The summer season has surprised me quite a bit so far. Going in, the only series that really caught my eye was Banana Fish, but I wound up falling in love with Hanebado! (well, the first episode at least) and Asobi Asobase along the way, as well.
There was another series that’s surprised me quite a bit, though, and it’s one I hadn’t seen too many people talking about: Planet With. This mecha, while not perfect, is doing a lot of really interesting things with its story and its themes, and is gearing up to become one of the more unique entries into the mecha genre in recent years.
The story begins with Souya Kuroi, who has lost his memories and for some reason finds himself living with a maid girl and a giant purple cat. He’s not too worried about the amnesia and weird roommates, though – he’s just going with the flow and trying to live in the now.
Things get shaken up a bit when a strange invader appears over the ocean near his school. A mysterious group of people in mech suits team up to thwart this beast, and the day is saved…or is it? Souya ends up being summoned to battle by his odd roommates, and is surprised to find that they’re asking him to battle the people he thought saved the day. Do these guys have something to do with his amnesia? Who’s the real enemy here? Are his newfound caretakers just taking advantage of him for their own personal gains? Is he even doing the right thing?
Something I really like about Planet With is that…well, it’s fun. A lot of post-Evangelion mecha tends to drown in doom and gloom or focus a little too much on depressing psychological aspects. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with a series that’s dark, not everything has to be dripping with sad, philosophical nonsense. Though Planet With seems to be gearing up to tackle some really interesting themes re: war and memories, it doesn’t let itself get bogged down by them. It presents some dark plot points but leaves room for goofiness. I want future anime to take note: you can touch upon psychological themes without completely depressing and isolating your audience.
Case in point: Planet With has sequences that take place entirely within a character’s own psyche. They reveal things about the characters we wouldn’t otherwise know about, but they do it in a way that isn’t overwrought with melodrama or anything like that. It doesn’t feel like it’s hitting you over the head or being pretentious with these scenes, either. And, to make things go down a little easier, the thing that’s sucking them into their own head looks like that picture above.
There’s a lot of goofy comedy in here, too, and these scenes can be pretty great. Cat Sensei has some unsettling sight gags, and I really like the way he’ll give one meow and it’ll be translated as a lengthy, deep explanation. I’m also a big fan of the guy in the occult club who dramatically poses with books so that he can look cool (but never actually reads the book), and how in wide shots you can actually see his legs shaking as he struggles to maintain his stupid pose.
Though it doesn’t perfectly balance comedy with drama, it doesn’t feel like it suffers from complete tonal whiplash, either. Turns out, the series director, Youhei Suzuki, also directed the series Shimoneta, and if you’re familiar with that not-perfect-but-super-fun series, then you’ll have an idea of what to expect here. Shimoneta was an over-the-top comedy that also had some surprising depth regarding the topics of censorship and sexuality underneath all those dick jokes. Planet With is gearing up to take a similar path: when you look past the weird purple cat eating lettuce, there’s some really interesting topics being touched on in regards to memory, child soldiers(!), and finding a sense of purpose for yourself.
Something else really interesting about the series is that it’s ambiguous about who the “good guy” is. Sure, we have Souya as our protagonist, so it seems like he would be the “good guy,” but then a wrench gets thrown in when he’s asked to battle the guys that supposedly saved the day. In addition to that, Souya’s opposition is humanized, largely through those scenes that take place in their memories that I mentioned before, and also through their interactions with Souya when he’s unmasked. All these characters are likable enough, so it’s hard to know who to root for. And that’s a good thing – it adds intrigue to the whole narrative. It actually reminds me a bit of how the 2000s Battlestar Galactica was in terms of not forcing sides on the viewer. It was like, it felt like the humans were the obvious choice, but after a while you started to realize that the Cylons had some pretty good points…
I’m giving Planet With a fair amount of praise, here, but it has had some hang-ups so far. For one, the mechas themselves aren’t particularly great – the designs are pretty strange, and there’s some wonky CG work going on with them that will automatically turn-off certain viewers. The action sequences aren’t always super great, either. Fight scenes between Souya and the others are average – there’s nothing jaw-dropping going on with the blocking or animation.
Honestly, though, that doesn’t mean much to me. I’ve always found the circumstances surrounding a hot-blooded fight to be more interesting than the fight itself, and the stakes between characters are interesting enough that the off-putting mechas and just-okay fights can be overlooked.
The strange tone that’s half-comedy, half-drama likely divides viewers, as well. Like I said, it doesn’t pull this mix off perfectly. There are jokes I like, but there are also jokes that go on a little too long (like, in episode 2 where the old man keeps trying to ask the hot assistant on a date).
Still, I’ve been really bummed that not many folks seem to be giving this one a chance. It’s at least a solid 7/10, and depending on how it handles all those war and memory themes in the end, it could totally bump up to a higher rating. I’ve been looking forward to each new episode, and aside from Banana Fish, this series is the one with the most intriguing story. If you can squeeze it into your seasonal viewings, I really recommend it.