This is review number four mother*cking hundred. This anime is part of the Spring 2017 lineup, and it’s called Clockwork Planet. I originally wanted something more special for my 400th review, but I also realized it’s just a number. I’ll plan something more special when I reach my halfway point. Meanwhile, I’ll review this twelve episode anime about the light novel version of the premise of Chobits, or something like that. Let’s read on.
The anime follows Naoto Miura obtaining a special robot after it fell through his roof. He fixed the robot, and she soon decided to have Naoto as her master. In a world made up of gears, Naoto and his special abilities will be needed to help fix it. Along with a girl named Marie, Naoto now seeks out to save this world in need of repairs.
Taking the Pants Off
Here’s a weird one for you. It’s a light novel anime, but it’s heavily influenced by its manga. How does that work? When I first saw Clockwork Planet, the visuals were amazing, but the story oddly did not feel like an LN anime. The complex setup of the anime just doesn’t feel very light novel, and it’s honestly too good to be one. I’m a bit bummed my LN bingo card won’t be applicable for this anime, but it is interesting how the anime’s original source seems to be all over the place. To be fair, it’s still written by the two LN authors so you could argue this is still an LN anime. If you’ve seen the manga though, then things make a lot more sense. Xebec seems to enjoy butchering adaptations and focusing on the best bits, like what they did in Keijo, and Clockwork Planet seems to be a similar case. The studio adapted the beautiful visuals of the manga, but they cut out some bits and just focused on the ones worth featuring in an anime. It worked great for Keijo, as it highlights all the tits and asses that’ll help justify watching a lot of girls objectify themselves. For Clockwork Planet though, it clearly didn’t work and I think the reason is the big adaptation influences I mentioned before. This is an LN anime, but Xebec adapted its manga adaptation that adapted the original source. Keijo is just nonstop action, so there is room for creative liberties. An LN anime is drenched in exposition though, so you need more foundation to feature the action. You can’t just suddenly show the main characters in a cool climax moment without explaining what the climax is. It just doesn’t work.
This anime is about a guy named Naoto Miura obtaining a personal robot that serves him as her master. It’s the familiar setup of a guy stumbling into a special robot, and then they spend most of their time looking out for each other. It reminds me a bit of Chobits, but I’d like to show my age by also referring to the premise of Saber Marionette. It’s a super old anime, but it’s mostly about a bunch of mechanical puppets serving a master, and the robots are all girls serving one lucky guy. In fact, the pacing of the anime is actually oddly familiar. It reminds me how formulaic most 90s anime are, and the first episode just has this “robot-meets-master” cliché that I really enjoyed. This stands out to me, because the show really didn’t feel like a light novel. The setup of the premise feels more 90s cliché, and there is no heavy exposition to bog the anime down. They mostly avoided explaining how the world is covered in gears as well, but they did try to relay that information via the visuals. I love the world Naoto lives in. Even though it’s a post-apocalyptic dystopian world, the gears are just fantastic visuals and the gritty style of the anime is just engaging to watch. As the first episode progresses, I was actually just interested in the beautiful world the anime has created. The complex gears that rule the world and the people living in grids just have a really intriguing setup. Again, there is no big explanation to how this world works. Everything is done through the visuals.
The first half of the anime is actually a master class in how to relay information through the visuals, while also slowly weaving a narrative through it. The anime rarely uses explanations, and they only happen to setup the next scene the characters will be involved in. They’d mostly just give us the name of a place they’ll go to, and the story commences without stopping to explain exactly what is going in. In the first half of the anime, they only setup the importance of the gears and the purge that threatens to destroy it. They never bother to explain the importance of the Meisters, and they never dive deep into the conspiracy the characters are involved in. It’s mostly because it doesn’t matter, since you can fill in the gaps with just a few establishing shots. A few visuals of the scheming bad guy, a wide shot of the clock tower integral to the plot, and a fight scene involving some robots are enough to keep the story moving along. While they’ll be even more effective if fleshed out, the anime clearly had a lot more things in mind. They never get caught up in the exposition mainly because they wanted to feature something more important: the characters.
