The seeming direction of Planet With’s final arc poses an interesting question. Is it fair to hold fiction up to a higher standard based on who’s creating it? If one read a novel without knowing the author, it wouldn’t matter whether it was Arthur C. Clarke or the guy who came up with “Saved by the Bell” – your impressions would inevitably be whatever they were, based on what was on the page. Maybe that’s the purest, most ideal way to absorb literature. But in point of fact when we know who the author is, our past experiences with that author (if we have them) invariably color our view of the final product.
In that context, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad disappointed with the way this is turning out. I go into this with the belief that Mizukami Satoshi can write rings around 99%-plus of the people who write anime, and Planet With has certainly proven that out. In its worst moments it puts the best moments of anything on the summer schedule not named Hi Score Girl (or a carryover) to shame, and it’s the most significant work of mecha anime to come along in several years, IMHO. So how in the world can I be disappointed?
The answer, to be direct, is that I know he can do better. And I wasn’t prepared to say that after eight episodes, when I was ready to call this series a masterpiece. God damn, but it was brilliant – utterly fascinating week in and week out, packed with ideas, indelible imagery and multi-layered and compelling characters. I still look on in awe at the pacing, even now – Mizukami’s elegance and craft in building a narrative is astonishing. I still love the cast, and the timeskip part of the story was executed flawlessly. Timeskips are a death trap, a disaster waiting – no, begging – to happen. But everyone acted like themselves, only five years older. There – was that so hard?
Still, here we are, and what’s going on right now feels very conventional to me compared to what came before. There’s still one episode for all this to change, but I don’t get the sense that it’s going to. What’s being presented now could hardly be a more vanilla scenario of fraternity and love facing off against the dark. Sealers and pacifists have set their differences aside and joined forces. Nebula and the People of Paradise combined their efforts to level up humanity – identify telepaths and help them grow, sell a few takoyaki, and keep the eyes on prize, to defeat the common enemy. Except the Dragon isn’t even an enemy – he’s just an old friend waiting to be forgiven.
Well, kumbaya. From a purely utilitarian standpoint Dragon turning out to be a fallen angel is an interesting twist, if not an entirely surprising one. And hey, I’m all in favor of celebrating the virtue of forgiveness over vengeance. But is no one going to acknowledge what Nebula almost did to Earth – what they would have succeeded in doing, in fact, had their new friend Souya not intervened with the help of the PoP? And let us not forget, what they did succeed in doing to other, nameless worlds before they came to Earth – perhaps a few, perhaps too many to count.
Well, no – it doesn’t seem like anyone is going to. Apart from the Dragon, of course. Who’s seriously messed up, don’t get me wrong – his justice philosophy is just fascism with a gloss of self-righteousness. But damn it, I found myself admiring him here because he was the only one telling the truth to power. It’s very ironic that Mizukami is referencing Childhood’s End here, because (not to spoil – you should definitely read it) Planet With seems to be completely rejecting the themes of that novel, especially the ending. I get that an anime is not a novel, or even a manga – but I can’t say I’m not surprised that Mizukami-sensei has chosen this direction.
Seemingly chosen, that is. The series isn’t over, and we all know the Water God can do more with one episode than most shows can do in ten. And if you’ve read his manga, you know he can subvert expectations in very, well- unexpected ways. But I’ve not seen a story evolve remotely in this direction in any of those manga, so absent any evidence to the contrary I have to kind of take him at his word – which seems to be that Planet With is what it is. Which is pretty great – I mean, an intergalactic collective of kigurumi, sci-fi archetypes and Japanese pop culture curiosities deciding the fate of Earth? That’s so Mizukami. Planet With is funny, warm, a love letter to anime and sci-fi and mecha. And it looks great, apart from the sci-fi dragon (which honestly doesn’t bother me). Thank goodness it exists.
It’s funny – I have a page full of notes I took about this episode (which is as jam-packed with relevant content as all of them have been) and I haven’t used any of them. RIP Takezou (mochi is a choking hazard – if you’ve eaten it you know), 8.000 meters, galactic nampa (you go, Nezuya-sempai), that snowman dude. In the end all I really felt the urge to write about was the big picture. As ever, this is a series (and a writer) which refuses to be treated in conventional fashion, even as it’s plot seems to be evolving that way.