With the summer season basically over at this point, I’ve had some time to think about the summer as a whole — and in the end, I can’t say any show impressed me nearly as much as Planet With. In a season full of titans like My Hero Academia and, er, the actual Attack on Titan, Planet With was the scrappy little engine that could, offering heartrending drama and colossal battles in a lean twelve episode frame. And yet, I never really saw that much buzz for Planet With around the internet, and feel the show still hasn’t quite broken through in the fandom’s eyes. So as the season ends, I offer my final recommendation for what I feel might be a genuine classic, and is either way absolutely worth your time. The things this show accomplishes in just one season are truly staggering, and if you haven’t devoured it yet, you should count yourself very lucky. Please watch Planet With if you like… – Nick Creamer
Every once in a while, we get that anime that’s beloved by the critics, but fails to become a hit amongst the fandom. And during the Summer 2018 season, we’ve actually got two: Revue Starlight and Planet With. The former has managed to achieve some cult popularity online and with my friends, but the latter hasn’t gotten anything more than a mild score boost on MAL despite Crunchyroll and ANN trying their best to get this show known due to how much they love it. There are people who unironically think Angels of Death is worth watching despite the fact that we have not learned anything about the characters after that godawful cliffhanger ending that have stated that they don’t find the show interesting. They either think the cult fanbase is overhyping the appeal or they just can’t relate to what’s going on.
As for deciding which side is in the right on these issues, honestly…I don’t think it’s worth caring about.
It’s not a new thing to say that there are just too many anime being made these days for all of them to get their time in the sun, but even back then, there have been quite a few good cult anime that never really broke into the mainstream as well as quite a few cult anime that didn’t deserve to become a hit either, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. I don’t really care one way or the other whether a show is popular or not as long as I personally enjoy it or if it has some artistic value that I can use as an example in a “How Not To Do This” guide. Talking about your shared experiences regarding a particular anime is frankly not an activity I see the appeal of. I’m more a fan of talking about my experiences and letting the recipient go “wow, that sounds weird”.
And in my experience, a lot of the cult anime that the elite members of the fandom have been trying to say is “best of the season” have the same hit-and-miss ratio as anime in general. For every one that’s actually good, you have at least two where the reasoning given for its positive quality is only applicable if you massively reduce your standards to incredibly specific conditions that literally no one but you would be able to relate to, or enjoy constant positive hints of positive substance on the horizon whilst ignoring the lack of positive substance now. And of the ones that are actually of decent quality, there’s the risk that it’s too throwaway to have lasting value, ultimately doesn’t succeed at the important things it sets out to accomplish, or won’t age particularly great over time.
I’ve dealt with all of the issues that come when deciding whether an anime is good or not for years now. My favorites list has had anime come and go overtime. I’ve had to change how I actually watch anime and converse with the fanbase several times to make more accurate judgments. And I’m always going to run the risk of anything I write regarding an anime to become dated, as they’ve always been posts regarding “how I feel now”, and my feelings can and do change because I am a human being who’s more open-minded than some people give me credit for. Or maybe I’m too open-minded. Nevertheless, regardless of my feelings on Planet With as a whole, I’m not interested in getting other people to watch it; especially since if the big anime sites can’t convince people, I sure as hell have no chance. I do want to talk about it though, because it’s a pretty interesting series, and not just for the reasons the fans give.
Those of you who only read manga from Shonen Jump or only know of a series because of an anime adaptation is probably unaware of who Satoshi Mizukami is. Well have you heard of the series, Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer? That really acclaimed manga that a lot of people have been wanting an anime version of for a while now and is most definitely name-dropped whenever people talk about their favorite Japanese comic books? He’s the original author for that, and the reason that matters is because he’s the main creator for Planet With as well, spending years on series composition and storyboards in order to make his first original project a success.
I haven’t actually read any of his works. I looked at Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer around four years ago when my mindset was very different to my current one, so I might as well have not read it. What I do know is that his works are a mixture of quirky Earthbound-like humor and subversive storytelling, and the latter kinda raises red flags because I’m not really a fan of subversive storytelling. It’s fine when it’s in service of something else, but by itself, it’s incredibly annoying. And so many anime keep using it as an excuse to not do proper world-building, characterization, and whatnot that I am now inclined to stop reading a review whenever it praises something for how “different” it is.