The anime has three chapters in general focusing on three individual incidents. In the first chapter, the story follows Naoto and another character named Marie Bell Breguet. While Naoto is getting his finger sucked on by a robot (seriously, this happened), the show would shift focus to Marie running around the city trying to stop a major disaster. Just like the exposition, the character introduction is mostly done through the visuals as well. The way they interact with the side characters, their general facial expressions and their attitude dealing with their situation establishes the characters. The show never stops to point out that Marie is a child genius and a Meister. The show also never bothers to explain Naoto’s powers. The visuals handle all of that. In fact, Naoto’s weird obsession for gears is established through a singular scene of his home being covered with broken clocks. He hugs one and he wishes he could actually fix them, and that solitary scene alone kinda introduces his character to its most important bits. He loves machines, particularly gears, but he’s not skilled enough to help them. He just has this unique talent and an even unique love for machines. The visuals really do a lot for the characters, and it’s also the big factor that makes Marie such a compelling character. She has a lot of high and low moments, and the visuals really help us understand how complex of an individual she truly is. I’m mostly blown out of my mind, because light novel anime doesn’t really behave like this.
Light novel anime is a practice at wish fulfillment and unapologetic fan service. It also always positions its main character at the center of the story, even if the story spent two episodes featuring another character’s flashback. There’s nothing wrong with the LN formula. It’s just really dumb sometimes as it give up its story so the main character can grope some sweet ass. Clockwork Planet is scarily different though. It does value the story more than the traditional LN tropes. I was honestly scared when the anime ended its beach episode halfway through, and the rest of the episode focused on the story resuming. It feels a bit sacrilege that you cut down a beach episode to just 15 minutes, but the anime clearly had other things to focus on. Aside from the lack of interest for the fan service, this LN anime also focuses the story on two characters. It is unheard of, because LN is all about wish fulfillment. You want to be these characters, because they’re modeled after you and they go on adventures you want to go on as well. Who doesn’t want to be that fat kid in Accel World being ogled by a beautiful butterfly? In Clockwork Planet though, ample time is dedicated to a female, non-harem, character. She even eats up a lot of time just going emo, and I just can’t believe an LN anime can do that. It feels really wrong, like an unspoken rule is just broken. Now, granted, Yuu Kamiya’s other story does feature a bro-sis combo in No Game No Life. The big brother is still the focus though, and he still engages in the predictable LN tropes. Clockwork Planet just feels broken, in a good way, and it feels really weird.
Despite not behaving like a typical LN, the show still does dedicate time to some stupid LN tropes. While it doesn’t have a harem or someone being transported to another world, the anime would still give time to Naoto flirting with his robot. I remember them busting into a heavily secured clock tower, and then Naoto asks his robot if she likes him. He goes “nod for how many times you like me”, and it’s incredibly stupid given the situation they were in. The anime segue way to him and his robot a lot, and it often breaks the pace of the story. The beach episode I mentioned before was done after the team receives a cryptic message so serious that they decided to investigate…but only after we go to the beach first, because this is still an LN anime. Hell, we even get some classic scenes like Naoto falling on top of the robot. I mostly give it a pass though, because it doesn’t really happen that often. Most LN anime would do that once per episode, and I have seen it done before, so I’m just glad the plot moves in an efficient manner. Here’s the kicker though, and it’s really no surprise at this point, Naoto is a Mary Sue character. I guess I can use the LN bingo card for this review. Throughout the course of the series, Naoto never really fails, nor is he defeated. In every grim situation, Naoto would be the one to think of a clever plan to resolve things. He is the most important piece of every plan, and he can do the impossible. I’ve seen too many mary sue characters to not spot one a mile away. Of course, Naoto’s perfectness isn’t obvious though. Marie is there to balance things out, and her presence actually welcomes “failure” into the narrative. Her constant self-loathing and regression also hides Naoto’s mary sue traits. You can never really spot it, unless you see the pattern happen in all three chapters. The mary sue trope is also wonderfully hidden because Naoto and Marie are established early on as “flawed characters”.
Naoto and Marie both have unique hung ups that makes them grounded. Marie is a girl that acts tough, but she crumbles over the idea that she doesn’t really have any power to help people. When she sees Naoto save the day, Marie would feel jealous and she would doubt herself. Naoto’s the same though. Since they never really talk about it, he is insecure of Marie as well. She is a very smart Meister that can fix anything, and Naoto is just someone with really good ears. He can’t really fix anything, and he feels inadequate when things get tough and he can’t do anything about it. Their insecurities drive them to be better though, and this often helps them out of dire situations. This complex character setup makes Clockwork Planet really exciting to watch. Even when the plot starts to crumble, you can always count on the two main characters to keep things stable. Their brilliant characterization and relationship really saves the anime, because the plot does crumble towards the second half.
