Planet With – 02 – Dearth of Enthusiasm

As the “Citizens’ Safety Center Special Defense Division: Grand Paladin” deals with the aftermath of losing one of their seven fighters to the enemy (which is called “Nebula”), Souya doesn’t so much as get real meat as a reward for his victory.

He lashes out at both Ginko and Sensei and skips school, then encounters Torai, the guy he just beat last night. Now lacking Photon Armor, he’s on investigation duty, but his memories of meeting Souya are fuzzy, so it’s a cordial exchange. Then another, even weirder UFO arrives.

Sensei clarifies that while he and Ginko are with Nebula, they’re with the pacifist faction that only wants to relieve humanity of the power the Photon Armor, which they’re using Souya to do (the “Sealing” faction wants to take it a step forward and actually keep humanity from ever evolving to a point where they develop such power).

Inaba Miu, the youngest member of Grand Paladin, is the star of the show, defeating the UFO after getting stuck in an illusion involving her and her friend and comrade Harumi in a judo match. But shortly after winning, Miu and Harumi are confronted by Souya and Sensei, and a 2-on-1 fight ensues.

Once Souya gets the hang of operating his “Sensei Armor”, he manages to defeat Miu and snatch away her power, but gets greedy and wants to go after Harumi too, against Sensei and Ginko’s order to withdraw. As a result, the rest of Grand Paladin show up and surround them. Could the gig be up just 2/7ths of the way into their mission?

Planet With episode two has the same shortcomings as the first: a whiny protagonist; loose-sketch supporting characters; goofy-looking anonymous UFOs. The CGI fights come with some decent SFX but are otherwise fairly standard 2018 fare. But with no strong characters or ideas to get enthusiastic about, the show feels very color-by-number so far.

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Planet With – 01 (First Impressions) – Unidentified Rooting Interest

What Planet With lacks in originality (weird mecha fighting an even weirder enemy is a tale as old as time) it makes up for in polish, panache, and, well, specificity. Kuroi Souya isn’t just one such mecha pilot; he’s an orphaned amnesiac transfer student who lives with a green-haired maid and giant purple cat-man that only eats lettuce/cabbage.

Despite the best efforts of his charming class rep (and occult research club member) Takamagahara, Souya ends up splitting off from his class when massive UFOs start appearing close to coastal cities, including his. A band of seven superheroes transform into mecha to meet the extremely bizarre object.

Souya isn’t among them. In fact, the maid (Ginko) and cat-man (“Sensei”) meet up with him and instruct him not to take out the UFO, but the seven superheroes, one of whom (Torai) manages to enter the core of the UFO. Just like a JSDF fighter pilot earlier, Torai is transported to an elaborate illusion, given the chance to save his mom who he couldn’t save in real life. He manages to break through the illusion and destroy the UFO, and the others explode with it around the world.

Before his mecha can be repaired, he’s confronted by Souya, who ends up piloting “Sensei”, who transforms into a vaguely feline mecha. Souya manages to defeat Torai’s far larger mecha and steal the source of his power; a vial filled with silver star-shaped particles. Souya laments that he may have been taken in by Ginko and Sensei in order to fight as their soldier…though at least this time, he’s won over by the promise of a meat (though not beef)-filled dinner.

And that’s where we leave things. The question is, who is the good guy here? Souya all but admits he’s the two weirdos’ weapon, while after the credits, whoever is in charge of the seven superheroes (who Torai claim are protecting the planet) hardly looks like the benevolent type.

Everything looks and sounds great in Planet With, but take away the spectacle and there’s not much to invest in here…at least not yet. As with Souya and the promise of meat, I’ll settle for spectacle for now. But meat alone isn’t a meal; hopefully some potatoes are forthcoming.

Sora no Method – 05

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With help from Koharu and Noel, Nonoka starts to implement her plan to bring everyone back together and apologize for breaking her promise, by making a new promise to Yuzuki: that they’ll launch fireworks from the lake in a week’s time.

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Yuzuki is dubious and quick to run away from Nonoka, Koharu, and Souta, an action that’s grown somewhat repetitive these last two episodes, to the point that if you took a shot every time she ran away in a huff, you’d be pretty boiled. But Nonoka and Koharu’s concerted efforts to make the fireworks happen ultimately manage to draw out what’s been eating Yuzuki all along.

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Even Shione agrees to come in a week…if Nonoka can make the fireworks happen, which she doubts, meaning she thinks Nonoka is lying again, because she’s a liar. Shione has been feeling lied to an abandoned for so long, it’s formed a cold, hard, cynical crust. But we learn her and Yuzuki are not angry for the same reasons at all.

