Episodes 1-2

by Nick Creamer,

How would you rate episode 1 of
planetarian (ONA) ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
planetarian (ONA) ?

It's been a long road for Planetarian. The anime's source material is over a decade old at this point - released back in 2004, it was Key's fourth visual novel, following up on much longer titles like Kanon and Clannad. Planetarian was actually a kinetic novel, meaning it offered no choices to the viewer - you simply clicked through and let a story unfold with words, images, and sound. As such, its anime contains none of the route-wandering that often defines visual novel adaptations. It has a focused premise, and it is determined to explore that premise from top to bottom.

Planetarian's conceit is a simple but inherently poignant one. The robot Yumemi Hoshino works at a department store's rooftop planetarium, where she guides customers and advertises the day's screenings. Unfortunately, Yumemi's department store has suffered a downturn lately - the entire city she lives in has been biologically bombed into a desolate ruin. The world she was born into no longer exists, and now she advertises daily star-watching adventures to an audience of dust and rubble. Her home is a standing tomb.

Into this sad little world stumbles the Junker, a man mostly interested in scavenging the bones of Yumemi's city. Initially suspicious of (and then just annoyed by) Yumemi, he ultimately ends up helping to repair her star projector. He has little to gain from helping this robot, but for all his pragmatism, something compels him to stay by her side. It's the kind of premise you'd expect from a company whose name is basically synonymous with the nakige (“crying game”) brand. A sad, lonely robot in the post-apocalypse feels almost too on-the-nose as far as pathos generators go - but so far, Planetarian is definitely making it work.

Much of the anime's success has to do with how gracefully Yumemi's nature works on multiple levels. The narrative never has to oversell the tragedy of her position; the inherent disconnect between her upbeat salesman's pitch and the broken world around her does most of the talking. Yumemi is programmed to be accommodating of customer needs, but always firmly dedicated to promoting the next planetarium screening. As such, her dialogue often comes off like a natural plea for help - as the Junker pokes distractedly through her home, she plies him with coupons so he might stay and watch the show, or talks about the many stores he could visit while waiting for a screening. Yumemi's programming gives her a sympathetic “personality” without the show having to add any overt tragic complications.

The Junker also contributes to Planetarian's harsh but romantic tone. I don't mean romantic in terms of actual relationships; more than that, there's a romance in the way Planetarian depicts the world. Explaining the death of Yumemi's city, the Junker at one point states that “those who survive now have no interest in things like stars.” But everything about the Junker reveals the lie of that statement, from his treasured constellation locket to his choice to help Yumemi repair her projector. The Junker's choices reflect the necessity of hope in a time of despair - his decisions may lack in pragmatism, but pragmatism is not enough to keep the spirit alive.

The fact that Planetarian's tragedy is baked into its premise works hugely in the anime's favor. Nothing has to be oversold here - no trucks crash into lonely girls, no sudden illnesses prompt tearful goodbyes. Even flourishes that might naturally seem maudlin, like Yumemi's longing for the ability to dream, fit neatly into the story's overall thematic flow. Yumemi might not be physically capable of dreaming, but she is living in a dream - her daily existence is a play-acted fantasy, and the Junker's decision to help her is a testament to the value of idle dreams.

The short series' aesthetics are up to the task of conveying its drama, though not much more than that. The highlights are the faded backgrounds, which provide an inherent counterpoint to Yumemi's upbeat recitation of screening times and special events. Yumemi's own character design is a bit much; marked by giant hair-circles and an outfit two degrees short of a maid costume, it hearkens back to a busier era of cute girl character designs, where charm points were loud and accessories many. Her design is clearly intended to act as a contrast to the crumbling city, but I feel it goes too far into the specific peccadilloes of its era's designs, making it that much harder to believe in the world as presented. The show's animation is also just functional, neither visibly limited nor strong enough to elevate either character through purposeful character acting.

Overall, I am very much enjoying Planetarian. I appreciate a story that understands the scope of its own aspirations; Planetarian has a simple core idea and is firmly dedicated to exploring that idea's nooks and crannies. There's an oddly charming rapport between the show's two leads, and the tight focus on a few days spent mostly in one room creates a natural sense of familiarity and intimacy. These leading personalities lend the show a strong identity; you may have seen some sad robots before, but this is a sad robot to look out for. Planetarian is a small story told with care.

Overall: A-

planetarian is currently streaming on Funimation.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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