Okay, so the anime have three chapters focusing on a big crisis the duo must resolve. The first chapter is my favorite as it features a giant conspiracy veiled over the government’s decision to “purge” a district. This just means that they’ll drop the district, which is in the form of a giant gear, into the Earth below. Marie’s duty as a Meister, which is to repair giant gears to prevent purges, makes her act to save the day. The first chapter features the duo meeting, and it also introduces us to Naoto’s cool robot. With all of them helping, they charge on to stop the purge from happening. As I said before, the visuals tell most of the story and the duo’s relationship makes the narrative interesting. The world building is also pretty fantastic as we witness just how many gears are inside this planet, and this actually makes you question how one engineer, named “Y”, was able to build this. Characterization is this anime’s strong suit though, since the first chapter also explores Naoto’s robot. Her relationship with Naoto is a big highlight, and it’s one of the best subplots in the series. Things kick off wonderfully from here, and we immediately jump into the second chapter. I call it the “loli chapter”, because it just features a rampaging loli killing people. It’s a pretty direct chapter as well, since the only goal is to save the loli. The anime made a sharp right turn around this point though, and the story suddenly turned bad for some reason.
In the second chapter, Marie and Naoto got separated and we witness Marie just feeling like sh*t over the fact. When the episode is about to end, Naoto suddenly appears and explains that he was helped by a man with an elevator. The anime flashed the man’s face, but this is really weird. The show somehow just glossed over Naoto’s adventure meeting a man with an elevator, while we just see Mari sulk in the entire episode. We couldn’t shift from one story to another? Why did the anime completely avoid the more interesting story? This isn’t an isolated thing as well, since the anime did it again in the following episode. During the giant confrontation with the loli, the military is also having a big confrontation as well. We never see the military fight the other enemy though, and the big blow off is just mentioned causally before the anime ended. “It seems the military has won as well”, I think is what the robot said after she defeated the loli. It’s odd, because this anime that does great visual storytelling is seemingly denying us of the visual narrative.
Things started to make sense when the anime revealed that the third chapter is actually about the man with an elevator and the other enemy that we never see fights the military. They were heavily involved in the big crisis for the third chapter, and the anime just completely crumbled here. The problem really started when the show opted to not introduce that elevator guy. He seems to have an agenda, and the second chapter clearly had enough time to dedicate for him. I mean, the first chapter had a useless segue way of Naoto and his robot flirting, so I think laying the foundation for the next chapter isn’t really that big of a deal. Or is it? Letting us meet the elevator guy is actually a big exposition dump, and the anime doesn’t want that. They’re sticking to their guns and they won’t feature exposition in any way. Or is it? Just a scene of Naoto meeting the guy and being helped by his elevator would mean so much for the story, so I just don’t understand why the never took the time to introduce the elevator guy properly. The lack of exposition eventually bit the anime in the ass though, because a good ol’ fashion clusterf*ck soon commenced. It’s all because the anime doesn’t want to introduce the elevator guy. What the f*ck, right?
The lack of exposition completely ruined the story. New characters are suddenly popping up, government discourse is introduced as a big part of the elevator guy’s plan, and the whole thing about electromagnet is also not properly explained. The characters went from being fugitives to becoming terrorists to becoming ethereal Dues Ex Machina with no proper explanation. There is a general plot, and I actually like it, but there is some nuanced in the subplots that are just slowly killing the anime. It didn’t properly explain the existence of the other enemy, it didn’t explain the elevator guy’s motives properly, and it also didn’t explain its climax properly. The main character’s big plan of hijacking the main gear that controls Tokyo is also never properly explained. I remember just trying to figure out how we go from saving the robots from its electromagnetic sleep to suddenly spending a leisurely day at a shopping mall, but then the story suddenly featured the character’s attacking the main gear. The main gear also happens to contain a princess, and we never figure out where she fits in the story. Let me try to make sense of it. So elevator guy is part of this shady conspiracy group meant to create dissonance with the military and the government. After a big attack, the elevator guy will now recharge for its next devastating attack. Meanwhile, Naoto tries to save his robot while Marie goes into another self-loathing emo session. As that happens, Naoto and another robot spend some happy time in an arcade. This somehow leads to the characters attacking the main gear, and yeah they never explain their big plan. Before that though, the anime gives some screentime for Naoto and his robot to flirt, even though it can’t be bothered to explain anything that happened throughout the course of the third chapter. Anyways, they attack and they reach this big tree. This sets up the climax that I f*cking cannot understand. I think they hinted that Naoto might be “Y”, the engineer that created the planet. I got very little information though, and all we ever see is this:
What the f*ck is this? The side characters blurts out that they’re “creating gears”, but this is just a stupid Deus Ex Machina. My gawd, so they just somehow learned how to create gears? What was stopping them from doing so in the first place, other than the absence of the Dues Ex Machina. Gee, it’s f*cking convenient that the big climax resolves everything without the audience having a clue how it f*cking happened. I feel cheated. I feel very cheated. After a master class of visual storytelling, the anime decided to just rush its ending? That’s just insulting.