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Yuzuki has really been angry at herself, ever since she ran away from home with fireworks and Souta rode off, desperately looking for her. In the process, he crashes his bike and badly hurts his leg, ending up in the hospital. Yet when their parents ask what he was doing, he protects Yuzuki and shoulders the blame himself.

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Even before that, when the five friends were to meet at the pier for fireworks, nobody was able to make it. Yuzuki and Souta got separated at the festival, while Shione and Koharu stayed home. The only one who actually got to the pier was Nonoka, who was at the waterfront with her mom. When Yuzuki sees the dated photo proving she was there, she’s compelled to apologize to her too.

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I for one am glad Yuzuki figured stuff out and there was finally a cathartic reunion. Even more significant, the four friends together (minus Shione, who’s still loitering around nearby, ever at a distance) actually get to see fireworks courtesy of Noel, who projects them off the saucer. This time, Nonoka was able to keep her promise. She’s made up with Yuzuki; but is that enough to move Shione?

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Sora no Method – 04

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Having everyone back together in the spot where they once played doesn’t have quite the effect Noel was expecting, and Nonoka suddenly remembering calling the saucer with everyone and leaving without saying goodbye doesn’t suddenly make Shione or Yuzuki. In fact, Yuzuki is so pissed off, she slaps Nonoka in the face and storms off.

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But this episode isn’t primarily about Nonoka, our ostensible protagonist. It’s mostly about Yuzuki, with a hearty helping of Koharu, whom hasn’t had much to do until now. The truth that Nonoka is that Nonoka sends her into a bitter rage, suggesting her problem with the Saucer is about far more than fireworks. It’s about something more painful…something in a hospital.

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We don’t know the details, nor does Nonoka. But whatever the saucer did to Yuzuki, it’s haunted her incessantly ever since. She’s worked tirelessly to try to dissuade tourists from visiting the saucer — and in vain. And since every other business has banned her, her last outpost of Quixotic anti-saucer protest is Koharu’s family’s store. When customers complain, Koharu has no choice to shut her friend down.

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Meanwhile, mindful that she’ll need to learn more before approaching Yuzuki again, Nonoka meets with her very different twin brother Souta, to try to get some perspective. If he knows what’s really eating away at Yuzuki, he doesn’t let on, but he tells Nonoka not to worry about her; it’ll only cause her trouble.

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He said practically the same exact thing to Koharu, who tried for a long time to stand beside Yuzuki and support her as she tilted at windmills. Yuzuki was in earshot when Koharu couldn’t say with certainty that she didn’t think Yuzuki’s efforts were pointless. Since then, Yuzuki has harbored that non-answer as evidence Koharu may only be on her side to be nice and avoid confrontation.

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After Yuzuki happens to spot Nonoka talking with Souta, she races back to the tourist area and physically blocks a road full of buses, and Koharu is again forced to choose between her friend and the reality of the situation. Yuzuki brings up Koharu’s talk with Souta, and Koharu finally admits to her face that her actions serve no purpose. Yuzuki declares her hate and storms off again. It’s rough.

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Yuzuki hates Nonoka Koharu, and Souta; while Shione hates Nonoka and she and Souta would rather not be wrangled back into this hot mess; they’ve moved on with life. That leaves the two subjects of the others’ hate: Nonoka and Koharu. Neither of them want things to stay the way they are, but neither is strong enough to change anything alone. Maybe working together they can make something happen.

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Sora no Method – 03

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Loved this long-distance relay conversation between the scattered group members.

Everyone in this circle of past friends is missing a piece of the puzzle, which informs how they treat Nonoka. When they’re all brought together again for a sprawling orienteering trip, those pieces start to match and fall into place, resulting in a different kind of re-orienting: that of their immediate attitudes towards the transfer student. At the same time, Man, was this a gorgeous episode, packed camerawork that really accentuates the scale grandeur of the surroundings.

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Our first perspective comes from Togawa Shione, who’d been glaring in the background till now. Komatsu Mikako is one of the best in the business when it comes to coldness and barely restrained contempt in an otherwise sweet and innocent voice, and she’s perfect as the bitter Shione, who is convinced Nonoka is trying to play her and the others for fools.

"Here's a 'promise' for ya!"
“Here’s a ‘promise’ for ya!”

So convinced is she that Nonoka is being glib and coy, it doesn’t take much interaction with her at all to make her slap her in the face. Shione is upset because seven years ago, it was Nonoka’s idea to “call for the saucer,” and yet after they called it, she split for Tokyo without a word, abandoning her friends and the responsibility for the Saucer they all shared. Shione’s missing piece? Nonoka genuinely doesn’t remember those days…be that only makes Shione feel even more devalued.

