Review/discussion about: Clockwork Planet
Clockwork Planet features and stars a couple of automata, robots who are more human than machine (on the outside at least).
Last year, a video game titled Nier:Automata stayed true to its name and did the same. I quickly fell in love with the somewhat niche project: 2B, the phenomenal OST, the amazing (true) ending. Not only was it my favorite game from 2017 but also it earned a spot within my all-time-best list. Alongside the likes of Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, Dark Souls, The Last of Us, and many others.
In comparison, Clockwork Planet will in no way be earning a similar treatment.
1000 years after the Earth’s demise, it finds new life within Clockwork Planet. From the tall buildings to the layered ground, the world fills itself with almost nothing else but gears upon gears. Within this world lives Naoto, an aspiring clocksmith. One day, a coffin falls from the sky. A coffin that contains RyuZU, the “One Who Follows.” He fixes her broken mechanical innards, she swears an oath of loyalty to him, and the two, alongside Marie and Halter, move as one unit to save this planet from whatever evil may roam.
Rather than telling one complete tale, this season roughly splits itself up into three distinct arcs: the Kyoto Grid Arc, the AnchoR Arc, and the Yatsukahagi Arc. A relatively common approach. Perhaps not as common, though, is the brokenness of this entire product.
The Kyoto Grid Arc already starts to unscrew the bolts keeping the show together. While these first four episodes serve mostly as the introduction – bringing the group together, establishing the setting, etc. – a lot of the content fails to deliver. The military-political subplot does not tie back enough to Marie and her standing since the audience hasn’t learned much about her at this point. The opposing robots do not make for interesting enemies and thus hurt the power of the action sequences. The anime doesn’t do the best job at differentiating this sci-fi world from any other run-of-the-mill city.
In episode three, RyuZU’s head-nodding confession to Naoto makes for a fun little scene, demonstrating that the anime has something worthwhile to share. When the AnchoR Arc begins a couple of episodes later, however, concerning smoke and whirring noises expel from this product as it breaks down further.
Breakage comes from different sources this time around. For example, in its attempts to provide a better backing to the upcoming plot, it tries to explain where the superweapon came from. It’s given as an unsightly exposition dump, though. The show also includes this crazy area called the “Deep Underground.” As Halter describes it, basically outer space if it existed, well, underground. A person cannot survive down there, and it seems like a neat place for the anime to explore if not a relevant plot point altogether.
But no on both fronts. Naoto just so happens to find a safe spot down there for convenience sake, and it is never revisited, leaving it as a tangential piece of the narrative. Oh, he and RyuZU also just-so-happen to meet some random old guy who turns out to be the final villain of the season. Because why not?
To the show’s half-credit, it does contain small throughputs that do tie back to earlier moments in the season, providing some semblance of writing coherency. Remember that subplot from the first arc? Marie puts those evil people within the government sphere on blast to out their corruption. A sly move for sure, but a move that unexpectedly acts as the catalyst to escalate known tensions. (Info lost within that exposition dump.)
Marie also mentions very briefly an old friend of hers named Houko in this arc who later appears in the last arc. Something similar goes for the message that they tailed. They find the obliterated body of the cyborg who sent it, and he later tells them it was his doing shortly before reincarnating as a female.
But these throughputs are too loose in their construction, for they are information and connections that do not matter in the grand scheme of things. Marie’s accidental actions do not lead to any thematic discussion on the political struggles and their adverse effect on the people. Houko does not play a significant role in the events that follow her arrival. It doesn’t matter who sent that radio message because it doesn’t affect the plot whatsoever.
However, once again, Clockwork Planet gets at something when RyuZU brings Marie along for her duel with AnchoR as an expenditure of sorts (unbeknownst to the young girl, of course). Fun, believable writing that, for a brief moment, may fix this show.
The Yatsukahagi Arc will have none of that, strolling in to demolish what’s left. The conflict at this point centers on the massive superweapon and how the group will save the country. In doing so, too many strange story beats occur. RyuZU and AnchoR don’t go all-out despite their bend-the-laws-of-physics abilities out of a misplaced fear of them overexerting themselves (which AnchoR does anyway). The whole giant space Tall Wand debacle comes and goes without much worry. The magical, poorly explained gear-making event to mend the Pillar of Heaven boggles the mind in its asinine nature.
Three arcs. Three chances. Three misses. In short, this narrative is like using a feather to jam a nail into a dense piece of wood – it just doesn’t work.
ART & ANIMATION
Clockwork Planet tries to make things work instead with its visuals.
RyuZU, Marie, and Naoto do so with their designs. Their somewhat dated looks hearken back to a now older style, acting not as an issue but rather as a source of intrigue. Furthermore, their details in general give them some clout. RyuZU especially. A nun-and-maid combo outfit. Her “impeccable and perfect body” (as Naoto puts it in episode five). Extra accessories and patterns that adorn her clothes. Each part highlight her devoutness, beauty, and intricacy (respectively), arguing for said clout.