Nevertheless, I think any creator who’s making an anime as a passion project like he so blatantly is is worth paying attention to, if only due to respect. With the industry mostly consisting of advertisements and cynical trends fighting for a narrative, I like to give auteurs like Mizukami a wide berth provided the production committees aren’t screwing with their vision. And I’ll admit, I only really know of Planet With because I saw that it was a mecha anime in a time where that genre is only getting known if Trigger is involved, and I accidentally ran into his name whilst doing research for it. As such, while I’m no fanboy of the guy, I did bend my “don’t pay attention to the creators” rule and watched Planet With solely for him like everyone else who chose to watch this series and didn’t automatically dismiss the weirdness. Even if they’re not good, passion projects can be really fun to talk about after all.
Now that I’ve finished the series, here’s my opinion on Planet With being the best anime of the summer: I really don’t know how it compares to the rest of that season because I’m still in the process of watching shows. Even if you take into account that most of the anime I’m catching up to are utter crap that no one in their right mind would put on their end-of-year list to begin with, I still have not seen the new Attack on Titan or even Revue Starlight as of this time of writing. And with October being “horror month”, I might have to put the Summer anime on pause in order to finally watch Highschool of the Dead.
I did finish the latest season of My Hero Academia, so I can compare it to that at least. But personally, it’s not as much of a contest as you’d think, because My Hero Academia this year has been very underwhelming. The “Rescue Bakugo” arc was fun, but everything else was a lot of setup and generic shonen that did not focus on the things that made Hero Academia stand out compared to other Shonen Jump properties. The movie was entertaining, but in addition to having an ultimately throwaway plot, the action scenes were horrible and the animation didn’t look any different from the show. Also, for fuck’s sakes Bones, stop giving me the characters’ names and Quirks every time they show up in an episode! I don’t need to be pampered that much.
As such, all Planet With has to do is be good, and it would favor with me pretty easily. Is it good? Well, to tell you the truth, I’m having a hard time forming an opinion on this anime. I mean it’s definitely good at what it’s aiming to do. I’m just not sure I like that goal very much.
Planet With takes place in a version of Japan where certain humans have awakened to psychic powers that somehow correspond to piloting giant robots and use said powers in order to fight off mysterious invaders code named “Nebula”. Sounds like your typical mecha plot, right? Well the twist is that the main character is actually a young boy from another dimension named Soya who’s roped into fighting the mecha pilots in order to steal their powers from them. He’s accompanied on this mission by a young girl in a gothic lolita outfit who basically acts as mission control named Ginko and a strange-looking cat who turns into the mecha that Soya uses to fight the pilots named Sensei. Why is he fighting the so-called good guys you may ask? Well without spoiling too much, you remember that plot twist in Gurren Lagann where defeating the Spirals unknowingly lead to the invasion of the anti-Spirals? Soya is basically fighting to prevent something similar from happening without resorting to the somewhat-genocidal means the Genome King used.
The entire story is basically a surreal subversion of the mecha genre in that you don’t really know which side is in the right when it comes to fulfilling their duties. They all have good points and they’re all a happy bunch who believe in the power of friendship, even if said points and power cause them to go down dark paths. Soya pretty much gets called into action every time a character comes up with a new philosophy that leads them to forsake humanity so he can smack them in the face with a clog and tell them to stop being so stupid, and you’ll obviously sympathize with him the most since he’s the only one attempting to obtain that “I want everyone to be happy” true ending. However, even he doesn’t fully commit to that goal at first due to tragedies that occurred from his own dimension, and a good chunk of Planet With’s story is centered on him learning to find his place in life.
If you’re wondering how the animation and fight choreography is, it’s pretty decent. Nothing too outstanding, but it gets the job done in a semi-inspired way. As I said, Mizukami spent years doing the storyboards for this series, so it would have been tragic if it looked like ass. I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the actual character designs, as I doubt anyone is going to cosplay Ginko anytime soon. But the robots themselves have pop, and given how much robot action this series contains within its twelve-episode run, that’s a pretty important quality to have.
