One favorite Planetes plot thread of mine is Yuri’s search and eventual disposal of his dead wife’s keepsake, a compass that which she wore around her neck for good luck. It went missing along with his wife’s body, and night after night Yuri checks the debris catalogs of every other debris collector out there to hunt for it.
I look up to Yuri as a very mature man, though a bit too aloof in contrast to the loudmouths of Debris Section. He’s hardworking, uncomplaining and kind to animals (!), so I’d imagine that he could get any job that he wanted. And yet he’s working in Debris Section: underequipped, understaffed, underpaid.
Maybe it’s a burning curiosity to discover what his wife etched in the inside of that compass. Or coming to terms with how he survived the shuttle accident and how his wife did not.
At any rate, Yuri gets the compass. But in truth, he is none the happier. “Please save Yuri”, the inscription inside the compass’s lid says. It almost killed him, yet it did fulfill its purpose.
After that nearly-fatal mission, Hachi remarks that Yuri is distant to them, exactly because there are some things he doesn’t want his teammates to know. Because throughout those 6 years, Yuri became all but an empty shell, a spectre so consumed with the task of retrieving his wife’s compass that he signed up as a debris collector. I’d never have guessed.
Yuri wanted the compass back to remember, not to forget. He abandons a white carnation to space, which means “my love still endures” in the language of flowers. But as long as he carries the compass with him, he would be unable to fully let go.
After Fee wrecks Toy Box to foil a terrorist plot, Yuri goes on a vacation to Earth along with Tanabe and Hachi. An unprecedented event, according to Myers, as our good Russian astronaut slaved for so long, looking for his wife’s compass. And now, he’s found it!
He meets Hachi’s rocket otaku brother Kyutaro, who accidentally breaks his compass with one of his stray rockets. It was broken to start with, but now the inside is crumpled that you can’t read the inscription anymore. As the boy runs up to apologize, Yuri admits that he planned to quit his job after retrieving his wife’s keepsake, but he realizes that life isn’t made up of clear-cut borders like that.
Borders, again! But in this case, the border is a psychological one. We tend to give ourselves reasons for doing everything. And after those reasons expire, we experience a crisis–continue what we’ve been doing up until now, for its own sake? Or stop, since its rationale has already since become null and void?
In the end, Yuri finally lets go of the compass, choosing his profession over it. And what a way to dispose of it! He lets Kyutaro strap it into his latest rocket’s nose cone and launches it right up to the sky as Yuri leaves the Earth. He knows in his heart that he can’t quit that easily, despite having fulfilled his “mission”.
For all intents and purposes, Yuri could have stopped living right there and then, but instead he continues to haul debris. Because that, too, is his method of living. Because that, too, is how he copes up.
I love this subplot because it’s realistic. Finding the compass didn’t magically solve all of Yuri’s problems. He had to lose it once more to be free of the void his wife’s death left him, and even that didn’t turn him into a genki man. People–especially adults–have a kind of inertia to them that keeps them from changing too much. Yuri might still be the standoffish guy of Debris Section, but one whose future is clearer, even for a little bit.