You know what really hurts the most? The most crucial part of the third chapter, which explains the elevator guy’s motive and the big climax, happened when the anime decided to not tell us how Naoto met the elevator guy. Yknow, it was when Marie was in deep emo mode and the anime never bothered to explain how Naoto saves himself back in the second chapter, where the show clearly started spiraling down the drain. The scene we never saw features, as explained in the LN, Naoto meeting the elevator guy. They talk about Y and how he managed to create a planet out of gears, and elevator guy is pissed because he dedicated his life figuring out the “how” yet 1,000 years has passed and no one has really come close to finding the answer. Elevator guy hates Y, and he believes that the creator of the planet is not really human. Naoto retorts with his cool line about mankind not giving up yet, despite elevator guy himself losing hope. This led elevator guy to think Naoto is actually Y, so he sets out to prove to Y that there is no hope. He wants Y to understand that he didn’t save the planet, he couldn’t save the planet, and we’re all f*cked. He decided to come out of hiding just to rub it in Y’s face. This connects to the big climax where the elevator guy’s suspicions might be correct, about Naoto being Y, but it’s actually just Naoto proving his point. He is not giving up, and he found a way to prove to elevator guy that the planet can be saved. Everything I wrote can be done in five minutes or less in the anime, with just a conversation between Naoto and elevator guy, and yet the show chose not to. Why? Sweet flaming Pikachu, why?!
The ending ruined this anime, and it really stings. The anime was doing great up until the third chapter, and I don’t understand how things sharply declined at such a sad pace. While the story did get worse over time, the characters are still a big positive for this anime. Naoto and Marie are great main characters, but every supporting character did a great job as well. RyuZu’s sharp tongue is always fun to listen to, but I also love how incredibly selfish and mean she is. I still remember her sacrificing Marie to stop AnchoR, even though Naoto volunteered for the big risk. Despite the plan working though, RyuZU never reveals that she only wanted Marie to tag along so she can die in place of Naoto. That’s f*cking cold, and makes her such an interesting character. RyuZu is also a big fan service character, but we don’t really see much of that in the anime. This helped in taking the characters more seriously, like AnchoR. She goes from murderous little killing machine to a docile kitten, and it works. This stereotype isn’t new, but it’s decidedly a very important part of AnchoR’s personality. Her timid existence is also a big focus of the third chapter, and it’s actually one of the best things about that clusterf*ck chapter. The rest of the cast also shined in their own way, and the awful story didn’t really affect the characters. I like that about the show, since you can throw them into any situation and they’re flexible enough to make any ham-fisted scene work.
This anime is presented by Xebec, and I actually thought they’d better themselves with this anime after Keijo’s awesome outcome. I am reminded though that this is the same studio that gave us Tokyo ESP, so I am really worried. They seem to just give solid hits from time to time, and a bulk of their works is just complete misses. They’re under Production IG though, so I think Xebec can fail continuously and it won’t really matter. I do love this weird LN and manga cross hybrid though, and I wish we get more anime like this. Yuu Kamiya is a really talented author, because this is his third work adapted into an anime. All three works also have manga adaptations, so he’s really profiting from three points. I bet that’s an awesome position to be in , and hitting gold three times is just proof of how scary talented he is. I’m never a fan of No Game No Life though, since the mary sue trope was heavily used there. I hate that trope so much that I want to purge it, Clockwork Planet style. I do like Itsuka Tenma Kuro Usagi though, since it was just unnecessarily gory. Clockwork Planet seems to be his best work yet, in my opinion, and I hope I get to see more of his works get anime adaptations. Hopefully Xebec doesn’t get their hands on it though because I’m not a big fan of them gutting out the story. It feels disrespectful.
Tsuyoshi Nagasawa directed the anime, and I really like it. His previous works aren’t that impressive (MM! and Nyaruko-san), but he outdid himself with Clockwork Planet. Even if the manga set the tone of the anime, Tsuyoshi’s cinematography still made the show special. He understands how to do visual storytelling, and I hope this leads to more awesome works from him. I’ve seen great manga ruined by a director, so I really admire how he captured the gritty feel of the original source. He also did a great job of world building using all those gears to slowly make out the Clockwork world. I really think he did a great job directing this anime. The script and series composition is done by Kenji Sugihara. He did some notable script works for anime like Shiki, and he also did episode scripts for a bunch of anime. The guy knows what he’s doing, and I think the first half of the anime is just a great harmony of the writer and the director. The rushed second half seems to be an effect of something out of their control, but I can’t really be sure. Kenji’s script is pretty solid though, even though the option to exclude the elevator guy’s meeting with Naoto ruined the entire thing. My gawd, one solitary scene ruined this anime. It’s incredible.
