The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide Planet With
How would you rate episode 1 of
Planet With ?
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How was the first episode?
After finishing the first episode of Planet With, I have to confess that my prevailing feeling is relief. Planet With is essentially the personal baby of mangaka Satoshi Mizukami, who along with drawing the manga version of this story is also working on series composition and even storyboards for the anime itself. I love love loved Mizukami's prior Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, and so I knew that the theoretical ceiling for a Mizukami-penned anime was extremely high. But given this show's ambiguous and not necessarily inspiring previews, I was terribly worried that we were finally going to get our Mizukami anime and it'd turn out to be a bust. Well, based on this first episode at least, those fears are unfounded - Planet With captures a great deal of what makes Mizukami's work so compelling, and offers one of the strongest season premieres so far in the process.
Likely the most immediately apparent quality of Mizukami's work is its surreal, often deadpan weirdness, and Planet With is plenty weird. The sequence of a giant humanoid cat called “Sensei” eating an entire lettuce head with its human teeth speaks for itself, but there's an overarching tone of alternately endearing and menacing “off-ness” that permeates this whole episode. One of Mizukami's great tricks is that he consistently plays that weirdness against a mundanity and sincerity of emotion that highlights both the beauty and absurdity of life itself, and that too is readily apparent throughout this episode. The ridiculous appearance of this show's “monsters” makes them simultaneously silly and off-putting, but the thoughtful dialogue and tonal subtlety of what happens within those monsters is such a payoff that I feel like it's better not to ruin it.
It's abundantly clear that Mizukami is still fascinated with both the ways we construct our identities and the ambiguous concept of heroism, as well as more invested in the emotional substance of his characters' selfhoods than whether they could beat each other in a fight. “Battles as articulation of ambiguous, unhappy emotional truth” is extremely my jam, and Planet With's mix of stark imagery, brutally intimate emotional catharsis, and moral ambiguity are already giving me plenty to chew on.
In terms of execution, Planet With isn't the most smoothly animated production, but its consistently strong storyboards, distinctive designs, and evocative lighting do a great deal of heavy lifting. The show's tone benefits greatly from this episode's moody compositions and consistently subdued colors, with different scenes alternately evoking the mundanity of school life or the uncertain menace of this world's supernatural variables. There were also some pretty kinetic exchanges between the show's big CG robots, but the CG models overall leaves something to be desired. On the whole, Planet With looks a little rough around the edges, but what it lacks in polish it makes up for in visual invention and regularly striking compositions.
Mizukami's works are like very little else in manga and anime, and so far, Planet With is doing a fine job of demonstrating what makes them so idiosyncratic and worthwhile. From its intriguingly ambiguous worldbuilding to its cutting character moments and evocative compositions, Planet With is already stuffed with rewards, and I have every confidence the story will only get more gripping from here. Definitely check out this wonderfully strange show.
This show is either going to be a brilliant piece of animation or a total disaster, and at the moment I have no idea which of those two outcomes is more likely. Planet With somehow manages to make a big first impression without really committing to anything from a narrative perspective. For all the conflict that unfolds, there's no clear distinction between hero and villain; Soya is the ostensible protagonist, but conventional logic would classify his bizarre roommates as antagonists since they're making him fight the people who are protecting the city. Unless, of course, those transforming superheroes aren't protecting the city at all, and the creepy flying monstrosities are actually trying to do something good. That's enough ambiguity to give any reasonable person a headache, but at the moment I'm having fun trying to puzzle my way through it.
I'll say this much for Planet With: it does a nice job of piling on the plot twists and surreal imagery without making too big a deal out of it. Most mecha-themed shows, especially those with grand thematic ambitions, tend to take themselves a bit too seriously, but there's a sense of humor (perhaps even self-parody) in the way this episode unfolds. At the same time, the series avoids the temptation to lean too far in the opposite direction; there's still a sense of purpose behind all the crazy visuals, and even the absurd opening scene of Soya and his roommates sitting down for breakfast is presented in such a matter-of-fact way that there's no room left for the audience to question it. For a show as weird as this one, that ability to calmly keep the plot rolling along is a good advantage to have.
Of course, this episode is so chaotic and unpredictable that it only really has me hooked on an intellectual level. As much as I want to know what's going on, I don't have any emotional connection to the characters yet. Soya's amnesia makes him a bit of a blank slate apart from his burning desire to eat meat, his roommates are completely inscrutable, the class rep seems almost too normal for this story, and it's hard to pin down the hero team without knowing more about the larger conflict. If you're looking for a story that immediately goes for the viewer's heart, Planet With may not have much to offer for now; its appeal is directed straight at the brain.
Regardless of whether it ultimately soars or crashes, this series is worth keeping an eye on. When so many new shows play it safe by adhering closely to genre conventions, an exception this bold is noteworthy for its existence alone. For what it's worth, this premiere does more things right than wrong, so I'm inclined to be optimistic about its long-term prospects.
Planet With is exactly the kind of anime I needed this season, scratching the itch for a madcap and willfully ridiculous action/sci-fi romp in a way that not even FLCL 2 has managed just yet. I was on board with this show the moment I realized that our hero Souya had a giant bipedal Cat Thing for one of his guardians, and I was even more on board when the city got attacked by the giant UFOs with the kanji for “Peas” scrawled across them, only to have a team of Super Sentai esque robot fighters come in to save the day. Does it all make perfect sense after this premiere? Absolutely not, but given how confidently this nonsense was executed, I'm inclined to give Planet With the benefit of the doubt, at least for now.
