So much more.
The only thing more confusing than the existence of visual novels is the fucking awful fanbase that tend to be behind the popular ones, who will chastise you to no end for being a filthy casual who didn’t play the game if you so much as sneeze on the anime adaptation of their messiah. I mean when a video game to movie adaptation turns out horrible, everyone is united in declaring its poor quality. And when a JRPG to anime adaptation turns out horrible, the fans cry about how it ruined the game and that anyone within a ten-mile radius of their tears should play the damn thing and ignore this tarnish on its legacy. But whenever a visual novel to anime adaptation graces our presence and follows the game’s story closely (preferably with decent production), suddenly the fans ignore the obvious faults that come when you remove the player interaction and the casuals hate the company itself for being involved.
And I don’t understand why. Visual novels are video games as well. They still require player interaction to get through them, and most of them make “you” the main character so that you can sympathize with what’s going on by default, even if what’s going on is a padded load of balls and the only interaction you’re doing is a bunch of mouse clicks. If we concede to the common train of thought that all video game to movie/anime adaptations suck, it should stand to reason that all visual novels going through the same motions will suck too. And the reason why they suck should be obvious. It’s because they remove the one powerful link between man and machine that allows us to overlook the fact that XCOM’s story at the end of the day is just another man vs. alien conflict in the process of getting adapted. I’m sure the Plastic Memories visual novel will be barrels of fun, much unlike the atrociously awful anime we got, since we’re actually playing as Tsubasa in that and thus are able to sympathize with…bwahahaha! Yeah, not happening. Not unless they incorporate Mario Galaxy controls into that thing.
So let’s focus on the visual novel (technically kinetic novel) anime I’m looking at this time. Planetarian is part of Key’s attempt to get their remaining games adapted into anime now that every single one of their major titles has had a chance to shine (most of them, twice), and whilst Rewrite ended up getting the full series treatment from the morons who brought you Grisaia, their much smaller work was handed off to David Productions’ non-Jojo team presumably because they were the only major studio around who still has a small team in the first place. The original source material is actually pretty damn short given the original gaming novel could be finished in the same amount time it’d take to get through Fate/Stay Night’s prologue, and whilst expanding on it is clearly an option that most anime studios would do in order to get on broadcast TV, I think the recent reaction to Batman: The Killing Joke’s adaptation has shown that even legendary (if very old) source material can get really easily ruined when you go that route. So instead, Planetarian gets five episodes (and a movie adaptation of that light novel that I know nothing about and thus can’t judge in any way until it comes out) of varying lengths released on the net, and I’m reviewing another summer 2016 anime when the season isn’t even halfway done.
The plot is focused on a nameless human known as a junker as he tries his best to survive in a post-apocalyptic world of constant rain and robots that will massacre you on sight that has formed as a consequence of humanity’s constant hunger for war, depletion of natural resources, and all that other shit Trump denies is a problem in his platform. Whilst exploring a ruined city one day for supplies, he discovers a moe robot girl named Yumemi in a domed planetarium that still has a limited supply of electricity, and despite the world going to shit for more than three decades, Yumemi’s programming makes her unable to comprehend that people aren’t exactly going to be lining up to join her tour anytime soon and the scientists who made her probably look like they went through the third world war at this point in time. As such, she constantly pesters the one human she’s ever going to have contact with, and said human is eventually going to have to cave into her demands because moe is a rare thing in a dying world (unless said dying world is Danganronpa’s I mean).
I’m sure most of you guys know my problems with visual novel anime by now. In a non-interactive medium, they’re just a bunch of disjointed set pieces and an overloaded cast strung together by a tissue-thin plot that’s more focused on introducing these elements rather than telling a story with momentum and pacing we can’t control. I don’t care how likable the characters are or how interesting the world seems to be. I will not accept character-building/world-building on their own terms as acceptable substance, and unfortunately the majority of anime fans seem to have no problem with that, which is a large part of the reason why stuff like Clannad (as well as a lot of anime and live-action shows in general) gets the acclaim that it does, and the business practice gets to stay as a result. As such, I never go into these things with any enthusiasm, resigned to the fact that these writers don’t understand their stuff is not made for the non-interactive crowd, and continue lambasting the results on this blog until they learn to take a hint and stop blighting the animu with their presence. Of course, I’m going to have to eat my words a little regarding Planetarian, because it’s actually quite good.
