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.]