Planet With

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

Now that Neon Genesis Evangelion is finally widely available for anyone to see and lose their minds to, newcomers will join in asking the question anime fans have asked since the ‘90s: what will fill this Evangelion-sized hole in my heart? There isn’t a clean and simple answer for this, as no show has been able to replicate what made Evangelion so special, but there have been anime shows that have taken one of the many elements of that show and done it well. While many say that Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann is the closest one in terms of plot and character development, last year’s criminally under-seen Planet With is best spiritual successor to Evangelion’s themes of the futility of violence, self-acceptance, love and compassion, all while still featuring giant robots fighting monsters.

Planet With is about a high schooler named Souya Kuroi who has a bad case of amnesia and is living with a maid named Ginko Kuroi and a giant purple cat they call Sensei. One day, his town is attacked by a kaiju-like alien monster and seven human Power Rangers-lookalike called the Grand Paladin. Despite his best efforts, Souya is dragged into battle to fight… the seven superheroes? 

From there on the show becomes a fast-paced tale of mystery and evolution, with plot twist after plot twist making no two episodes feel the same, and with an uplifting and life-reassuring message about empathy and compassion. In a time where most anime shows are based on established manga runs or light novels, manga author Satoshi Mizukami (Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer, Spirit Circle) chose not to adapt one of his own stories, but give us a completely original story of power, love and forgiveness that also features giant robots in the shape of giant dogs and cats.

What Makes It Great

The first thing to notice about Planet With is how short it is, and how much story it covers in that time. Where most other shows take years and over 50 episodes to tell their story, Mizukami spent 4 years meticulously mapping out the story of Planet With in storyboards, amounting to a lean, fast-paced 12-episode show. The plot moves at lightning speed, yet nothing feels rushed. Instead, the show moves at a constant and brisk pace that always has something happening. The action never overstays its welcome, and the little downtime never undermines the action, while also bringing up and resolving conflicts so often you are left wondering just what they can do in the remaining episodes (the answer is a lot). 

Despite only spending a short amount of time with these characters, you end up feeling deeply concerned for them, and become emotionally interested in their wellbeing. The story is also very unpredictable. While some of the story points will feel instantly familiar to fans of anime, you are guaranteed to be in for more than a few surprises along the way. As a mecha series, the show follows every typical trope in the genre, but it manages to supersede expectations and subvert those tropes by way of repetition before suddenly breaking the tropes down. The antagonists of the show, the Grand Paladin, start as stereotypical team of super sentai (think Power Rangers) that activate their “Psychokinetic Mega-God Photon Armor” to fight the invading Nebula forces and their bizarre kaiju. There is an “off-ness” to the show that is both ridiculous and ridiculously charming, whether it’s the humanoid cat Sensei eating an entire lettuce with its human teeth, Sensei’s mecha form getting a powerup via drinking an “adult energy drink” that gives him terrible hangovers, or the monsters looking as silly as a giant rubber ducky with dozens of tiny baby legs. Throughout the show, however, we see those stereotypes immediately break down to reveal compelling, lovable characters with far more depth that you’d think capable of in such a short show.

What It Brings to the Conversation

The thing that makes Planet With truly special is the way it handles the themes of compassion and empathy amidst violence. The first episode plays mostly like many other mecha shows where a young boy has to stand up and defend his home, while also being a typical revenge tale of a guy who lost his home to an invading force, and finding that same force in his new home and wanting nothing more than get some payback. Only we follow an alien living in Tokyo, and the people he wants to get revenge on are the heroes defending the town from other aliens and who get their powers from the same cosmic dragon that destroyed our protagonist’s home planet. It’s a lot!

Any other show would make us root for the annihilation of the antagonists and cheer as our hero becomes more powerful and mighty, but not Planet With. This show is very much against the idea of violence and power for the sake of it. The more we find out about the show, Soya’s home planet and the mysterious alien group called the Nebula, the more the show starts to question the idea of a “hero” or a “villain” and using violence to achieve power. But Satoshi Mizukami isn’t content with simply preaching a message of non-violence. Soya Kuroi doesn’t need any figures of authority to tell him what to do or how to behave, instead the audience learns about the show’s messages though Soya’s actions. We see him make mistakes and learn from them in the course of the show, going from an angry revenge-driven kid to a full-on adult hero who knows that forgiveness is more powerful than a hitting someone with a steel clog.

Planet With feels in many ways like the thematic and spiritual sequel to Neon Genesis Evangelion, especially in the way the Nebula soldiers want to stop mankind’s evolution by making us complacent and trapping us in a dream world without pain or suffering that is certainly not real. There’s an episode that even evokes the Third Impact sequence from End of Evangelion and how it gives everyone a chance between staying dormant inside a pleasant dream or face the cruelty but also the beauty of life, and that’s where the heart of Planet With lies. The show confronts us with the question of whether it’s right to nearly kill an entire civilization based on their ability to probably become violent tyrants, versus giving them a chance to find out for themselves, as well as how futile it is to use revenge and violence to attain justice. This show is a testament to the power of empathy and the futility of trying to dominate others through force, even if it’s with good intentions.

The best way to summarize this entire show is from a quote from Sensei himself: “Change your perspective with love, and behold, the universe is filled with blessings.”

Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out

If you have not yet experience the utter madness that is Neon Genesis Evangelion (and you should), Planet With is a good, shorter way of getting ready for the weirdness and the themes of Hideaki Anno’s masterpiece. With only 12 episodes, this is a great way of familiarizing yourself with some of the tropes of the mecha genre before embarking on the longer sagas like the almighty Gundam. In just six hours, you get an epic sci-fi tale of action, revenge, evolution, war, love, and forgiveness, all starring a giant humanoid purple cat.

Watch This If You Like: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gurren Lagann, Power Rangers, crying.

Planet With is streaming on Crunchyroll.

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