Also of note are some of the different shots within the anime. It mostly refrains from any grand detail in its background artistry, but Clockwork Planet can have flashes of neatness. Whether it’s a top-down view of the gear-filled country or a psychedelic interpretation of Naoto’s incredible hearing ability, the audience is treated sparingly to a couple of cool shots.
Unfortunately, that intrigue and those flashes cannot hide the anime’s otherwise underwhelming presentation. It can look far too rough at times when designs do not maintain correct looks either through squashing or from improper details. Outright mishaps are rare (e.g., the white of Halter’s eyeball is colored incorrectly at one point in episode two), but the overreliance on speedy backgrounds, the barely serviceable cinematography, and the boring maneuvers for its action sequences continually hamper its visual integrity.
Worse still, the actual animation is far too stilted for much of the show’s run. The anime gets around the poor movement with gun battles, swift blade attacks, and the occasional comedic display (e.g., Marie opening and closing her hands in episode five to mimic choking someone). But mouths during conversations, their walk cycles, turning, and the general actions they take do not amount to much. Not that the animation is choppy or unacceptable; it simply doesn’t aim to appeal.
Worst of all, the opening track rips over half of its visuals from the events of the anime itself. An every-single-episode indication that the anime refused to try harder than it otherwise could have. Combined with all the other problems, the art and animation simply don’t have enough going for them in such a visual-driven medium.
After the story breaks apart and the visuals barely work as a Band-Aid, Clockwork Planet’s cast arrives to try and rectify the situation with tools of their own. They tinker and toil, but their efforts are in vain.
It starts with RyuZU. Arguably the best part of the entire anime, RyuZU instantly improves the show with her progenitor status (being a creation of Y, the creator of their world) and, of course, her deadpan insults (which strike with truth and hilarity). Her ultra-time-slowing move gives her a cool edge over the enemy, too.
While she makes fun of Marie and the others, part of her character focuses on not hating humanity so much. Or at least, coming to the conclusion that they have more brains than those of a common flea. She takes that minute step thanks to one person: Naoto. He proves to her with his aural capabilities that people nowadays are not just a bunch of buffoons. That they are indeed capable of some extraordinary things.
However, Naoto doesn’t just give her a reason to stop the hate. He also gives her a sincere relationship. While the pairing of a teenage boy and a thousand-year-old killer robot is admittedly an odd pairing, Naoto’s joy and persistence at having a thoughtful connection with RyuZU beyond the master-servant roles they take up puts her out of her comfort zone. Thus, he elicits emotions from her that she otherwise would have never experienced.
Despite RyuZU’s part in Clockwork Planet, the anime literally and figuratively puts her out of commission come the second half of the season. An electromagnetic pulse wave overheats her system, and she oddly receives less focus even when she revives, leaving her presence diminished and her impact forgettable.
The trade-off is spending more time on AnchoR. Arriving at about that halfway point, she counts as RyuZU’s younger “sister” and looks at Naoto and Marie as her “father” and “mother” respectively. Having always been told what to do and only just recently gaining her freedom, she almost always asks for permission first before doing something. That is, until she “disobeys” Naoto of her own free will and chooses to wipe out the superweapon come the end of the season.
Like RyuZU, though, AnchoR’s most important involvement comes from a relationship she holds with another character: Marie. Despite AnchoR’s kindhearted intentions, Marie doesn’t like AnchoR and actively distances herself from the little girl as much as possible. So, from their interactions, AnchoR eases Marie’s at-times rough personality, and Marie humanizes the “One Who Annihilates” by giving her the love and the support she has never known.
Marie isn’t an automata, but she is a known genius of the Meisterguild and of the Breguet family. At least, before she destroys her guild crest and fakes her own death. She describes herself as someone who never views anything as impossible, and she stores insane amounts of knowledge in her head while simultaneously fixing mechanical issues with utmost precision.
In comparison, Naoto, the main protagonist of Clockwork Planet, isn’t a genius but instead a miracle. His hearing compensates for the fact that he does not have strong tinkering skills, giving him an advantage and an out in many a situation. He also has a keen affinity for the small (perverted) pleasures in life, and he isn’t afraid to be honest with people.
Both Marie and Naoto have their own moments throughout the season. Most of episode six challenges Marie’s personal mantra, and Naoto regularly lends his talent such as when he pinpoints the few gears among trillions that need a repair or determines where the next attack will manifest.
Once again, though, it’s the relationship between the two that takes precedence. Marie often cannot fathom why this “idiot” makes so much sense all the time, and Naoto encourages her despite the troubles they face. Most importantly, they mirror each other about the other. She’s mad at herself for relying on Naoto the miracle; he’s mad at himself for the envy he feels towards Marie the genius. They don’t hate each other. Rather, they both simply wish that they could do and be more than what they currently are.
A cool idea, but it’s only sprinkled throughout the season rather than honed in on as a major talking point between the characters. Plus, their esoteric, paradoxical exchange in episode eleven, where they seemingly teach the other (to some extent) their signature traits, isn’t the most sound writing on the (clockwork) planet.
