Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Episodes 1-12 streaming
Soya Kuroi has lost his memories, but that's the least of his worries. Frankly, he can't even be sure his name is Soya at all - he lives with a maid and a giant cat, but he has no reason to believe that they're his real “family,” or that the things they're telling him are actually true. Particularly when giant, bizarre alien ships pop into space over his city, and Soya finds himself enlisted to fight - not on the side of the earthlings, but in support of the invaders. All Soya can truly believe in are the truths he finds for himself, as he struggles to weigh justice and compassion in a conflict that will decide the fate of not just the human race, but all sentient beings. Alliances will be made and broken, friends found and lost, and desperate beliefs tested to their breaking point in a story as epic as creation itself.
Mangaka Satoshi Mizukami first came to my attention via the much-loved manga Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer. Only published in english years after its Japanese release, the manga's long road to availability seemed like a hardscrabble echo of the story itself, a scrappy and heartfelt tale of coming to love first yourself, and then the world around you. Biscuit Hammer married quirky, profoundly compelling characters and dialogue to grand dramatic ambition, using Mizukami's keen eye for composition to make a very personal story about the end of the world. That manga never got an anime adaptation, but here in 2018, Mizukami is finally reaching the small screen via the strange and heartfelt Planet With.
It's a little tough to describe an overall Mizukami narrative, both because they spiral in such unexpected strange directions, and also because he so often crosses true drama with laugh-out-loud farce. But the basics of Planet With concern a boy named Soya, who awakes without memories in the company of a maid-outfit-wearing woman named Ginko and a humanoid cat-creature known only as Sensei. After a few surreal domestic scenes pass and some tentative school friendships are established, a massive, bizarre alien ship appears in the distance, proving itself impervious to all human attacks. Soya swiftly learns he is intended to fight in this war - but not on the side of humanity.
From there, Planet With's conflict spirals into a variety of passionate factions all fighting for their own conception of justice. The crux of Planet With's conflict concerns the fundamental ambiguity of a race like humanity - whether our continued evolution as a species will cause us to destroy other races, or whether we can embrace an “evolution of love” and come to peacefully coexist with the intergalactic community. As the battle escalates, alliances shift constantly, and full arcs rise to stunning climaxes before naturally pointing towards the next conflict. Planet With builds with the energy and scale of Gurren Lagann, all compressed into twelve tightly written episodes.
Though Planet With embraces many genres and runs through a vast array of conflicts, the fundamental strength of its character writing gives it a profound emotional solidity all throughout. Betrayals never feel unearned in Planet With; they emerge naturally from the evolving values of its characters, as they grapple with what they believe in, who they trust, and the kind of people they want to be. And all across these episodes, Mizukami litters constant poignant reflections on what it is to be a human, what we owe each other, the courage forgiveness requires, the importance of believing in a better future, and all number of other topics central to its ambitious, forward-thinking narrative.
Like Biscuit Hammer, Planet With is both a profoundly ambitious and deeply personal story, a story that acknowledges humanity's flaws while loving our potential all the same. The show contains multitudes; it shifts between a variety of genres, is suffused with plentiful poignant moments, and is lightened through Mizukami's playful sense of humor and visual design. Over time, these fragments and digressions build into a resounding, triumphant chorus espousing the importance of kindness. As one of the story's greatest characters says, “it is a far greater thing than justice to witness the harshness of the world and still remain kind.”
While Planet With's narrative expresses Mizukami's singular vision in the best way possible, the show's visual execution is unfortunately a bit more suspect. The good news is that Mizukami's very direct involvement on this project (he assisted on the show's storyboarding throughout) means that Mizukami's eye for visual composition and dramatic layouts is largely intact. Planet With is full of evocative single shots, and its playful character designs set it apart from most of its contemporaries. The show's cast is expressive, and every episode contains at least a few inspiring standout compositions.
Unfortunately, Mizukami's style of storyboarding is clearly more compatible with manga paneling than animation, which requires a specific understanding of how to sequence visual drama across time, not page space. There's a definite clumsiness to many of this show's shots, and sequences clearly intended to evoke massive scale often fail to truly convey that sensation. Additionally, the show relies on CG models for its fights that simply aren't that good, and whose clashes never feel particularly thrilling. The weakness of Planet With's CG means its fights are forced to rely more on emotional stakes than visual theatrics, and they succeed on those merits, but that doesn't make them less of a visual disappointment.
That said, I'm not sure it would really be a Mizukami production if it didn't possess a little visual scrappiness. The weakness of Planet With's CG is largely made up for through its charming overall aesthetic, and when a story is this good, full of characters this rich and conflicts this engaging and ideas this poignant, a little scrappiness is easy to forgive. I feel happier for having seen Planet With, and eager to share its kindness and insight with others. I feel this show strikes at the heart of what anime does best, illustrating the most intimate of feelings on the most epic of scales. Planet With is a truly great anime, and I urge you to give it a shot.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Emotionally and philosophically rich story that marries intimate character drama to bombastic scale battles
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