This here is a long-awaited adaptation of a Key visual novel that was originally released in 2004, that received a boost in recognition thanks to the international release and translation on Steam in 2014. If you don’t know who Key are, I could instantly catch you up on that with three words: Air, Kanon and Clannad. Hugely popular VNs which have all received anime adaptations, the latter two by Kyoto Animation. The Key name has become somewhat synonymous with a writer called Jun Maeda (Charlotte, Angel Beats!), however it is important to point out that he was not involved in the source material of either this, or the currently airing Rewrite adaptation.
The staff on this are pretty interesting, coming from “the Jojo studio” also known as David Production, Planetarian is directed by the main director behind all of the recent Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure TV adaptations, including the currently airing Diamond is Unbreakable. Special mention must be given to the Art Director on Planetarian, that is Takeda Yuusuke, who has worked as the vision behind such beautiful series as Gankutsuou, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Uchouten Kazoku.
Right, now lets dive into the episode to see exactly what these talented people have put on display!
A Sad Story In Two Auditory Inputs
Smiling faces, surprise, the faces of a team who just got their new android working and online. They’re enthusiastic and eager to greet her, staring at her in a state of attentiveness, hanging on her every line of pre-scripted dialogue like, enjoying the novelty of it all.
Bzzt. Then the channel changes.
Almost like explaining death in a roundabout way to a child, the team search around for words to substitute in, they’re going on a trip for a while. Yumemi registers their words loud and clear, replying with an obedient “Yes, Mr. Manager” yet of the crying faces and regretful tone, naught.
The Sci-Fi Dystopia You’ve All Been Waiting For
Outside the eyes of the android, we see the world for the first time. The washed out blue and grey signalling the cold, dead, lifelessness of this place, the detail fading out in the corners of the frame, giving the place an ethereal vibe. The focal point of detail is right in the centre, specifically on that taller building. This is going to be a very small-scale, personal story, both in its locality and the stakes. A disconcerting track starts up.
Nonetheless, the voice of narration kicks in to fill us in on the wider context, its a brief few lines to explain directly what we could infer from the prior scene, but as we’ll see, these words spoken internally by the narrator we’ll now see –as he’s being chased by robot assailants– sound more like something more for his own benefit, recited words, the scarce information he was given recounted like a bullet-pointed mission brief. The unsettling tones whirl into a more exciting guitar track to punctuate the ensuing action.
The background art is rife with details despite its nigh-monochrome colour-scheme. The only dissonance that clashes with the lifelessness of this place are its ever-serving robot protectors, their red beams of light the only indicator of life in this sullen place. And then ofcourse is our protagonist, whose colours sink in to match the background, as it displays his flee across these straits almost uninterestedly, keeping him small and isolated, instead devoting the majority of the frame to the scenery, as we drink in the atmosphere of this dead city.
Mr. Customer, The Military Man
With the downtime, we now get to hear a bit more about why this man is all the way out here in the first place, while also giving him a bit more character. But its not long before his scuttling around attracts attention.
The constant spy-like movements he makes are undercut by his bumbling nature, and skittish reaction to anything and everything around him, all the while some tense sounding music is playing as he comes across objects that are strange and foreign to him…
He opens a door cautiously, gun out, body shielded, like the way a SWAT team might bust down a door, and the bubbly music replaces the tense track, as he’s greeted by our resident moe~kyun android.
As Yumemi oh-so-dutifully makes her explanation and apology, it is interesting to see how given her extenuating circumstances, she overwrote that internal counter with her excitement and dubbed our protagonist here the 25,000,000th customer! However military man here is having none of it, with hardened eyes he remains with his gun pointed squarely in the android’s face.
The prior extreme closeups on Yumemi’s hair, clothes and eyes, then transition back to a shot of Military Man shifting his eyes about nervously. Is he checking for danger, no… he’s too absorbed by what’s infront of him, but the casting around of his eyes indicates his uncomfortability with the intense gaze of Yumemi, finding himself unable to hold eye contact.
Yumemi warmly announces her joy at seeing her first customer in 29 years and 81 days – a line I really like, as it conveys both intensely human and robot characteristics simultaneously. Oh, by the way, this isn’t some secret scientific facility – we’re in a department store. Graciously going on to present a makeshift bouquet (all the real flowers are dead T_T), which had obviously been carefully tended to for probably what’s been years now, I had to laugh when Mr. Customer casually tossed it aside as her head followed its movement, her eyes no doubt capturing every millisecond of its flight in superb detail.
There’s a good dynamic to this duo. It’s like the main character is constantly making punchlines unintentionally with his disinterest while the android fails to pick up on any of them. Speaking of humour, lets get into the core of what makes this show so pleasant and cozy – the dialogue.
“There also exists known issues with my personal information databases and my conversation subroutines. Because of them, the tendency to engage in verbose conversation without taking time into consideration has become a unique characteristic of this unit”
This line was also really nice for multiple reasons – firstly it’s a cute self aware nod to the nature of Visual Novels, where you will usually have characters standing about having running conversations in such a way that it might seem like time itself stands still (which it does on this planet). Secondly it’s another way of Yumemi expressing a very natural human instinct of latching onto someone and talking too much just to feel a sense of companionship, expressed in terms of a hardware fault. Yumemi is “broken” as a machine, but does that mean she’s trending towards humanity?
But that dynamic slowly begins to shift, as Military Man starts reacting more and more directly to Yumemi’s speech, conversing with her more assuredly. A lot of humour is drawn out of the buildup towards what seems to be an impressive projection “performance” for the special customer, to embarrassed apologeticness over “Miss Jena” (the telescope)’s malfunctioning. No doubt that working together to fix this projection system will be a major story goal.
That Enigmatic Feeling
During a dream of reminiscence, we see there’s a senior Junker, who strongly advises our protagonist to avoid talking to the robot. Waking up after a full day of sleep in the Planetarium, well he’s already broken that rule, and he now understands why he was told to do so. Thus he opts for a hasty exit from this place, which he’s already spent too much time in.
However, Mr Customer isn’t able to leave the scene silently. Upon hearing Yumemi -doing what she must have been doing once every day for the last 29 years and 81 days, welcoming non-existent customers in, inviting them to watch a projection by a long-since broken down telescope (which she’s aware is broken now, but still gives her prescribed speech!)- he cannot resist the instinct to talk to her.
Military Man announces he’s going to leave, the automatic response kicks in: “Mr. Customer? If you wait 18 more minutes, the next projection will begin.”
–Agh, it hurts, that line, let me tell you, again a cold and robotic way of expressing her simple desire for him to stay. It’s not taking into account that the device is broken, and specifically counting 18 minutes is what makes it seem like an automated response.
The next string of lines is quite strong, in how Military Man is coldly making excuses for leaving, replying to each and every one of Yumemi’s possible suggestions. Why doesn’t he ignore her, tell her to shut up, and leave? He even took the discount coupon that Yumemi oh so graciously printed out from her ear-thingy…
What a fantastic, cosy, and emotional show. I loved it. It seems like this will only be a 5 episode OVA, but I’m hoping it will continue to tell its tightly composed story and tie things up in a satisfying fashion. I can’t wait to enter the time-frozen domain of Planetarian again.