Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
At some point in the past, the Earth died its natural death. It was then rebuilt as a clockwork planet by the great clockwork engineer Y, and now, a thousand years later, things seem to be going well, with the world maintained by the Meisters, the most skilled clockwork engineers on the planet. But there are those who seem to want to end things for reasons unknown, and their schemes will draw talented student Naoto and Meister Marie together. Naoto has managed to revive another one of Y's clockworks, a highly advanced automaton named RyuZU, and somehow she will be essential to saving the world…
Clockwork Planet comes to us from the same author who created No Game, No Life, but the similarities are fairly sparse, limited mostly to the fact that the protagonist is an otaku. But high school student Naoto isn't into video games or anime – he's a clockwork otaku, always fiddling with gears, cogs, and machines or reading up on them, ultimately with the goal of completing his own automaton. He's aided by the fact that he has remarkable hearing; the usual analogy is that someone can hear a pin drop, but for Naoto, it would be more appropriate to say that he can hear the slightest clink of cog out of alignment, or the smallest change in the everyday sounds of the planet working.
There are plenty of sounds for Naoto to hear – the basic premise of the story is that at some point in the past the planet Earth “died,” which we can assume means ceased to support life, and a great clockwork engineer known only as Y rebuilt the entire planet as a clockwork one. Now everyday life goes on to the sounds of a clock ticking as Earth continues to be habitable. You can imagine that Naoto's skill at hearing when things aren't running smoothly or correctly would make him very valuable, although of course someone has to discover that he has it first. That comes by way of a mysterious automaton, which drops through the roof of his apartment (destroying the automaton he was building), silent and unmoving. Naoto quickly figures out that there's something blocking her gears, and when, with impressive confidence, he finds the obstruction and removes it, it turns out to be a ring. Doubtless this will be important later, but for now he just tucks it away somewhere.
That's the biggest issue with the story flow in this introductory volume – a lot of things are mentioned or shown only to be put away for later. Given that this is an adaptation of a light novel series currently in its fifth volume, it does make a certain amount of sense that plot points would be introduced and then shelved briefly. It becomes a problem when so many of them are thrown in and then not followed up on, which is what it feels like is happening here. Of course, some of them may simply be the result of the transition from novel to manga, such as Naoto's constant search for working gears. We see him digging through the garbage to salvage a single disc on his way home from school as he works to assemble his creations, but then when RyuZU lands in a coffin piled high with cogs and gears, he totally ignores them. Yes, RyuZU's landing has already destroyed his entire home and his projects, but for someone who will go dumpster diving to find parts to not even acknowledge the fact that an entire casket-full just landed at his feet seems out of character – especially if he can hear that something's wrong with the clockwork that came with it.
Marie's character fares a little better in terms of stability. While the brash, tiny girl character designation she's been given is a fairly tired trope, she stands out in terms of her determination and basic principles. When Marie realizes that she's been called in on false pretenses – and possibly with the intention of making sure she never leaves, at least not in one piece – she's upset not because her valuable time has been wasted, but because of the plans to sabotage the city of Kyoto. It's the other people she's concerned about, not herself, and even when she realizes that RyuZU's been dropped from the helicopter transporting her (apparently the automaton was in her family's care), she's still more worried about the city rather than furthering her family's goals or reputation.
RyuZU herself and some of the plot points around her are the most problematic. Although she's more of a goudere, a girl who wants to give her love interest what she thinks he wants/needs rather than actually asking him, which is a less-seen type, she still comes off as a bundle of familiar character traits with a little bit of awkward fanservice thrown in. (How does sucking on Naoto's finger “register” him as her master?) The fact that her last name is Yourslave is also an issue, although it is doubtless simply meant as a statement of her devotion. By the time she shows up at Naoto's school as a transfer student, however, her welcome is beginning to wear a little thin.
Kuro's artwork, based on Sino's original character designs, is heavy on the little details, which works well. While the panels are generally large and easy to read, paying attention to the smaller signs of how Naoto is bullied by his classmates and the intricacy of the machinery makes the book more enjoyable. The biggest problem is really the Meisters' uniforms – who thought that long, flowing coats with an admittedly cool tooth cut to the hems was a good idea when you work with machinery?
Clockwork Planet's first volume shows the potential to develop into an interesting take on the steampunk genre. While it does succumb to some of the more worn tropes of shounen action, it also raises some questions worth pursuing, especially since Naoto and Marie haven't even teamed up yet. If you're a steampunk purist, this probably won't work for you, but if you're looking for a different take on powerful teens saving the world with their robomaid, Clockwork Planet's manga is worth giving a chance.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B-
+ Lots of clues to the greater mystery, Naoto's skills don't overwhelm his personality, some nice details in the artwork
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