It’s striking to see how an anime as a well received as Planetes is takes recourse to hollow characterizations to get the job done.
Colin Clifford, our antagonist for this episode, is a typical brat; exploits his position as the son of a giant corporate CEO to wag around his status in other people’s faces. He makes fun of our set of protagonists – space debris collectors, futuristic janitors – for their lowly jobs but makes the classic ignorant-bourgeoisie mistake by failing to realize that society is structurally founded upon them: if it weren’t for them, space debris would pose a serious threat to space travel.
This is kind of the same, shallow mistake Yagami Light makes: he presumes that by killing criminals, society will “improve,” that by wiping out the rotting wood at the bottom you’re left only with the pristine, beauty of the carnival wharf (I don’t suppose Death Note can emulate Planetes defiance of gravity here).
The point is that, well, I was disappointed. When an anime has to reserve to horribly bad characterizations to appeal to the pathos of the audience, I think they could have thought things out a little bit more. They treat the audience rather childishly, saying “well, why don’t you get pissed at this guy, it’s easy to feel that way.” It’s easy to stimulate emotions provoked by a simple antithesis – it’s convenient. It’s harder to construct characters that don’t readily fall into binaries of good and bad (like TTGL).1
Within the same episode, another deployment of a similar antic. This women (I forget her name) is Hachi’s – the protagonist – friend that entered the company (or whatever) at the same time. Hachi became a “janitor” and she became an elite bridge bunny. She babysits the boss’ whiny son – and puts up with it – so “she can move up the ranks.” Dealing frequently with his arrogant view of society, she stays quiet, not indirectly frustrating her boss. Tolerating his egotistical ideology for the sake of her status doesn’t do anything momentary justice. Referring back to the typical reformist “change it from the inside” schema hasn’t proved all that successful in anime (unless you’re Reinhard von Lohengramm).
To this extent I doubt we’re even supposed to make much of a fuss about Colin’s character – it’s nonexistent. He’s a bunch of stereotypes thrown together with the purpose of catering to the angst of the audience, and his role is well-played.