Monday 19 November 2018

Anime REVIEW: Planet With

Planet With
Planet With is available in streaming form on Crunchyroll

Satoshi Mizukami is a man that's become quite popular among manga readers for titles like Psycho Staff and Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, but for the anime-only crowd he's pretty much an unknown. However this year he made his anime debut with Planet With, a 12-episode series from J.C. Staff (the studio behind Revolutionary Girl Utena, Excel Saga, Toradora! and so much more) that's been a pet project of his for the last four years. The results were interesting to say the least.

High school student Soya Koroi lost his parents in a terrible accident, but unfortunately he has no memory of these events or how he came to live with an eccentric maid named Ginko and a giant, purple cat creature named Sensei. What he does remember however is that the accident was caused by "the power of the dragon", and he's made it his mission to seek revenge. When seven super-powered heroes emerge to do battle against an unknown alien threat, Soya turns his attention toward them for answers.

Caught in an intergalactic war of ideals, Soya must learn to balance justice and compassion with his thirst for vengeance and answers - taking a stand against a force that could change the fate of all sentient life on Earth.

In some ways there’s no getting past how ridiculous Planet With sounds in premise, and even more so when you actually watch the first episode and see some of those stranger elements in motion. But while Planet With may seem like that one oddity you decide to watch for the lack of any better choices, behind that guise lies a show that’ll stay with you much longer than those “one and done” series. As dramatic as it is ridiculous, Planet With is a series where Murakami seems to have taken all of the cliché shonen anime tropes fans have come to love (and hate) and somehow woven them into something that doesn’t just feel fresh – it feels right. It's a hot-blooded action show that's completely over the top and constantly trying to outdo itself, but much like Gurren Lagann and the many other shows that came before it this isn't all done purely for shock value. The emotional heart of Planet With beats hard and its messages are very clear, even when you get to the point where a human-sized purple cat is fist fighting with his dog equivalent.

But what really makes Planet With such a captivating series is its pacing. At only 12 episodes it might seem like barely any time at all to tell a fully-formed story with a properly fleshed out cast, and there are so many shows each season which fail to manage it. Yet inexplicably Planet With is able take this relatively short run and feel like a multi-season show – featuring multiple arcs that each follow on from the other yet distinctly separate. But what’s even more astounding is that each arc neither feels rushed nor lacking in development, with Murakami effectively telling Planet With’s story in exactly the length of time he had to do so. You really could swear Planet With is a much longer series just because of the sheer amount its able to pack in – standing pretty firmly against shows of a similar standard with 50+ episodes in only a fraction of the running time.

Going hand in hand with this is some excellent character writing, starting with Soya’s development from the “Nebula Soldier” hell bent on revenge to an inspiring champion of justice. Without even knowing Mizukami Planet With feels like a particularly personal labour of love, not only because of the years he spent working on it but also how much it focuses on the emotional aspect to its story. Simply battling each member of Grand Paladin seems trivial compared to him having to eventually let go of that anger and forgive instead. This kind of growth doesn't just apply to the protagonist either, as almost every main player in the show is forced to challenge their own viewpoint at some stage. Some are done through singular episodes whilst others is a gradual change across the series, but it's clear that accepting others and compromise are the core messages Planet With is trying to convey.

If there’s one area that Planet With perhaps falters it’s in its visual presentation, but even that’s a fairly strict matter of opinion. Though J.C. Staff are a well-established studio with a fairly highly-regarded repertoire the mecha genre is not one they’ve built their name on, and even the biggest of studios often struggle to deal with CGI modelling. But what the show lacks in polish it certainly makes for in design, with Sensei’s mecha form (as well as his later “Cat Doping” powered up variant) the kind of striking mechanical design that immediately draws you to the series from just a single promotional image. The Grand Paladin “mecha” are a lot more out there in terms of design and as such don’t quite gel as well with the 2D backdrops, but the unifying aesthetic is memorable enough to make them work. On the other hand the charm of the fights themselves usually isn’t in the scale of them, but rather the emotional stakes. In this regard they absolutely succeed, letting you get completely lost in the sequences and only thinking about the technical elements afterward.

When Planet With first started most viewers probably didn't know what to expect from a show about a highschooler who hangs around with a cat that turns into a giant robot, but even if they did they still probably weren't expecting this. A perfectly plotted show that somehow manages to cram as much plot and meaning into 12 episodes without it ever seeming overcrowded, Planet With is an absolute masterpiece in narrative craft. Continuously ridiculous but constantly layered and meaningful, it's the kind of show that no matter how much you talk about you'll only ever truly understand just how special it is from seeing it yourself. Anime fans may not have heard of Satoshi Mizukami before this, but they'll certainly want to see him heading more shows in the future that's for sure.

1 comment:

DP said...

I suppose I’m in the minority, but I have to strongly dissent from the view that “Planet With” represents something special. Quite to the contrary, I found the characterizations paper-thin, the plotting dull and predictable, and the whole series to be rushed to a pretty unbearable pace. That’s without even getting into the show’s secondary problems, like the fact that the CG animation was downright horrific.

I get that people really love Mizukami, but I personally feel like this is an instance of the emperor having no clothes.