Time for Clockwork Planet!

Welcome, all, again.  I apologize for the length of time since my last post–but that time has given me the opportunity to develop a sincere appreciation for Clockwork Planet, a series of which I was at first rather skeptical.  As far as anime tropes go, a human falling for an automaton is one that has been thoroughly overworked, particularly a young man falling for a machine in exquisite female form.  But there’s a secret to telling the same story that others have told before you–tell it better! And so far, I think that Clockwork Planet has done just that (at times even reminding me of the clumsy yet nuanced emotional overtures seen in Plastic Memories, a past favorite that matched a human guy with a mechanical girl.)

This story takes place on an artificial planet built a thousand years prior in response to the death of planet Earth.  Our hero is Naoto Miura, a high schooler of no special talent, but with a pronounced fetish for things mechanical.  Also, he is afflicted with extremely sensitive hearing, prompting him to constantly wear noise-canceling headphones.  Naoto aspires to become a technician working on the upkeep of the planet’s clockwork functions, but cannot master his studies.  Actually, he can’t even read blueprints.  But when an inanimate automaton crashes into his apartment through the roof, Naoto makes the single most important repair of his young life, awakening the beautiful (and acid-tongued) RyuZU.

RyuZU is one of the automatons created by “Y” himself, creator of the artificial planet upon which humanity now clings.  Indeed, she is unit 1 of the “Initial-Y series,” a being whose design is impossibly complex and whom technicians have failed for centuries to repair.  Not until Naoto heard the broken rhythm of her delicately geared heart and made a single adjustment, reawakening her like some steampunk Sleeping Beauty (is clockpunk a word?  Because it will be.)  RyuZU has found a master, and Naoto has found the girl of his dreams, made even better because she’s not “real.” This idyllic situation, however, is soon disturbed by the arrival of Meister (Master engineer/technician) Marie Bell Breguet, a very real girl who was the most recent caretaker of the inanimate RyuZU.  And she is not happy!

Marie’s been having a tough time.  Her treasured RyuZU unit was somehow ejected from a helicopter while in flight and lost.  And she’s having trouble pinpointing the malfunctions within a gigantic clockwork tower, malfunctions producing highly destructive gravitational anomalies.  On top of that, enemies of her family are trying to use her as a pawn to discredit them–and the military’s trying to kill her and several million other folks.  To wit, work sucks.  Marie needs some good news, and discovering that her “Initial-Y series” unit has been repaired and then claimed by some unworthy plebeian clod does not fill that need!  Unable to contest RyuZU’s contract with Naoto, Marie enlists their help against the military’s upcoming murderous purge.  But helping Marie (and her bodyguard Halter) means making some powerful enemies; Naoto and RyuZU might be shocked by what it eventually costs them.

So, what’s the verdict?  I like it.  Clockwork Planet provides elements of mechanically absurd[ist] fantasy within a story that I find to be immediately fast-paced and absorbing.  Sci-Fi?  Heck, yeah!  Dystopian dreamscape?  Check!  Harem?  We’re getting there!  Meanwhile, the artwork has been beautifully detailed from the very beginning; this series has possibly some of the best-integrated CG animation I’ve seen, as it fits very naturally into the visual flow.  And, speaking of fits, the closing musical theme is masterfully fit to Naoto’s primary talent of detecting auditory dissonance.  The characters are admirably self-aware while being flawed enough to make them likable, even somewhat believable.  To be sure, this series received a lot of criticism in early reviews for basically being too formulaic.  And I won’t argue that those reviewers were wrong–at the time.  But I think that this show neatly overcame its inherent shortcomings, often building them into strengths.  Clockwork Planet has become a favorite of mine this season, one of the first things I look for upon arriving home from work on Thursday afternoons.  It’s just that good.

[Parental Note: I hesitate to even mention this, being that it is not particularly sensationalized, but Naoto’s fetish for things (particularly girls) mechanical is just that–a fetish, with all attendant baggage .  This leads to certain one-off comments, especially from RyuZU, that can be rather candidly explicit.]

Sakura Quest Finds Its Feet!

Welcome, all, again.  Today I will offer some initial thoughts about the new series Sakura Quest, which just recently aired its second episode.  This is good, solid slice-of-life territory, with a female protagonist arriving from Tokyo into the much slower rhythms of a rural community.  We get to watch her as she struggles to adapt and make friends–sounds a lot like Non Non Biyori or Flying Witch so far, right?  If only the introduction could have gone so smoothly!