Sight and Sound
The original design, for the LN, is done by Shino. This is also the artist for Sunday Without God, and his works are really impressive. I mostly love A-1 Pictures for capturing Shino’s impressive style, but Shino’s work themselves are beyond impressive. In Clockwork Planet, his cover arts are incredible. It’s one thing to feature a well-designed character like RyuZu, but he also design gears and complex metal work to his artworks. He highlights a lot of things, from RyuZU’s complex pose to her costume to the gear that shares the pace with her. Shino is just one hell of an artist, and I’m a bit bummed he didn’t illustrate the manga. A mangaka known as Kuro did it, with the two LN authors doing the script. This is his only manga illustrated so far, and I think he did a decent job with it. Shino’s work is stupidly complex, but Kuro gave his own unique touch to the characters. He established the world the anime adapted, and he also made the story a bit more Shounen friendly. Part of why this anime is a weird hybrid is because of Kuro’s influence in the adaptation. He still kept Shino’s impressive design, but he used the inking and the expression lines to his advantage. He made the gears look impressive with just black and white, and he also used the character expressions to tell the story. This is key, because the anime greatly adapted his visual style. With the original authors writing the story, Kuro is as close to the LN as he can but he also added his own manga spin to it.
The animation is incredible. Xebec’s bright color palette is a big plus for this anime, because it contrasts the gritty atmosphere of the story wonderfully. As I said before, I love the world building of this anime. It used the visuals to tell the story, and the director mostly used wide shots to deliver the exposition. The audience is tasked to fill in the gap though, but the tension of the scene and the details of the wide shot is enough to tell an effective story without the important details. Like this scene:
It doesn’t really give us any important thing related to the story, but the scope of the blast is an indication of the villain getting serious, the situation turning dire and the characters cornered. This one scene tells so much, and it helped set the anime up for success. I know it isn’t much, but it does give some weight to the anime’s narrative. The director worked around the obvious deficit, and he tried to use the animation to carry the crumbling anime. His cinematography really made the show special for me.
The animation isn’t all good though. A lot of the fight scenes are rushed, and some are just useless filler. During RyuZu and loli’s big fight, the animation just didn’t make the scene special. It lacked any real pacing, and there were no stakes in it. It’s just a hollow fight scene, and the anime could’ve continued on without it. A fight scene is a big exclamation point for the story, but it just felt forced in this anime. The anime did give us some solid fan service moments, and AnchoR’s timid personality is just beautifully animated as well. The facial expressions are a pivotal aspect of the show as well, since characters are fleshed out using the wide range of expression they displayed in the anime. Naoto and Marie’s complex characters are presented by the animation, and every facial expression they make really helps to appreciate the characters a lot more. I especially love Marie and her emo sessions, since the animation just presents the scene. I don’t listen to the dialogue that much, since the animation is enough to deliver the scenes.
The anime’s OP is “Clockwork Planet” by fripSide. I suck at reviewing songs, but the lyrics are like the weird existential thoughts of a person clinging on to the one he loves. Well, above the obvious clockwork reference though. The song doesn’t really stand out to me, and it feels a bit generic. The OP sequence also feels generic as it features a montage of the important events of the anime taken from the episodes themselves. The OP is so lazy it couldn’t be bothered to make the montage look cool. The singer’s voice is pretty good though, and it had some solid instrumentals. The anime’s ED is “Anti Clockwise” by After the Rain. It feels like the OP song, but I actually like this more. I guess I just like the faster pace of the song and its overall message about hope. It’s as bleak as the OP, but I just personally prefer this one. The ED sequence is a weird CG animation of the characters with stiff animation. It also features some decent illustrations, and a cool shot of RyuZU looking hot in CG form. The gears in the background are also a nice touch, and it definitely stands out more than the throwaway feel of the OP.
7/10 “It started out great, but it slowly crumbled towards an insulting ending.”
Even though Xebec gutted the manga’s story, the anime still holds up. The first half of the anime is especially good, and it’s worth watching the show just for its first two chapters. The anime is also weirdly clichéd but refreshingly unique for an LN adaptation, so it is really worth checking out. The ending is disappointing though, and it does leave a bad taste afterwards so you’ve been warned. I do think the bad ending is worth it though, since the anime still impressed me despite its horrible downsides. I recommend it.