GO TO YOUR HAPPY PLACE.
If one believes we were made in our creator’s image, we do our creators honor by making robots in ours. Planetarian posits the possibility that we might’ve done a better job, as Hoshino Yumemi exhibits the kind of pure, unswerving selflessness and nobility befitting an angel; a kind not all humans are capable of summoning, for myriad reasons.
Unlike God with us, Yumemi’s makers kept things simple, both due to their limited budget and the more important limits to how human we can make robots. Because of this, Yumemi sacrifices herself to save her customer, following to the letter the Three Laws of Robotics.
The Customer doesn’t run out to stop Yumemi from approaching the giant battle mech, and you can’t blame him. It’s a miracle he’s managed to stay alive with such an unrelenting mechanical monster firing high-caliber round after round at him, in addition to flinging and armored vehicle in the air as if it were a Hot Wheels.
Yumemi provides a diversion at a crucial moment that the Customer, down to his last grenade, cannot squander. So he fires his last show and disables the mech, but not before the mech opens fire at Yumemi, tearing her in two in a fraught sequence that’s painful to watch in its inevitability.
The balance of the episode is an extended, and at times unbearably sad goodbye, as the halved Yumemi only has 600 seconds of battery life left.
The Customer weeps for her as he would a fellow human; no, moreso, as her following of her robotic directives bore the sheen of heroism, and at the end of the day it makes no difference whether she was artificial or not; she was a person to the Customer, and to us.
She’s a person because she’s utterly unique in her collected experiences, memories, and the evolution of her programming stretched across over 44 years—29 of them waiting, like Hachiko, for her co-workers and customers to return like they say they would. When they don’t, and she starts to think no one is ever coming back, she thinks she must be malfunctioning.
The Customer’s arrival reassured her that she was not wrong to trust that someone would return. And while her body goes off-line, and it’s gutwrenching to hear her voice fizzle out and her green eyes go gray, the show fittingly leaves a sliver of hope by having the Customer retrieve her memories.
Perhaps, one day, when…whatever is going on with the world ends and peace returns, those memories can be put in a new body, and Yumemi can continue her job immersing customers in the vast, inspiring sea of stars.
P.S. The stirring piece of music that accompanies the end credits of this final episode is stunningly, hauntingly gorgeous; melancholy and hopeful all at once. If I ever find it, it will surely be included in a future Weekly ED entry.
Yumemi has followed Mr. Customer out of the Planetarium, but only to escort him to his car. After that, she’s programmed to return and await more customers. If none come, she’ll still wait.
As Mr. Customer walks through the city with her, a part of him hopes her synthetic eyes will become open to the reality of the situation. There is no car, there are no people, there is no power.
But for much of this episode, Yumemi remains blissfully unaware of the dystopia around her. A bump here, an accident there; the dearth of people can be chalked up to the rain…which will never end.
Customer sees an unbroken bottle of scotch and worries it could trigger a mine. But Yumemi picks it up and offers it to him, (correctly) believing it’s merely a bottle of scotch.
But for every demonstration that Yumemi is a dumb robot, there’s another moment when both I and Customer have to wonder, despite knowing what we know.
She even comes up with a wish to the robot gods: that the heavens be a place where robots can be with the humans they served in life, and can continue to serve in the afterlife. Very Asimov-ian.
The show likes to play with our sensibilities about humans and robots – one minute showing Yumemi staring into space or falling on her face; the next saying something truly unique and inspiring or even simply flashing a look that suggests sentience.
This is compounded by the fact this is anime, so neither Customer nor Yumemi look all that realistic. But if I encountered a robot that looked and acted just like a human in a place like that, I’d want to get her out of there too.
There’s one last battle mech between him and the way out of the city. He hunts it while he lets Yumemi think about whether to come with him. Leaving means leaving behind any hope that the power will come back on, Miss Jena will operate properly, and customers will return. But she has a customer, right here and now. If they part, she won’t be able to serve him.
Assuming Customer didn’t die in the mech attack, I’m very interested to learn how she chooses…and if Customer’s comrade’s words—“Do not talk to it” were a serious warning the Customer is choosing to ignore…at his peril.
The Mr. Customer of a few days ago would never have been patient enough to sit through a planetarium projection, much less allow the robot host to recite a spiel about being courteous during the show that he’s already heard several times. But just as the proximity of a human seems to be ever-so-slowly changing Yumemi, the proximity to such a painfully positive, upbeat, oblivious robot seems to be changing Mr. Customer.
The show finally begins, and it’s hauntingly gorgeous, as planetarium shows tend to be if you’re into that kind of thing. More than a movie theater, having the entire dome above you turned into a screen really gives you the sense of how small and insignificant we are, and how vast space is.
Not only that, Yumemi proves to be a pro at astronomy and the rich mythology tied to it. Mr. Customer sits in awe of her command of the material and the confidence with which she presents it. For a brief time, she ceases to be simply an annoying robot and becomes an omnipotent being even the deities in the stars seem to bow to in deference.
Then the power goes out, putting a damper on the show. No matter; Mr. Customer asks Yumemi to continue her part of the show without Miss Jena’s help. As he suspected, her language is vivid enough for him to create the pictures meant to be projected on the dome right in his mind’s eye.