The phrase “less is more” really helps to define this show’s quality. Because of the nature of its release, each episode can be as long or short as it needs to be, ensuring that the pacing will never be a problem whilst detailing each self-contained chapter of the tale about a handsome-looking soldier and his moe robot companion. And whilst the show is very dialogue-driven like all anime based on computer novels, Planetarian actually does a pretty good job of making the dialogue contribute to the story rather than just build it up. Every single conversation between the only two characters in this show actually has interesting things to say regarding finding the last remnants of humanity in a world run by artificial intelligence, as well as defining the limits of what artificial intelligence can actually do given their programming amidst the character-building banter in order to give things a certain amount of weight. You won’t find any anime meta-humor or dreary slice-of-life in these moe-infested ruins. You’ll just find bleakness and attempts to fight it.
The visuals in this show are also pretty impressive. They’re not the most expressive things in the world, but given David Production’s usual luck with animation quality, I’m surprised they put as much effort into this as they have. The actual projector scene that’s apparently supposed to be one of two highlights of the original novel (you know what the other highlight is) is not only beautiful, but it really did a good job of sucking me into another world of lavish emotions and escapist freedom to the point that I could probably write an entire post on that scene alone. I’m not kidding when I say that that one scene serves as one of the few reminders regarding why I prefer animation above all other mediums despite my preference towards the noticeably higher quality construction that goes on in the live-action scene (especially these days). My love is rooted all in the unique forms of expressions the medium is capable of, and before people get smart, I don’t mean the “funny” kind that Shonen Jump has popularized. Oh, and thank god that Planetarian never goes for facial gag humor either. I’ve already punched enough holes in my TV monitor trying to block out the exaggerated faces in Rewrite.
I am a bit iffy on Yumemi’s clumsiness throughout the show. It can be a bit repetitive, and I have a hard time picturing that a robot can actually trip as often as she can. Also, there’s no real reason for her to be moe in the first place other than because of fan appeal. I understand she can’t be a female version of Bender because her character is supposed to be a hopeful counterpoint to the Junker’s entire lifestyle, but there’s a difference between being a clueless saint and being a clumsy fool. Yes, believe it or not, those aren’t synonyms for each other. I know, I’m shocked too.
Also, this is a Key anime, so of course the story ends in tragedy. And before people question me further, I’m referring to the perma-death tragedy that can’t be resetted because magic doesn’t actually exist in this universe unless you count the circumstances the writer contrives to get us to that conclusion. Without wishing to spoil anything, let’s just say that the penultimate episode sets up so many death flags that it outnumbers the number of flags you’d usually have to trigger to get on a certain visual novel girl’s route, and you can apply the “Thanks Obama” meme to the incident that causes events to spiral out of control. Murphy’s Law actually rears its ugly head several times throughout the series so at least it’s consistent on that front, but if the early episodes have that rule attacking the characters with a slap, the later episodes have it attack with a submachine gun.
I can’t say I personally felt much tragedy in that final episode, and not just because I saw it coming a mile away. I don’t know if it was the direction’s fault or the fact that I never found Yumemi all that interesting a character, but all I could do when “that” event occurred was nod my head whilst thinking “is it me, or is the music kinda happy? And boy, this scene is kinda long.” There wasn’t anything wrong with it on a writing standpoint per say and I get what the production team was going for in terms of when and when not to play the music, but it felt like they were holding back too much on the feels (which is ironic, I know), trying so hard to convince me that everything was going to be okay that I ended up buying it completely. I guess there’s only so much potential in tears you can wring out of your premise when it involves a happy go-lucky robot and a nameless soldier whose head we don’t get into too much. Or maybe I only feel for tragedies when it involves lovers, which our two leads were definitely not.
At the end of the day though, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed Planetarian. It’s not exactly a mind-blower in terms of post-apocalyptic drama and stories regarding AI, but it’s solid as a rock in all the important ways to the point that it feels fresh enough, and it serves well as a champion in regards to how to fight the format limits that plague most anime – particularly the broadcast ones – let alone as how to make a video game to anime adaptation that feels natural even if the end goal is to make fanboys cream their “Key coffee”-patterned pajamas. I know a lot of people haven’t actually watched this show for reasons that I’m not quite sure of, so if you’re one of them and you’re mildly curious, give it a shot. I mean the whole package is only about a hundred minutes long. By the time you’re finished with it, your younger cousin that you’re trying to convert to anime-ism still won’t be done with The Boy and the Beast.