As for the other cast members involved, they either do not contribute much or lack basic characterization and writing to make them worthwhile. Take Halter. He’s no doubt a cool, chill dude to have around, balancing out the craziness of the others. Yet he unfortunately doesn’t receive a lot of attention outside of a weird aside where Marie pretends to call him “papa.”
Vermouth, the man-turned-woman cyborg, adds in some comedic relief when nearly every line of her dialogue takes the form of a sexual innuendo. However, her late inclusion, her lacking relationships, and her failure to hold a meaningful role within the crew simply makes her into an unnecessary distraction.
Gannai, the main villain of the Yatsukahagi Arc, is little more than a crotchety old man who has beef with Y on a philosophical basis. He barely has a handful of lines during his brief stint let alone a tangible foundation to his very character.
From RyuZU to AnchoR, Naoto to Marie, and everyone in-between, the characters unfortunately cannot fix what is already broken. Some of their relationships had a chance, but, they do not instill enough torque to get the gears going.
MUSIC & SOUND
Clockwork Planet finds no respite from its broken state when it comes to a lot of the music played throughout the season.
The titular opening track, “Clockwork Planet,” stalls the show from the get-go. The faint noise of a hand-turned device and some techno sounds can be heard in the background for a couple of fitting inclusions. However, the flat vocals, the tired beat, the odd loftiness, and the lacking instrumentation turn the OP into more of a chore to listen to all the way through rather than a welcome addition to the anime.
The ending track, “Anti Clockwise,” redeems where its brethren reduced. More relevant noises appear in the form of ticking time, but the ED trades in the techno and the tired for the dynamic and the diverse. Frantic piano keys give way to varied vocals, guitar segments, a bit of autotune, and changing tempos that power up the entire piece. While not a playlist-worthy track, it at least keeps the music from having nothing to show for itself.
Because, sandwiched between the detestable and the acceptable, the original soundtrack slowly fades away from the minds of the audience. Hand drums, acoustic guitar, and synthesizer accompany mystery vibes, sad moments, and fast-paced action sequences (respectively), yet their impact is low and their supportive nature only exists insofar as they give the listener something to distract them from the rest of the anime. One of the tracks does have a cool saxophone lead-in. But, when it proceeds to play alien spaceships and daintier instruments afterwards, roughness messes up that smoothness.
On top of the fact that there are no noteworthy voice-acting performances, the music and sound work within Clockwork Planet is one of the weakest pieces to this malfunctioning project.
Only two people in the anime save it from being an absolute bore: RyuZU and Konrad.
RyuZU for the obvious reasons. She’s a beauty, but it’s her words against Naoto and the others that got a chuckle out of me every time. Here are a few of my favorites from the show.
“Is there some kind of problem? Does my perfection and overwhelming capabilities damage your mitochondrion-level pride?” “Master Naoto, your face is already dull at best.” “I suspect the brains of the army’s officers have been seriously damaged. I mean, they fell for a plan you came up with, Miss Marie.” “Even the Gods are envious of the treasure that is my lap. It is the definition of unrivaled luxury.” “Please, use every bit of your insufficient brain. Excuse me.”
I also liked the romance bits between her and Naoto. Her pouts and jokes, the almost-kissed-twice scene, her engagement moment. Without RyuZU, the anime would have been nigh intolerable for sure.
Now Konrad, he knows what’s up. He goes from a leading scientist to a strip-club proprietor. Taking in and building up sexy robot women who throw themselves at the casual beanie-and-t-shirt wearing gentleman every chance they get. All while doing his part to help save the world during his downtime. A man truly worthy of respect.
As for everyone and everything else, I cannot say I was a big fan. I wish Halter did more throughout the season. Naoto, Marie, and AnchoR have their quirks, but I don’t find them pronounced enough. The shootouts and the occasional super abilities didn’t keep my attention. The drama didn’t do anything for me. No interesting themes pop up that I could either investigate or admire. Choosing to have AnchoR register with Naoto instead of Marie seems like a huge misstep on a character and narrative level in my eyes.
This anime isn’t the worst that I’ve ever seen, but it puts itself pretty far down there.
Clockwork Planet needs more repairs than a destroyed timepiece. The story is a mess. The visuals lack value. The characters come up short. The music is bland. The entertainment available amounts to maybe a couple of elements. Altogether, an automatic fall to very nier the bottom of the list.
Story: Terrible, a weak foundation, loose plot points, and questionable writing choices keep the narrative from highlighting the extremely sparse moments that have some grain of worth
Art & Animation: Bad, while the individual designs and a few shots have some intrigue to them, the stilted animation, the low input of its cinematography, and the rough artistry in general lead to an underwhelming visual presentation
Characters: Bad, RyuZU, AnchoR, Naoto, and Marie have potential in their relationships and individual traits, but their efficacy ranges all over the place, and the side cast in general do not contribute much, if anything at all
Music & Sound: Bad, the OP and the OST crash hard, and the VA performances are par for the course, but at least the ED provides a track worth listening to
Enjoyment: Bad, RyuZU and Konrad do what they can to keep the boredom at bay
Final Score: 2/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3