Yumemi recites a story about humanity’s persistent, almost instinctual drive to reach the stars, starting with the sky and working their way up with each generation.
She also reveals the ability of the planetarium to serve as a time machine; I myself keenly remember looking up with awe at the starry sky 1,000 years into the future. There is no more basic—or more powerful—way to see that future. Ditto the past; as it takes years, centuries, and millenia for the light from stars to reach us as tiny faint spots.
Yumemi’s optimism and absolute certainty that humanity’s path will only continue to lead upward stands in direct, defiant contrast to the fallen world outside the walls of the Planetarium; a world Yumemi can’t begin to fathom or even perceive.
Her only exposure to it has been through Mr. Customer, whom she calls because he’s just like any other customer, pre-apocalypse. And when that Customer gets up to leave, Yumemi says goodbye with her usual programmed charm. However, that isn’t the end, as I had suspected.
Almost as if she searched her database for some kind of protocol that would extend her exposure to Mr. Customer, Yumemi asks what transportation he’s using; when he says car, she attempts to connect with someone to take him to his car. Unable to connect (since there’s nothing to connect to), she takes discretionary measures by deciding to accompany the customer to his car. It’s a clever way to humanize her further without breaking her robot rules.
And just like that, leaving the idealized haven of Yumemi’s world isn’t so easy, those robotic eyes start looking more and more misleading, and the reverie continues.
I continue to enjoy how efficient, pure, and lean Planetarian is. There are moments of bigger things—a flashback to the devastating war that left the rest of the city ruined; Mr. Customer’s bad dreams—but is mostly just a guy fixing a planetarium projector while a robot hostess watches.
And yet, discovering this haven, miraculously untouched by the war outside, and its simple, cheerful guardian, has suddenly provided Mr. Customer a break from the struggles of the outside world. In here, he’s a repairman, with the client marking the time often (she estimates 75 hours of operable time left before she has to return to hibernation due to limited power).
Of course, Yumemi is also a pretty inquisitive robot, programmed to learn and become more than she was originally. And as Mr. Customer tinkers away, making slow progress, she keeps him entertained by bringing up her desire to dream, or shed tears.
When she repeats her question about when the projector will be fixed, verbatim, Customer switches up the answer, asking her to pray—not just to any god, or his god, but to the robot god. Her databases dig up a recorded discussion by the people she worked with about a robot heaven free of all the troubles robots experience.
Even as Mr. Customer successfully completes repairs on the projector, Yumemi has less than 60 hours left, which means he has just that much more time with her before he has to return to the “real” world, leaving this oasis of hope and dreams behind. Yumemi’s limited time weighs over the episode. And she still doesn’t quite grasp that the world has changed dramatically in 8,000 hours.
Planetarian is only five total episodes, and we’re through two. What kind of ending (if it is a definite ending) is in store for us: is Yumemi doomed to be limited to the confines of her relatively primitive hardware of which she is composed? Will she be forced to shut down in the next few days? Will Mr. Customer let it happen and move on, or try to change her fate, heartened, in spite of himself, by her boundless positivism?
While exploring a ruined “sarcophagus city” post-apocalyptic world, a “junker” stumbles upon Hoshino Yumemi, the robotic host of a department store’s rooftop planetarium. She has been in sleep mode for nearly 30 years, but picks up right where she left off, treating the man as just another customer. After spending some time with her, he initially plans to walk away and leave her, but reconsiders and goes back.
One thing I enjoyed about Planetarian is that so far, it’s very simple: Guy Meets Robot. We only get a glimpse of her being activated by her makers, then three decades pass like the blink of an eye, though she doesn’t skip a beat after waking up.
Also, Yumemi isn’t exactly a smart or sentient robot; she’s very limited in what she can say to and sense from Junker (I also like how he doesn’t have a name; he doesn’t really need one), in addition to being near the end of her operating life.
As such, their interactions are very one-sided. This isn’t two human beings interacting, and it shows. Junker is mostly put off by how verbose Yumemi is, and always looking for the right combination of words to simply shut her up.
Yet Yumemi almost talks as if she’s making up for all those years being offline with no customers to serve, even though she’d probably act exactly the same if this city and department store were still bustling with customers.
Seiyu Suzuki Keiko manages to strike a nice balance of super-politeness and verbosity without sounding too cutesy, shrill, or, most importantly, too human. Someone like, say, Misaki Kuno, would sound too human. Also, unlike the android in Dimension W, her lack of sophistication adds to the realism.
Ultimately, I understand why, at the end of a relatively brisk first episode, Junker reconsiders abandoning Yumemi. For one thing, even a hardened survivor such as himself was likely moved by many of the very profoundly sad little moments Yumemi had, whether it was her improvised bouquet, the planetarium show without a projector, or continuing to talk to him long after the door had closed.
But it’s not just pity that brings Junker back. Yumemi, and her rooftop planetarium, are the probably the closest he’ll ever get to the world of thirty years ago. War has turned everything to shit, and yet here is an isolated, untouched island of civilization that was; the proverbial “little planet” of the title, where can be lost in reverie.
I was moderatley impressed with the simplicity and originality of this show, and will be back to check on Junker and Yumemi next week.