The Spring 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Clockwork Planet ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Funimation has just released the first episode of their dub of Clockwork Planet, which is currently debuts in the US every Monday night. I'll be honest and tell you up front that I don't think there was much a dub could do to make clockwork Planet to much worse. It's a sloppily produced show that's riddled with clichés and awkward storytelling, all which is based in one of the more absurd SF settings I've seen in a long time. It isn't offensively terrible, but it certainly holds itself to a low standard. Give the studio credit where it's due though: Funimation didn't just avoid making Clockwork Planet worse, but they actually managed to make improvements on the source material with this English adaptation. It still isn't particularly great, but I found this first episode to be noticeably more enjoyable in English than its original Japanese counterpart.
A lot of this has to do with the casting, which is spot on for our lead characters. Christopher Sabat is probably the most obvious choice here, since Halter is a dead ringer for an archetype Sabat has mastered over the years: Bald, somewhat surly, and skilled in punching people. Jeannie Tirado and Skyler McIntosh also do very well with their respective roles – Tirado does an excellent job capturing RyuzU's particular brand of charming and aloof subservience, while McIntosh imbues Marie with the appropriate level of spunk. Director Kyle Philips and writer Bonny Clinkenbeard turn in produce good work for the actors, making sure the script reads naturally while also staying true to the source material.
The most noticeably improved factor over the original Japanese, though, is Dallas Reid's turn as Naoto. I'm not huge a fan of the overly exuberant personality original seiyū Yoshino Nanjō gives the character – it comes across as just a bit obnoxious, which is really more the fault of the character than the actress. Reid manages to capture Naoto's energetic dorkiness while also giving him a tiny but effective boost in maturity and composure, which makes this first episode of Naoto freaking out about his new robot maid/girlfriend a bit easier to sit through.
Clockwork Planet is not great art by any means, and only occasionally does it wander into the territory of being “kind-of-sort-of good”, but I think Funimation is doing a good job with the material they've been given. This is a corny pulp adventure that isn't meant to be taken very seriously, and the cast and crew working on this dub are able to lend the slightest air of gravity to an otherwise forgettable episode. If they keep up the good work, I'd go as far to say that the dub will be the ideal way to watch the show for many viewers.
Here likes Clockwork Planet, a fanservice anime with a boy-child self-insert, crummy looking character animation, and a nonsense sci-fi setting. It spends its running time establishing that its elaborate goth-loli robot really wants to jump her prepubescent master's bones. Also the world is falling down around them, but enough of that, back to robo-boobs.
I feel like it's a requirement for a show like this to at least look good. If you're going to create a magical girlfriend series (she literally falls out the sky, like so many before her) and the primary purpose is to both titillate and amuse the audience, your characters can't look like garbage in every other shot. I also can't get over how awkward it gets when the lead character looks like he's, max, 12 years old. Seeing a junior high kid metaphorically probing a naked girl's insides and get his finger fellated isn't hot. It's super uncomfortable.
When the show isn't focusing on how thirsty RyuZU is for her underage master, it talks up its superficial sci-fi setting. The limited world building falls apart (ha) just be squinting too close at it. Basically humanity used up the remainder of what the Earth had left and yet one man was able to make the surface livable by turning it into a steampunk nightmare. Gears are everywhere, on everything, with no realistic purpose. It's an aesthetic choice but not one that is particularly unique nor is it handled in an attractive way. The old-timey car with gear teeth on the fender had me laughing.
Clockwork Planet is all about going back to what was big about 10 years ago. The deuteragonist Marie is also pint-sized with prominent blonde drill curls. She's a big wig in the world of robots but still falls victim to the “I forgot I was naked while I was in a hurry” joke. I, too, have forgotten I wasn't wearing underwear in the midst of an earthquake.
Without an interesting setting, attractive characters, or intriguing plot to hinge it on, I wasn't able to find a reason to revisit Clockwork Planet. Will the entire watch world collapse? Will Marie find her pants? Will Naoto bang his robot girlfriend? I don't really want to know.
