「見ろ、宇宙は祝福に満ちている」 (Miro, uchu wa shukufuku ni michite iru)
“Behold, The Universe is Filled With Blessings”
If you ask me how I feel about Planet With, the only possible answer I can give is “it’s complicated”. Love, frustration, conflict – they’re all a part of it. Ultimately it’s a wonderful series, the only real competition for Hi Score Girl as best of the season, and certainly one of the best shows of 2018. It’s the relationship I have as a reader with Mizukami Satoshi that really muddies the waters a bit, and because of that it’s probably going to take some time to sort out what I truly think about this series in the end (talk to me towards the end of December, maybe…).
Still, series review posts need to be written when series end, not months later. It’s especially difficult for Planet With because in truth, this was really three series in one cour. I’ve seen many viewers unfamiliar with Mizukami-sensei’s work express wonderment that Planet With was able to compress so much content into 12 episodes, and all I can say is “welcome to the club” – that’s just Mizukami. Whatever ideas he has, he can express them with an economy and elegance that almost no mangaka can match.
In my mind I was seeing Planet With as three “seasons”, but in truth I think it ended up being a bit different. Season 1 certainly ended with the defeat of Takashi-san and the dissolution of the Golden Paladins, and Season 2 with the defeat of the Sealing Faction. But in truth, what happened after the timeskip wasn’t so much the third season but the epilogue. That’s why, I think, the finale seemed to have a feel of suddenness in its final act – it didn’t present any sort of epilogue because the final two episodes were the epilogue. I’m not so sure it totally worked, to be honest – it was very Mizukami in structure and maybe would have felt more natural and fulfilling on the page, but on-screen it did leave things seeming kind of abrupt.
I’m pretty much sticking to my guns in saying that this show did peak at Episode 8, though that set an incredibly high bar by any standard. Nothing that happened after that was quite as thought-provoking, emotionally devastating or existentially rewarding for me. As some commenters have pointed out, it’s true that the philosophical tone struck by the final third of the series is not out of character for the Water God – he generally does stick his neck out for things like love and forgiveness, and one of his mot important themes is the belief that possibility and hope can triumph over fear and hate.
My issue, then, is as much that the final four episodes didn’t seem internally consistent with the first eight as that they don’t jibe with Mizukami’s oeuvre generally. While the messaging was consistent with Mizukami’s worldview it was more simplistic than usual for him (a concession to anime as the vehicle rather than manga, maybe). But as much or more of a quibble for me is that they don’t seem like the ending of the story he was telling for the first two “seasons”. I’m not saying that choosing love is easy, by any means, but it strikes me that Planet With spares its characters from making hard choices in the third act, in a way that doesn’t necessarily elevate the narrative as a whole as much as it could have been elevated.
As has been the case since the beginning of Episode 9, the plot itself moved in a very straightforward direction here. All hands on deck to take on the Dragon – Souya, Nebula, telepaths, Sealers, Pacificts, Paladins. The plan is conventional sci-fi – push the Dragon into a subspace hole (presumably the one created when it turned up on the moon in the first place), with the espers effectively sending out a jamming signal to keep Takashi from sussing out what his enemies were up to until it was too late. Nothing wrong with any of this – it’s classic and clever and reassuringly familiar.
What this is building towards, though, is what happens after the plan initially works. In the first place, there’s the issue of the Dragon following his attackers out as they escape before the hole closes (which seems rather obvious). To counteract this Souya-kun, Ginko and Sensei effectively sacrifice themselves to push the Dragon back through the hole – again a very conventional development, but quite internally consistent with the story. The real Mizukami touch comes after the hole is closed and the trio seemingly lost (Wan-kamoto-san’s cry of anguish is a real highlight) with Souya and his family trapped inside collapsing subspace with the dragon.
Mizukami lays all his cards on the table here, and more power to him. That Souya is going to forgive the Dragon for destroying his world is a given – and that it happens after he tries to woo Souya into becoming his heir in “justice” by showing the destruction of his world is a great touch. Takeshi thinks this vision will drive Souya into hate, but all it does is remind him of the power of love – how much his feelings for those he’s lost meant to him. The real kicker here, though, comes when Ginko thanks the Dragon for saving her people – which, of course, he did by destroying Souya’s. That’s a bold stroke, and removes any ambiguity as to where the story is headed ideologically. It’s a very Buddhist turn of events (and as any reader of Spirit Circle would tell you, Mizukami incorporates elements from many belief systems into his writing).
If I have a niggle with this denouement, apart from that sense of abruptness, it’s that it all feels a little too neat. The Dragon back in the arms of his people, everyone safe… And Nozo proving a superempath and finding the trio on Sirius was a bit much for me. It would have been more powerful, I think, if the series had ended with Souya’s discovery of that flower (a final reminder of his brother) – with he and his adoptive family trying to survive on a dead world slowly being reborn as they try to find a way to reach their friends, and their friends them. As with much of the third act it was a bit prosaic the way it played out – damn good prose to be sure, but Mizukami-sensei is capable of sublime poetry when he’s at his unrivalled best.
Even if it didn’t end up being a masterpiece, I’m still heartily glad Planet With exists. And not just because it was such a great series, which it was, but because it was a seminal moment in anime history for Mizukami Satoshi to finally be brought to the screen. Anime viewers now have a sense of who he is and what he’s capable of, and Planet With is a pretty representative example of his work in most respects. He was born to write for anime, this guy – his love for the medium shines through in every frame of this series, and his sheer craft as a writer is a tonic anime could always have welcomed, but now more than ever.
The question now is really twofold, of course. How does the world react to what they’ve seen, and where do we go from here with Mizukami as a writer of anime? Stalker is defunct and the first volume hasn’t gone on-sale so we don’t have hard numbers for Planet With. But the early tracking wasn’t great, and it seems very unlikely this show will sell well. Still, now the world knows that Mizukami works a treat on-screen – and he has a catalogue of masterpieces just waiting to be adapted. Hoshi no Samidare (“Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer”) probably has the most innate commercial appeal, but Spirit Circle is the one that could become a historic benchmark in anime – it’s truly one of manga’s greatest stories ever told, and its format is perfect for a one-cour anime adaptation (though two would be even better).
Will any of that happen? Of course I have no idea, and given the overall trends in anime production it would be foolish to have much optimism about Spirit Circle or Samidare ever seeing the screen (especially if Planet With doesn’t sell). But the worst-case scenario – Mizukami never crossing over – has been averted. Planet With exists and it’s glorious, especially in its first two acts, and now at least a small minority of the anime audience has tasted the sweet nectar of a Mizukami anime. Whatever I might feel about the way the series ended and whatever doubts I may have about the rest of Mizukami’s catalogue being adapted, I’m enormously grateful that we got at least one Mizukami anime for posterity. And to honor the Water God, I’ll choose to be hopeful and believe in the possibility of what might come in the future.