that drove him to plant a bomb, whene he took a flight to moon and had a look at earth from space, the fact that he couldn’t see any borders and spot his country blew him. When looked from so far, all you can see is earth, and yet so much sadness and war.

    And agreed with your last sentence. Just looking at the earth from space just perfectly sums up everything Planetes wanted to say imo.

  8. kadian1364 Says:

    Having seen neither Babel nor Planetes, I can still say this was an interesting read. Not too spoilerific of Planetes I hope, just enough to prime me to see it.

    I’m big on stories unafraid to say something nontrivial, cheesy or otherwise, so I’m looking forward to seeing how Planetes works it all in context. Of course, I’ll hopefully be there to listen as well.

  9. 0rion Says:

    Ahhh Planetes…

    I vaguely remember reading some of the manga years ago, but at the time I probably lacked the ability to really appreciate the message of the story.

    It’s been on my “to watch someday” queue for ages now. After reading this, I’m thinking perhaps I should bump it up to the top of the list and finally see if I can get into it this time around. 🙂

  10. gaguri Says:

    @kadian1364

    Good to hear that it proved interesting. Granted, one would normally say the main lead is optimistic and idealistic when she first claims ‘all you need is love!’, but after all the grim reality we are shown, love really is the answer to all our problems.

    @0rion

    I personally recommend dropping everything else and watch Planetes, but that’s up to you =D


  11. […] Planetes speaks the language of love (gaguri 08/21/2009) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Wolf 11-5Shirt contestThe World’s A Better Place […]


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