I’m presently midway through both Planetes and Tacoma and they have strikingly similar themes - they’re both near-future stories set in Earth’s orbit, with a concern for the experience of the daily grind of capitalism and (more so in Tacoma’s case) labour struggles, with sketches of an extensive future political history with different countries and international bodies.
They both have a great deal of concern for getting space physics down realistically, and they are both less than optimistic futures - though they depict humanity having spread into space, it is from deeply unequal capitalist worlds.
Tacoma tends to touch on international politics only lightly, mentioning a variety of renamed states and split up states on various characters’ passports and other media; it’s only really when it happens to affect a character’s background that we learn anything about the wider world (for example, EV St. James is active in union politics in “Cascadia First Nations” which covers parts of former Canada and USA, and Andrew Dagyab fled a genocide in Tibet taking place in the 2050s). Planetes deals with it a little more explicitly; there is some kind of supergovernmental body called INTO which operate the space cops and appear to undertake imperialist wars, and is generally shown in a very negative light, and the struggle of a particular tiny sanctioned and impoverished country to build a space industry is the subject of one episode.
I think one interesting way they differ is that Tacoma, having come out nearly 15 years after Planetes, places a great deal more emphasis on augmented reality, AI and the loss of jobs due to automation - concerns that seem more relevant than in 2004.
Both portray space hardware quite similarly. In Tacoma, we read that orbit is reached by a space elevator built in Singapore, while in Planetes, the standard seems to be SSTO shuttles. Outside of that, both portray similar ISS-styled ring-shaped space stations with counter-rotating segments for spin gravity and a core where people move around in freefall.
However, in Planetes, computers are much as they are today, used for office work and video calls - there is no question of AI, and spaceships are piloted by humans. By contrast, in Tacoma, the loss of jobs due to total automation is a major theme, and there’s a tension that the human crew in space are basically ‘obsolete’ and really only sticking around due to a union victory leading to a law requiring human oversight and banning full automation. There is no sign of AI in Planetes, but in Tacoma, an AI with a very similar voice to 2001′s HAL-9000 talks to the crew extensively.
Both deal with settings where loyalty to a company is expected, whether because that’s the culture in Japan, or because in the future of Tacoma, companies have developed a company-specific ‘loyalty’-based economy that keeps employees essentially forced to spend their lives working for a company lest their savings evaporate. Tacoma’s target is Silicon Valley style capitalism, and although he’s only mentioned once in the game as a past president of South Africa (the horror), it’s pretty clear that ‘celebrity’ CEOs like Elon Musk are who’s inspiring the character of (forgot his first name) Venturis, who you occasionally hear recorded on in-game radios smoothly explaining why of course his company has to fire his employees and automate their jobs.
I think Planetes feels on the whole more optimistic, with a big emphasis on moving on from grief and finding meaning in your life, whereas Tacoma is pretty much straight-up dystopian. But I think it’s very cool to encounter them at pretty much the same time and I’d love to have more near-future vaguely leftist space stories lol