Well, I sure hope you like gears. Clockwork Planet is flush with gears - gears on buildings, gears built into walls, gears wedged on top of other gears. Its design sensibilities echo the instinct that leads people to glue gears onto top hats, as if that will somehow overclock the hat's RPMs. At one point in this episode, a main character pulls out a watch that's composed of roughly a dozen gears, none of which seem to serve any purpose outside of adding to the overall gear density of the situation.
If you're not here for gears, there's unfortunately not much else to be here for. Clockwork Planet's first episode is a rote rundown of tired cliches, from structural ones like “battle without context leads into abrupt 'one month earlier'” to situational ones like the magical girlfriend falling from the sky, or the destined contract between male and female protagonists, or the love hotel misunderstanding, or the attempted rape that's interrupted by our gallant male hero. Clockwork Planet moves from stale dramatic setup to stale dramatic payoff, never imbuing any of its characters with personalities beyond their archetypal roles.
The show also isn't much to look at. Its self-parodying interpretation of the steampunk ethos would be enough of a problem on its own, but the show's characters designs are much worse. Blocky, inexpressive, and unattractive even when they're on-model, the show is hamstrung by the start by its poor design choices. Add in the lack of any real animation and the generally uninspired direction, and you've got a pretty questionable visual package.
All that said, this certainly isn't the worst show you'll run into this season. Tired though it may be, Clockwork Planet's plot moves pretty quickly through setup in this episode, and the base nature of the planet itself offers some unique secrets to explore. Clockwork Planet won't wow you, but if you're looking for an action-scifi package and can stand the mediocre visuals, it's a passable genre entry. Just remember to keep your fingers free of all those friggin' gears.
Based on the premise alone, this was one of the three or four series this season that I was most anticipating, as the idea of a clockwork planet sounded really cool. Hence I was a little disappointed to find out that the set-up of the series mostly looks like standard fare involving a powerful, lifelike female android becoming the devoted servant to a (often very young) male protagonist. That the android in this case happens to be conceited and sharp-tongued is only a slight twist on the premise, as that's merely transferring the Sharp-Tongued Maid trope onto an android. The one angle in which this series might break into some slightly fresher ground is that protagonist Naoto at this point actually seems more interested in her as an automaton than as a sexy girl. There is some story potential in that direction if the series is ambitious enough, though I'm not holding out high hopes there. Still, this is based on a light novel co-created by the man behind No Game No Life, so it's not out of the question that the story could aspire to more.
Fortunately the series doesn't have to rely on just Naoto and RyuZU. It's also got Marie Brequet, a guild member involved in maintaining the clockwork functioning of the Kyoto Block, as a virtual co-protagonist at this point. If I'm understanding correctly, it was her guild which lost RyuZU, which gives her a way to connect to (and possibly conflict with) Naoto in the long run. She seems like a solid, no-nonsense character – although she is apparently not above being fan service bait, too – and could probably carry the series as the full protagonist if she had to. More importantly, it's also got its clockwork visual theme. The scene involving Naoto poking into RyuZU's innards is a fascinating one for all of its intricacy, as is the clockwork nature of just about everything in the setting and the peculiar problems that can come with it. The theme is actually a bit overdone, but that doesn't prevent sharp scenes like those where RyuZU manifests her extra clockwork limbs from beneath her skirt.
The artistic effort for the series is actually hampered by how sharp the coloring is in many scenes; a more muted color scheme might have enhanced the vaguely steampunk feel of the setting a lot more. The imprinting scene, where RyuZU recognizes Naoto as her master, is also needlessly kinky, although the first episode makes it clear that the series isn't going to emphasize fan service but isn't above using it, either. Overall, the setting is interesting enough that I'll give the series another episode or two to prove itself, but so far it has yet to prove itself worthy of being watched.