So yeah, you’ve got decent animation and a decent idea for a story. The pacing is also pretty nice as well with how it manages to fit in around four climaxes within the span of twelve episodes whilst building up to each one pretty well. As many people have pointed out, each build-up and climax could function as its own series, or at least one-half of a series, so the fact that Planet With could pull off double the effort with half the usual time is impressive. It’s all pretty impressive on a theoretical/technical level. All you need is for the characters to be engaging so you can hook me on an emotional level as well, and you’ve got yourself a great series.
…why are you staring at me like that, Sensei?
…why are you staring at me to begin with Kagami? You haven’t been relevant in years!
Yes, sadly the characters have that issue a lot of “subversive anime” have in that the cast solely existing mostly as standard anime cliches so that the show can tear them down, which makes it hard to relate to them emotionally. As someone who’s big into Danganronpa, a series whose entire cast is made up of anime parodies, there’s a certain art to doing subversive characters, namely how you have to inject the stereotype they’re meant to represent/subvert with a dose of personality. And Soya just doesn’t have much to him other than being a Simon from Gurren Lagann clone who’s initially morally ambiguous, but otherwise just has the same tragic growth that ultimately makes him into a better person complete with his own spoiler-ific event that happens near the end that that character did. Which might be fine if you really liked Simon from that show, but I was never into the characters of Gurren Lagann besides when anime fans cosplayed them. Kill la Kill all the way for me.
The other characters aren’t really much better. Only Ginko has a real story attached to her, but it doesn’t affect the overall plot much. Everyone else gets 1-2 episodes dedicated to them and just stop being interesting after their limelight ends. The absolute nadir of this for me was the student council president and glasses-wearing love interest, Nozomi, who is featured heavily in the promotional material and yet acts as little more than Soya’s cheerleader even when it’s discovered she has secrets of her own. I guess Sensei and the Dog God have some interesting backstory as well, but given how they’re omnipotent beings within the story, they can’t act as its’ pathos very well.
I’ve seen people who say that the cult fanbase who worships this series are overhyping a lot of vague nonsense, and honestly I’d fight against the plot being vague any day of the week because it’s pretty simple to decipher if you’ve ever watched a robot show before. But they’re having a hard time relating to the series’ emotional moments as well, and honestly I don’t blame them. It’s pretty much the same problem a lot of people have with Earthbound despite its reputation as one of the greatest games ever made because Ness and his friends are blank slates. And a lot of these people prefer Mother 3 because of its more character-driven focus. If you want an anime comparison, there are fans like me who don’t really get into One-Punch Man due to it mostly being a visual spectacle with little characterization and low-impact jokes. However, we liked Mob Psycho 100, an adaptation from the same guy who wrote OPM, because of its more character-driven narrative.
Planet With didn’t have to be character-driven to fully appeal to me, but when the main goal of your story is to subvert expectations, it’s generally recommended to be character-driven because a lot of subversive writers can tend to forego emotional hooks in order to make sure the narrative is sound. Also don’t make your setting ridiculously contrived, but that’s not a criticism you can give to this show, so I won’t elaborate on it too much. After all, Rising Shield Hero will be here in a few more months and I’ve got to save material for that. I’m not saying that Planet With’s characters are boring in case somebody wants to throw an essay at me regarding why Soya is a great lead. I’m saying what Soya represents in terms of philosophy and personality isn’t as fleshed out or original to me as it is for other people.
This applies to the narrative too come to think of it. Because the more I look at what people enjoy about Planet With, the more I think “haven’t I encountered this narrative years ago and done better to boot”? For example, one of the important plot points is how humanity’s growing evolution will eventually lead to its own destruction. I’m pretty damn sure at least one of the Tales games I’ve played has explored that topic. And that’s not counting the numerous times the show acts as a re-skinned Gurren Lagann. Yes I know Mizukami likes to play things straight only to subvert them later, but again there’s an art to that that the Tales games back when they were good had, and just being Gurren Lagann for a good chunk of the runtime isn’t how you do it.