So let’s go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room: Sakura Quest had what I consider to be one of the most anemic, most convoluted, and most poorly put-together introductory episodes that I’ve seen in a long, long time.   The premise itself is rather straightforward and completely workable: an unemployed recent graduate jumps at the chance to portray a small town’s “Queen” as a gimmick to drive the region’s tourism, not realizing that her contract stipulates a one-year reign (think Locodol with one girl and a bad attitude).  It’s unlikely but not implausible, real life being full of Dear gods, what did I just get myself into?! moments.  So the writers had something to work with–they just didn’t feel like bothering.  Instead, we were force-fed worn cliche after worn cliche, with last-minute phone calls, mysterious (and even deceased) characters, and a backstory involving a paranormal creature not even native to Japan.  I actually reached a point where I wanted to stop watching.  Just one tenuous link kept me in Manoyama: Yoshino Koharu.

Yoshi, our jobless grad, is a character so realistic that you expect her to tumble out of your screen demanding a train ticket and lunch money!  She has that same inherent brash overconfidence as does Chitose in Girlish Number, just tempered a bit by both the rigors of her recent schooling and soul-crushing rejections from the job market.  She knows her own (self-established) worth, but starts the series painfully aware that others do not.  And yet to a certain degree, she’s also quite grounded; realizing suddenly that she’s visited Manoyama before as a child, she laughs it off as simple coincidence.  Truth be told, I could have completely skipped the background noise of the first episode we were given in favor of Yoshi on the phone describing different interviews to a friend or family member.  Her observations tend towards witty and concise; ironically, I bet she’d make an astute interviewer for some company’s HR department.

But Yoshi is instead Manoyama’s queen-for-a-day, only to panic after being told about her yearlong commitment.  It seems that she’s ready to head back to Tokyo–I suppose there’s some unspecified allure to impending hunger and homelessness.  And so we struggle through episode 1.  But episode 2 has a much stronger storyline as Yoshi gathers together a ragtag bunch of Manoyama’s (best-looking) misfits, all ready to save their town from economic ruin.  Mind you, Yoshi still plans to somehow beat her contract and leave. . .what, the best-looking comment?  Well, just because the writers were initially slacking off does not mean that the artists were!  Manoyama offers plenty of beautiful scenery, including a taste of resident eye-candy.  [Hey, at least it’s not another show about incestuous tendencies towards underage sisters!  Oh, you thought that embarrassing trope had already run its course?  Bad news, then. . .]  Anyway, Yoshi’s crew is motley indeed, offering a tourism board employee, a former actress, a web designer, and Spooky Girl.  (Yeah, we’ll probably find out more about that later.  Besides, I like an intimation of exposition that doesn’t require a cliffhanger.)  Just about anything could–and should–happen with these gals run amuck!

We’re at two episodes in already, and I’m thrilled that I stuck it out through episode 1 to find myself rewarded with episode 2.  Suddenly, Sakura Quest is fun and likable!  And I see no reason why we shouldn’t expect that trend to continue.  This could become my favorite show of the season, chupakabura and all. . .

 

 

Initial Thoughts about The Laughing Salesman

Welcome, all, again.  As we begin a new viewing season, I shall direct my attention towards The Laughing Salesman, a series which–in its first episode, at least–offered two separate and completely different stories.  (This helped convince me that I might justify a review so early on.)  The show’s main character is the titular salesman Moguro, who helps his clients find happiness.  However, he omits to explain that happiness is fleeting, just as he never quite discloses the full terms of sale until a potential client has already committed.  But then, we all know that the Devil’s in the details, right?

Still, it’s hard for me to conceive of Moguro as actually being evil, as I’ve already seen him described in some other early reviews.  In fact, he’s not even much of a trickster, and it’s his unflappable directness that makes the resultant calamities so delicious!  All he does is offer a vehicle for the manifestation of his clients’ greed.  Moguro’s clients, meanwhile, tend to seal their own fates with little if any further need of his encouragement or exertion.  One episode in, and I’d have to describe this series as a cautionary tale mingling and then exemplifying the well-known sayings: be careful what you wish for, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Simple as that sounds, however, this series shines stylistically, juxtaposing different styles of animation within the same scenes in order to emphasize its moments of gallows humor.  And as I’ve already mentioned in a review of this series on Crunchyroll.com, in premise it resembles to me a blending of The Twilight Zone with noir gangster films.

 

If this show has a weakness, it’s that–once the terms of sale are fully explained–the ending to a particular story becomes rather predictable.  But that does nothing to lessen the entertainment offered in watching the process completed!  Nor must we assume that all Moguro’s clients will succumb to temptation.  Most will, certainly, but who knows when one might surprise audience and salesman alike?  This series might be a tad cliched, but it’s still fun viewing as a polished bit of brief dark fantasy.