I can't help but compare this to the first volume of the manga adaptation of the same light novel this is based on, largely because I read it two days ago. Sadly, the anime version of Clockwork Planet comes up lacking. Largely this is because of two distinct things: an increase in random fanservice and a decrease in protagonist Naoto's abilities and self-confidence. While I can understand the former even if I don't agree with it, the latter feels like a problem. What is the point of changing Naoto from a skilled cog-head who is working on building his own automaton at home to a guy who can't fix any of the clocks he's working with in the anime? There's also what I assumed to be a major plot point missing from the scene where Naoto fixes RyuZU, with the result that I'm really wondering how faithful either adaptation is to the source material.
That aside, Clockwork Planet's first episode is interesting enough not to be checking the timer every few minutes, but at the same time not all that thrilling. The base concept, that one thousand years ago the Earth simply ceased functioning and a master clocksmith known as Y recreated it as the eponymous clockwork planet, sounds like a steam/cyberpunk hybrid dream. Now, of course, things are starting to break down, because nothing can last forever no matter who made it. The problem is that the Meisters Guild, which is comprised of the best clockwork engineers in the world, has been called in to fix the Kyoto Grid when the powers that be don't actually want them to do it. Is there some sort of doomsday cult lurking within the military government? Why would they want Kyoto destroyed? Figuring that out is likely to be the major plot once pint-sized engineer Marie, her bodyguard Halter, Naoto, and RyuZU manage to save the city.
As plots go, neither saving Kyoto nor stopping a group of lunatics who want to end the world is all that bad. The problem thus far is how we're getting there. Naoto's extraordinary hearing – giving him a reason to actually wear his headphones all the time – allows him an almost intuitive understanding of machinery that's particularly interesting, and the fact that he revived RyuZU, a highly advanced automaton, indicates that there's skill to go along with it. Marie is less interesting and more annoying as a character (and so is RyuZU, actually), but you can really see where a team is being built that will be able to both do and correct some serious damage. But the fanservice, the rushed pacing, and the not-great character designs make it so that getting to the good parts feels like it might not be worth it. I think I'll stick with the manga on this one.
I'll say this much for Clockwork Planet: it's not afraid to go all in on some of the oldest anime plot points in the book. Its magical girlfriend character literally plummets out of the sky in a clockwork coffin and lands in the protagonist's apartment. This episode also treats us to the introduction of a pint-sized genius girl and a showdown with some expendable street punks in front of a love hotel. The main character even does a risk-reward assessment of whether or not it's worth being killed by evil henchmen in order to hang out with his new automaton girlfriend. This is a straightforward interpretation of the old action-harem hybrid formula, so take it or leave it.
The show is also trying really hard to be cool with its “clockpunk” (I guess it can't be steampunk if there's no steam power) visual style. The bad news is that it doesn't quite work. While the visual of a planet made out of interlocking gears is actually kind of neat, things start to go downhill from there. The urban environments are largely composed of ordinary buildings with gears glued onto their roofs, which seems pretty lazy to me. The use of CG for most of the mechanical details isn't terribly impressive either, though the overall level of animation quality suggests that drawing all of those tiny parts by hand was never a realistic option.
The characters all fall into obvious roles and archetypes, which may explain why none of them are all that interesting at the moment. You've got your standard nerdy hero, the unstoppable robot girl with no common sense, the feisty prodigy girl, and the overworked bodyguard. They're all characters we've seen plenty of times before, and the writing has yet to do much to distinguish them from the genre crowd. The one bright spot is that no one has ventured into supremely annoying territory so far. This is a generic collection of heroes, but at least it's a tolerable one.
I'm not nearly generous enough to say that Clockwork Planet is off to a promising start, but there's some hope for it. As ridiculous as the premise may be, it does at least leave room for the story to branch out into more original territory. If it can come up with satisfying answers for how and why this gear-happy world reached its current state, then this might be a journey worth taking. Don't expect anything more than a basic genre piece, but at least Clockwork Planet has some signs of life in its world building.
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