I doubt anyone would ever call Planet With revolutionary, but while it is different, it doesn’t feel different enough so to speak. Too many times it feels like the anime is trying to compromise between allowing audiences into its world with familiar cliches and then hitting them hard with unexpected directions, which can cause the product to feel very prototypical. Sure you can see the substance that’s presented to you from the characters wrestling with their personal beliefs on humanity to the tragedies they had to endure, but it’s presented in a way that I don’t find very inviting. I needed more time dedicated to the actual characters. I needed Soya to be more relatable. I needed the world to feel more alive rather than the basic “well this shit happens in Japan” setting it ended up coming off as. To defy my expectations, you need to set them up first.
Let me just reiterate that in no way would I consider Planet With to be bad or boring. Lack of emotional attachment aside, everything on an intellectual and aesthetic basis is well-done for what it is. The story had a point and it told it well, never succumbing to formula and always making sure there’s more story to tell as a cliffhanger rather than using one shocking scene like some other anime I could mention. It’s not necessarily my kind of show, but it may be yours (especially if you’re one of the many people who like Gurren Lagann), and I still wish it had been more popular given how mecha is continuing to die as a genre with no indication of a reversal of fortune in sight. Yeah, I saw the initial scores given to SSSS Gridman. I know it doesn’t have source material fans like Goblin Slayer has to mitigate the numerous amounts of negative reception that anime received, but not even a 7 on MAL by the first episode?
It is possible that I might have a different opinion on Planet With if I ever decide to revisit the anime, as this was one of the few titles I watched as it was airing, and we all know how weekly watches can negatively affect my opinion, now don’t we? But usually, those anime are granted a second chance because I read something intriguing about the show that I missed the first time, and I’m not seeing that in the positive reviews for Planet With. Pretty much everything they’ve praised is something that I caught and formed my own opinion around. Not to mention, I’m getting really tired of subversive stories in general, which are becoming less fresh and more gimmicky with each passing year. I recently finished School-Live as part of this year’s Horror Month and the “slice-of-life antics in dangerous zombie setting” premise and execution didn’t amuse me to put lightly. Not saying we shouldn’t aim to defy the audience’s expectations given how stale anime as a medium can be in general. But try not to rely on the surprise defiance as your main hook, please.
There’s not a whole lot more I can say about Planet With without getting into real spoilers, and whether you like or hate the series, you shouldn’t go in with all of the plot points told to you. It’s a weird take on a nearly dead genre made by a weird creator that didn’t have much impact on the community as a whole, but it did have impact on the people who paid attention to it. Even I was impacted by it to a degree in that I ended up buying a Planet With T-shirt at Crunchyroll Expo because it looked cool. And fun fact: an employee at the Kroger near my place actually recognized the show when I went grocery shopping whilst wearing that shirt. That moment alone is a good justification for Planet With to exist.
If you want more regarding why you should give the series a chance, you can watch Geoff’s video. Given how he’s talking about an anime that was nearly finished at the time he made it, I’d say it’s one of his better ones. Or you can read Nick’s take on Crunchyroll that I linked above, which I honestly don’t find to be that good, but then again Nick’s writing tends to suffer when he’s writing for other outlets. Chances are you’ve already indulged in them given their popularity and the fact that this review is coming out weeks after Planet With ended, but that just goes to show how much I don’t care about the number of views I get when it comes to my stuff. And honestly, I doubt Satoshi Mizukami did either when he created this anime. Hope he continues to make a name for himself in the industry, and if Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer gets an anime adaptation, I’ll probably do a review for that as well.
- Planet With can be streamed on Crunchyroll or VRV.
- Actually, Angels of Death is airing its Amazon-exclusive episodes on Crunchyroll now, but all they tell me about Rachel is that her family is laughably stupid.
- Is there anyone amongst the Goblin Slayer hatebase who isn’t a total asshole? When has blocking people or deleting comments you don’t agree with ever been a positive quality to have as an Internet critic?
- Cats sure get called “sensei” a lot in anime, don’t they?