The journey of young upper-atmosphere window-washer Mitsu and his friends wraps up in satisfying fashion with this volume. After the plant explosion, the lower levels have been sealed off from the middle and upper ones to prevent the chaos and rioting from spreading. Everyone down there prepares for the worst, and Mr. Nishimaru seizes this as his chance to get the public onboard with his plan to send Mitsu down in the craft that he, Sohta, and their team have made. Of course, that’s the public part of his plan. Mr. Nishimaru actually sees this as his chance to get revenge on the upper levels for the injustices done to him and his wife and has his own goals for this launch.
Does he succeed? Mangaka Hisae Iwaoka does throw in a few interesting twists to keep the suspense running high until the launch. While Mr. Nishimaru does seem thoroughly committed to his plan, his madness continues to progress to the point where his memories of his wife start to inspire doubts regarding the rightness of his cause. Iwaoka also introduces a new character, one of the project’s staff members who sees what their leader is really trying to do... and really likes it. He’s a creepy presence whose utterly conscienceless acts are made all the more disturbing by the utter glee he displays in carrying them out.
Though the activity regarding the launch takes up much of this volume’s time, the focus still remains on Mitsu and his friends. Every subplot, from Tamachi’s reluctance to return as a window washer to Sachi and Makoto’s budding romance is resolved and wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end. Mitsu remains much as he always has throughout this series: hard-working, patient and considerate of others almost to a fault. While he has been the connecting thread between all the characters of this title, the teenager never really grew or changed all that much throughout these seven volumes. Sure, he had that dream of seeing the sight of Earth that his father saw to provide narrative momentum for the series, but he remained a pretty vanilla character throughout its run. However, when the rest of the cast is as richly developed as they were here as a result of their connection to him it’s hard to hold this particular fault against the series that much.
There is some narrative contrivance to how the lower levels remain sealed off in the wake of the explosion. It has been established that even if individual members of the middle and upper levels look kindly upon the lower ones, the general feeling of these inhabitants is one of disdain for those of lower stature than them. Even so, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that they would be so utterly callous to react in the way they do here or have been able to keep such a big event under wraps. In an environment such as this, an explosion of that magnitude certainly would’ve been felt throughout and beyond its particular section. You’re left with the feeling that Iwaoka is simply stacking the deck against her protagonists to make for a more dramatic finish when the launch occurs and everything starts coming to a head.
Still, all is generally forgiven with the “five years later” final chapter as we find out what happened to everyone in the wake of the launch. It’s a gratifying wrap-up to a title that I initially criticized as being a bit too familiar and not enough like Makoto Yukimura’s excellent series “Planetes.” I was clearly wrong with that assessment (though my thoughts about Mitsu himself were apparently more on-the-mark than they should have been in the end) as this title evolved into its own quirky, character-driven entity with a style and approach all of its own. Iwaoka laments at the end of the series about how she wanted to stop all of the characters from leaving her in the end. I can’t say that my appreciation of “Saturn Apartments” has reached that level of obsessiveness, but I am still sad to see them go. This was a series that continued to grow more endearing to me as it went on and it’s one that I recommend not just to fans of character-driven science fiction, but good stories in general.