What makes this first episode work so well for me is that it manages to nail that intentionally absurd tone while still clearly laying out the characters and their initial relationships. Souya has amnesia, but Ginko the Maid and the Cat Sensei are manipulating him to their own ends, which involve stealing the powers of the sentai fighters and probably also the UFOs. Souya himself is a fairly stock protagonist, but he's written with enough charming haplessness that it works; his desperate scream of “Bathroom!” as he runs into the fray late in the episode manages to be dumb, funny, and relatable all at once.
The dreamlike flashbacks that occur when you get too close to the UFOs also give the episode some bonus points for style. This is also the primary way we get to know Hideo, one of the members of the fighting squadron and the main opponent that Souya squares off against later. It's a bit cheap to cram in his tragic “mom died in a fire, so I became a firefighter” backstory all in one go, but the sequence is done well enough that I did end up feeling for the guy, which is impressive given how little screen time he gets before duking it out with Souya's Cat-Bot.
If I have any real complaints about the episode, it's that the CG mechas and the fight scenes are just a bit too frenetic for my liking. They communicate the heightened power and speed of the two robots, but there's also not enough time to savor the blows exchanged between them. It isn't enough to ruin the episode, but it does drag down the overall experience just a bit. Nevertheless, Planet With has its hooks in me, and I'll definitely be sticking with it this summer to see how it turns out.
I was really torn between a 3.5 and a 4 for this episode because while it's interesting, there's just so much going on that it teeters on the edge between “fascinating” and “totally confusing.” I think it pulls together well enough in the end to merit that extra .5, though, and I'm definitely curious to see where things are going, if only because I know from reading Satoshi Mizukami's manga that he has a way with plot twists and subverting your expectations.
That's the most intriguing part of Planet With so far – ostensible protagonist Soya is tasked by the weird giant blue cat and maid girl Ginko with fighting against the superheroes protecting his town. What that means is probably nowhere near as clear-cut as Soya is evil and the heroes are good or vice versa. There are shades of gray blending here, all of which are doubtless linked to not only Soya's amnesia, but also to the giant flying teddy bears that suddenly appear all over the world. To look at them, you'd immediately call them a threat, because damn are those things creepy – human arms protruding from their bases, human ears and noses stuck to the torsos, and ears that appear to have teeth in them make for nightmare fuel. But when they “attack” the bears just seem to calm people down, to remind them of home, family, and regrets they may have either from the past or in the future. In other words, the bears would seem to promote peace, making the “peas” written on their fronts more like the silly “Give Peas a Chance” bumper stickers than an actual promotion of the vegetable. So if the heroes are fighting against someone who just wants peace, then what does that make them? And more importantly, if they find out that the bears aren't evil, will they stop?
All of this assumes, of course, that the bears really DO want peace and aren't trying to enslave humanity or something. But it appears that the heroes may have been responsible for the deaths of Soya's parents, which begs the question of what makes a hero and to whom they're answerable. Throw in a character whose last name, Takamagahara, is the name for the land of the gods in Shinto mythology, and there are some interesting themes building here. The main question is whether or not the series can smooth itself out so that its plot points aren't tripping all over each other. If it can do that, this may be a sci fi show to keep an eye on.
I'll definitely give this new title from the creator of Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer credit for one thing. It's not the “same old thing” as other mecha series – or pretty much any other series, for that matter. This first episode is so bizarre that I'm not quite sure what to make of it after only one episode.
Some of the elements are standard, at least. Ginko has dreams of another world, amnesia, and he's a new transfer student who's clearly caught the interest of class rep Nozomi, which she claims is because she's “been there, done that” on being the new transfer student struggling to make friends, although I don't buy that as the only reason. (She is featured prominently in promotional art, so she's apparently going to be a core cast member.) However, there are some decidedly abnormal elements too, such as Ginko being awoken by a maid in an apartment much too small for one and of course, the giant anthropomorphic cat who chomps on a whole cabbage in a startlingly unnerving early scene. Then there's the UFO, which mostly looks like an immense teddy bear but has multiple human arms sticking out of its base. Missiles striking it turn into stuffed incarnations of themselves, and an energy field it emits sends one pilot on a memory trip that convinces him to abandon the mission and immediately go back home. That's one hell of a defensive strategy.
Things get weirder when the diverse bunch of heroes show up and manifest non-traditional mecha designs (are those teddy bear heads on them?) to attack the UFO. Ginko isn't one of them, because his role is quite different. He's actually meant to oppose them, not fight with them, and he does so by confronting one of the heroes (who went through his own trip down memory lane while infiltrating and destroying the UFO) with his own cat-themed mecha, which he enters by getting eaten FLCL-style. He's understandably skeptical of the maid and her motivations, but decides at the end that he has to defeat the heroes anyway.
In other words, the first episode ends without the story being clear about who's on what side. Are the maid and the cat actually the bad guys manipulating the hero? How much of this is supposed to be taken as a joke is also unclear, as many parts of the episode don't seem light-hearted and yet there's a humanoid cat and teddy bear UFOs with humanoid arms. Mecha designs are also a far departure from the norm and animated with some slick CG, though human characters are much more ordinary in appearance.
Yeah, I'll definitely be watching more of this one, if for no other reason than to find out what the hell is actually going on.
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