In a world of slow-paced light novel garbage like Re:Zero, we get a quaint little tear jerker in the form of Planetarian. One of the best things honestly about Planetarian is that its only five episodes long and I can review it in the middle of the season. Another great thing about its length is that if it were any longer I wouldn’t have been able to get through it. Luckily the “stars aligned” and we get to enjoy this sort of movie like visual novel adaptation that feels out of its time. Feeling that way because it is of course, the visual novel came out in the early 2000’s and was a Key visual novel (Look to shows like Air TV and Kanon 2006 for reference). Which is why I think I found it so refreshing even though it really isn’t anything I wasn’t bombarded with in the early and mid 2000’s.
So for a quick run-down of Planetarian. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the sky is always cloudy and raining. Kuzuya, a junker whose scavenging a city comes across an abandoned Planetarium and is greeted by a robot attendant Yumemi. Most of the series is them trying to fix the projection machine and dancing around the fact that Yumemi doesn’t know the world has basically ended and everyone she knew is most likely dead.
To start off the premise alone might get some people frustrated if they don’t let the story bring them in. This is generally a rule of thumb for most shows but I think here it makes or breaks it a little more. For most of the show our Junker, or Mr. Customer as Yumemi calls him, doesn’t ever quite come out and say that the world has basically ended. Now this has two purposes, one thematically and one narratively. Narratively it matters because if he just told her that everything went to shit and there was no point to any of this, then they wouldn’t get to share the quaint time in the Planetarium talking about stuff. It also would be really repetitive if she wasn’t inclined to believe him and of course as a viewer just rubbing off that she denies it would be even more frustrating than him just not telling her. (It works though mainly because then we don’t really have to listen to how the world go to the state its in. They try explaining this a few times and I hated every bit of it. Visual novels tend to add a bunch of unneeded world building garbage and I’m glad they decided to leave that part out.)
Thematically it says a lot about what kind of situation Mr. Customer is in. Either he just feels so bad for this cute robot that he doesn’t want to tell her, which doesn’t seem like him at all but whatever. Or he himself doesn’t like thinking about life in the world he lives. Sometimes its easy to just go on living in a shitty situation but admitting and talking about it can be even harder. Even though it has meaning and can be defended by adding supplementary logic there’s no evidence as to his motivation for not telling her. And it’s never really built on later. It doesn’t necessarily ruin the show at all, but having the show start off with some bad writing and a leap of logic can make people run for the hills.
Planetarian has a lot of good things about it though. Mainly the main robot girl Yumemi. She’s definitely moe but not modern moe. More like an early 2000’s late 90’s moe that you would totally be okay with being your wife. And the way she speaks is so soothing that you don’t want to believe she’s a robot, even though her manner of speaking is often robotic. Really the dynamic between her and Mr. Customer shouldn’t be all that interesting, and really isn’t that great of dialogue. So what’s there to like about a show that’s basically two characters sitting around and talking? Well Planetarian doesn’t live on the plot per-say, it lives on the promise of the plot. It’s the implications that their words have. Everything either character says has implications of who they are and how they have lived their lives up until now. It character building at its max, all in service of the big realization that the show establishes in the beginning by Mr. Customer not telling her that the world has gone to shit. Having the situation where two characters are on different pages of how they view things, one being the present and the other unknowingly being the past, brings both situations clashing together where clearly the present is going to win. Planetarian is that slow wait for Yumemi to realize that the way things are now are horrible, and how she is going to react to them. Alone this would seem very depressing but because she gives Mr. Customer a goal and reason to strive towards in this world, it has a rather bittersweet ending. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter whether Yumemi acknowledges the way things are, she’s a robot. What matters is that Mr. Customer realizes that the way things are isn’t all there is. That there are things that have been lost but can be taken back.
This is reflected in Yumemi idea’s as to why robots are made. Also in her wishes for the God of Robots and Robot Heaven. Yumemi is literally telling Mr. Customer, without knowing herself, what he needs to do to be happy and the reason she’s doing this is because she wants to serve humans. If anything it can be seen as divine intervention. Since Yumemi can’t be consciously teaching him this lesson, it must be the will of the God of Robots that she be there when he needs her to give him hope again. The unwaveringness that Yumemi shows to get Mr. Customer to see the projection feels almost magical in its importance, and the impact it has on his decisions is very real and relatable.
Now to be honest the show doesn’t look the best, but it doesn’t have too. Basically the only attractive thing in the show is Yumemi’s character design. Mr. Customer and the old dude look generic and uninspired as hell, the world doesn’t look anything original and the color palette doesn’t play around with enough blues and purples to make things look dreary enough for what the show is going for. If anything the world just seems like a normal rainy day, when it should feel more depressing dark and overbearing. The animation never really is noticeable because it’s basically just two talking heads for most of the show. Even the Projection which could have shown some “stellar” sequences, is just a still clip show.
Planetarian is as standard visual novel adaptation. It doesn’t really have any ambition to improve on the visual novel experience using things that animation allows. The material was really good though, so it works even though it’s basically just talking heads. I said in the beginning that Planetarian relies on emotional investment, and I’d like to go further and say that there’s really no reason to watch this show if you don’t get invested by the second episode. It’s a sad story told in a very healing way, almost like it’s preparing you for the bomb its hinting at throughout. And it gives just enough hope that it wont end the way you think it will, to be break you in two at the end where Yumemi lies broken. Planetarian is a tight story and it succeeds in its tightness and dedication to the one thing it is trying to say. Its like one big therapy session but you don’t know its taking place until it’s already over and you start to come to that realization of feeling better and optimistic.