The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
planetarian (ONA) ?
What is this?
Yumemi Hoshino is a robot who was created to cheerfully serve as hostess at the rooftop planetarium of a department store, but she got left behind when the city was evacuated due to a biological weapon strike. Nearly 30 years later, she awakens from Sleep Mode to attend her first customer in a long time: a man known as a Junker who came to the planetarium in search of food, medicine, or weapons, while fleeing the anti-personnel tanks still protecting the empty city. Yumemi is completely unaware that the city has become a “sarcophagus city” and tries to take care of the Junker like business as usual. Planetarian is based on a visual novel and can be found streaming on Funimation, Thursdays at 12:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Aw, nuts. This show is going to make me cry, I just know it. I have a huge soft spot for the image of an obsolete piece of technology still doing its job after everyone has forgotten about it, which I attribute to growing up in a family of engineers. Even cute little four-panel comics about lonely Mars rovers and deep-space probes are enough to turn me into a misty-eyed mess, so I doubt I'll be able to resist planetarian's robot sob story. Curse you, sad little moe android!
Post-apocalyptic stories live and die by their ability to create an immersive world, and planetarian does a heck of a job with its abandoned city. The buildings and interiors are just gray and shabby enough to look abandoned while still making it easy to imagine what the place might have been like when there were still people around. That ends up being important once we're introduced to Yumemi, as her cheerful assumption that customers will keep coming to the department store feels all the more tragic when we can easily imagine her working under normal conditions.
The two protagonists are almost too neatly matched to the roles they'll likely end up playing in the story. The anonymous Junker is very much the standard wasteland antihero, doing his best to conceal his soft side under a layer of gruff pragmatism. The guy is tailor-made to have his heart melted by Yumemi, who for her part manages to play the tragic heroine without being completely devoid of initiative. The improvised bouquet of spare parts suggests that she's at least resourceful enough to make do with what's at hand, and she has the presence of mind to realize that she's not quite working properly. The two of them are clearly meant to help “fix” one another, and I'm sure the series will play on that expectation to break a few hearts by the end.
It's all pretty manipulative when looked at from an objective standpoint, but I'll be darned if it doesn't work anyway. That last conversation as the Junker prepares to leave the building contains some very poignant lines of dialogue, and planetarian has already crammed more emotional moments into its first episode than many shows manage over the course of a season. Its shamelessly tragic tone won't work for everyone, but planetarian seems to be just about pitch-perfect for the kind of story it's trying to tell.
There's something inherently heartbreaking in this episode, which doubtless has something to do with its Key origins. The idea of a lone sentient being left behind in a dead city (I do love the term “sarcophagus city” that the show uses) without understanding that no one is coming back is depressing to say the least, and somehow Yumemi's unrelenting cheer and determination to do her job may be the first time I've really appreciated the “I'll do my best!” aesthetic.
That said, I found myself appreciating the set-up of the episode more than the plot of it. The idea of a big city abandoned by its residents due to a biological weapon attack is striking, and the idea of someone infiltrating that dead zone thirty years after the fact is appealing. I loved it in Coppelian and in a different form in Patricia A. McKillip's novel Ombria in Shadow, and I love it here, so I'm hoping that later episodes will feature more exploration of the city. That does seem likely, given that the final scene of this first of five is the explorer, who calls himself “a Junker,” presumably in reference to his job salvaging “junk,” turning around to Yumemi, whom he had just left repeating her pleas for someone to come see the show at the broken planetarium. Yumemi has no idea that no one else is coming, and certainly no one else who will treat her remotely kindly, as this unnamed man does. He's gruff, yes, and he did seem to know that there was a sentient robot in the city, as we see in a flashback, but he doesn't try to dismantle her for parts.
All of that aside, I did find myself getting annoying by Yumemi as the episode went on. She's sweet and adorable, yes, but after a while I sort of wanted to shake her and say, “No one is coming! Shut up!” Since the Junker appeared to share that sentiment, I have to assume that it was at least partially on purpose. She's the flower blooming in the ruins, a drop of sunshine where it just doesn't belong. The Junker seems like a gloomy enough fellow that he would find that annoying to a degree, but of course it is Yumemi's job to melt his stony heart, and presumably mine as well.
With so few episodes planned, Planetarian doesn't have much time to mess around. This episode really does get right to the point, and even if you have low moe tolerance, this format might make it work for you. The show looks beautiful in its juxtaposition of the Junker's rough-and-tumble exterior with the shabby elegance of the planetarium and Yumemi's perfect adorability, and for once the mood weather (it's sad, so it's raining!) works without feeling overdone. Planetarian is maintaining its delicate balance well in this first episode, and I look forward to seeing how it will proceed from here – even if I have a bad feeling that it might break my heart at its end.
Planetarian isn't messing around. Combining a bombed-out city, an abandoned robot, and a grizzly battle veteran, it seems to be aiming straight at the Sads jugular. Things are melancholy and bittersweet and all that somber jazz right from the start of this five-part series, and I'm certainly enjoying the ride.
A lot of this first segment's strength comes down to the very intimate framing. The first scene is a particular standout, as the robot Yumemi's first awakening and final meeting with her creators is conveyed from her own utterly credulous perspective. It's easy to see exactly where this story is going, but that doesn't matter - the beats are laid out quickly and intelligently, and the situation has enough inherent emotional pull to work regardless. As the episode continues, the decay of the city is an ever-present but unspoken background variable, clear in the show's dilapidated interiors and moments like Yumemi handing her “customer” a bouquet of gears and wires.