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Next up is Yuzuki, who we learn is twins with her bro Souta, as he was also in the group (the guy is notably not the focus in a group of mostly girls). She hates the saucer, in part, because it’s the constant reminder of Nonoka’s betrayal. She’s just as angry at Nonoka as Shione, but is nice to Present Nonoka because of her missing piece: she didn’t know this was the same Nonoka, a position also shared by Koharu and Souta, until Nonoka gets separated from them and Shione educates them.

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This is, again, the first time we see the friends talking about seven years ago, so none of them have failed to remember, but have dealt with it in different ways. There’s a interesting bit of intrigue in this scene devoid of Nonoka, who is the one who is bringing everyone back together…some without knowing it, some against their will!

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Even if Yuzuki isn’t entirely convinced yet, now that she’s aware of the possibility, it’s going to change her interactions with Nonoka. That’s made even more abundant in Nonoka’s ultimately very fruitful lone journey to a decaying and abandoned Kindergarten, most likely the very one the circle of friends attended. It’s a quiet, sadly beautiful, wordless scene where Nonoka simply sits by herself and starts to hum, and is joined by Noel.

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Here, in this place, her missing piece comes back to her: her friendships with the others and the wish they made seven years ago. This happens sooner than I thought it would, which is a good thing, but it’s only the beginning. The flashback shows how similar or different the friends are now, and underlines just how blindsided they all were by her moving away. But she just…couldn’t find the time or place to tell them.

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Up to this point, Nonoka had the most missing pieces, not even knowing how the Saucer got up there, let alone the fact her present peers were not only already her friends in the past, but didn’t appreciate her sudden departure.

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But that’s all changed now: Nonoka remembers now, and she still has what she had ever since she returned to town: Noel, who tells her she’s not just from the Saucer or of the Saucer; she IS the Saucer. Without knowing it, Nonoka got what she wanted seven years ago. So…what now?

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Sora no Method – 02

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“We’re continuing this?”Nonoka to Yuzuki

The town seems to have gotten used to the fact there’s a giant shimmering saucer floating above it, as have most of the girls who presumably put it up there in the first place seven years ago. At least, outwardly they seem to have moved beyond it as something outside of their control. Even Nonoka, who only remembers bits and pieces of her past there, doesn’t seem that unnerved by its presence. There’s one girl who thinks differently: Mizusaka Yuzuki.

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—”Why are we running?”
—”Because we didn’t do anything wrong!”
– Nonoka and Yuzuki

Yuzuki, voiced with equal measures fiery, impulsive gusto and delicate vulnerability by the lovely Toyosaki Aki, wants the Saucer gone, period. As Nonoka is a new student at school (which starts far sooner than she thought), Yuzuki immediately tries to recruit her to her cause, and comes on a bit strong. She’s passionate in her distrust of it. While it’s played up as something akin to a UFO nut, and Nonoka reacts appropriately, with polite bemusement and a whiff of “Why me?”

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“You can’t call for the leaders at  a reception desk.” – Nonoka

After Yuzuki tells off her brother Souta, she rushes off with a backpack full of fireworks to take a boat to the island over which the Saucer floats (and is now off-limits to the public). This is dangerous and illegal, and the former underlined when Yuzuki loses her balance and falls into the drink, taking Nonoka with her. As they dry off Nonoka learns why getting rid of the saucer is so important.

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That reason has less to do with Yuzuki’s assertion that there are still many things in the town that won’t truly go back to the way they were until the Saucer is gone, like being able to go to the island to launch fireworks. It has more to do with the fact that after being led around and participating in anti-saucer activities, Nonoka has had a lot of fun with a new friend, and she wants to support that friend so she won’t feel sad and alone, something she can relate to.

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She says as much to Noel, and that she has nothing in particular against the Saucer herself. Despite the fact Noel’s presence is directly related to the Saucer’s, Noel seems receptive to helping Nonoka, as Nonoka wants to help Yuzuki. Ultimately, getting rid of the saucer may be a matter of all the former friends from seven years ago coming back together…though the cynical Souta and cold, perpetually headphoned Togawa Shione will pose a challenge.

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A shout-out to Franklin for passing this on to me: not only is this a pleasant, charming show, but it’s also getting more intriguing as long-separated friends re-forge their bonds. It looks great, too…even if the character designs border on the over-cutesy. And the dialogue is peppered fun, witty little lines like the ones that dot this review.

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