It's not surprising to learn Planetarian is based on a Key product, what with the lonely robot girl and vague scifi setting and everything. But Planetarian's source material is actually a short “kinetic novel” - it involves no choices, and just tells one brief, focused story. That seems to work strongly to this show's benefit; there's none of the heroine-introducing or lame humor that often characterizes visual novel adaptations (see this season's Rewrite if you want all of that jazz), and Planetarian gets right to the meat of its post-apocalyptic concept.
There's an inherent sadness in this robot's plight that's hard not to relate to, based largely in the dramatic intelligence of its design. Yumemi is designed to ferry customers into the planetarium, and so when her new friend tries to leave, she plies him with coupons and special offers, insisting the projector will soon be fixed. All of these are natural responses for a robot designed to make sales who isn't aware the world has ended, but they're also perfectly natural responses for an actual person trapped in that exact same situation. When everything has ended, we cling to the small things, even if we know we can't rely on them. The circumstances of the narrative make Yumemi's words feel human, even if they're based in programming that's also simple and clear.
I very much enjoyed Planetarian's first episode. The aesthetics weren't all that much to speak of, and Yumemi's design felt like a little much, but the core of the story is an extremely poignant idea. Between that and the weirdly endearing banter between the two leads, I'm eager to see where this story goes.
The most misleading thing about planetarian is its own credits list. When I see the words "Key visual novel," my mind immediately goes to Jun Maeda and his sadness-bound baby waifus that forever redefined moe for modern anime fandom.
But planetarian actually has nothing to do with Jun Maeda, created by a completely different team in 2004, a good couple years before the sad girls in the snow bishoujo boom that we associate with the company, and the difference in creative team immediately shows. Planetarian's lonely little robot girl hearkens back to a slightly older kind of moe from the late 90s, reflected in shows like Chobits, Ah! My Goddess, and Mahoromatic. Despite being programmed for simple thoughts and actions in a post-apocalyptic world that has forgotten her, Yumemi isn't infantilized or pushed to the heights of innocence-crushing emotion right away like her post-Maeda moe counterparts. She's doing her best to keep it together, acting as a responsible adult part-timer-bot, albeit "a little broken," as she puts it, using old electronics parts to create a bouquet for her first new customer in years when there are no flowers around to be had.
There's a subtle kind of sadness to this little robot girl's obsolescence, constant and confident in tone unlike the whiplash-driven comedy I associate with Maeda-style moe, which makes our on-edge scavenger protagonist's gradual relaxation around her all the sweeter. Unlike the high-school misanthrope leads we're used to these days, it seems like this guy has been through a lot and has good reason to keep his guard up. So he still hasn't warmed up to the clearly harmless department-store-bot by the end of the episode, but he's coming around, and even my crusty jaded heart melted into butter at the predictable-but-heartwarming growing chemistry between these two lost souls.
Since there's not much to this little two-character sob story, five episodes seems like the perfect length for a fulfilling adaptation, and if you're jonesing for a return to the more low-key moe heroines of yesteryear, the immediately endearing Yumemi's got your number.
Planterian was the fourth visual novel produced by Key (after Air, Kanon, and Clannad and before Little Busters!), but it languished for many years without getting an anime adaptation. This may have been because it had a gameplay time of only 4½ hours, which makes it by far the shortest of the Key productions and doesn't provide enough material to base a full-series anime production on it. A solution to that problem has finally arisen, and now it is streaming online as a five episode ONA mini-series. The episodes are also apparently going to be a little shorter than normal, as the first episode clocks in at under 19 minutes despite including a full closer.
The story being told is a simple and straightforward one, with only three characters appearing after the initial scenes and one of those only appearing in a brief flashback. About 90% of the episode focuses strictly on one or both of Yumemi and the unnamed Junker and shows how they come to meet. After an early action scene showing the Junker fleeing for his life from the anti-personnel tanks, most of the rest of the episode is just two long conversations between Yumemi and the Junker, one where she's trying to welcome him and one where she's trying (in vain) to show him a special planetarium show, though the projector is busted. Or rather, most of this is Yumemi talking to the Junker and him trying to decide whether or not she's too much of a bother to deal with.
This is the first (and to my knowledge only) time that Key has tried a post-apocalyptic setting, but that doesn't change the feel of the story so far. This still has all of the hallmarks of being a tragic tale, whether it's the bleak, uninhabited city or the nature of Yumemi herself. Because no one has been around for a long time to maintain her, she is starting to break down, which makes her functionally equivalent to a human girl with a terminal illness. Because the store will never see more customers and the planetarium will never have more guests, her raison d'etre is also gone, with her only saving grace being that she is blissfully oblivious to that. But that's also terribly sad, too, as is her cheerful (but also somewhat creepy) efforts to make a bouquet out of electronic parts since she cannot get access to actual flowers. It's painfully obvious that things are not going to end well for her.
In fact, I'm not sure at this point how the story is even going to fill up five full episodes, as this seems like a concept better-suited for a long (perhaps 40-45 minute) OVA. Still, a mere five episodes is not a big time commitment to get the full story experience and I am curious to see how making the tragic heroine be a robot will or won't affect the potential emotional content. My money is on the latter, as the mood is otherwise set up right and the technical merits have been pretty good so far.
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