Clockwork Planet initially made my list of most anticipated anime of 2017.
It’s got a really cool and unique setting, and it’s from the same author as No Game No Life. Granted, I was a bit more skeptical this time since this project was handled by Xebec, whose work is pretty much all over the map when it comes to production quality. Still my hopes were quite high.
Unfortunately, it seems my hype got the better of me. The first episode of this series is borderline terrible overall, even though there’s a lot about it that I liked, especially the chemistry between the two leads.
While a good chunk of this can be attributed to Xebec’s lacklustre presentation, a lot of what makes Clockwork Planet slip gears resides on a more fundamental writing level. Two examples of this really stick in my mind.
The first is the introduction of the main character, Naoto. Initially, the story portrays Naoto as someone who has a passion for clocks and other gear-based technology, but also has the distinct inability to make this technology function. Later, however, when a highly advanced automaton named RyuZU crashes through his ceiling, he’s able to hear which gear is causing RyuZU to malfunction and fix her up good as new.
Just so we’re clear, this kid can’t fix a regular old clock to save his life, but his ears are so powerful and accurate that he can fix one of the most complex pieces of technology that exist in this world.
I understand that they’re trying to set up Naoto as an underdog protagonist with a unique skill, but what really bothers me – aside from how little this setup makes sense – is how easy it is to fix it and make this idea work. And the solution is already present in the story.
Naoto is a child.
If Naoto was someone who’s at least fairly competent at fixing clocks and other tech, but is denied praise by his jealous peers or skeptical customers simply for being young, then it would be all the more gratifying when he succeeds and sticks it to everyone who put him down.
Or, better yet, establish that he has a complete theoretical knowledge of complex gear layouts and can use his ears to immediately identify the problem, but also give him shaky hands, making him typically incapable of fixing the problem himself.
This exponentially heightens the emotional catharsis of watching him tackle his shortcomings in order to succeed when he calms his hands enough to fix RyuZU. It also gives him an optional character arc to pursue later in the series in his attempt to completely overcome his shaking.
This is just something I came up with off the top of my head. How can a project with a whole team of writers and editors fine tuning the idea not make this work?
Now let’s jump to the very end of the episode. We discover that a major section of the world, which is constructed entirely of gears, is collapsing in on itself. This event might lead to a chain reaction that could destroy the entire world. Naturally, the protagonists immediately spring into action to try and prevent this.
Of course, the story couldn’t just leave it at that.
Not only do they have to fix the gears to save everyone living on them and prevent the end of the world. They also have to do it before the military SCUTTLES THE ENTIRE BLOCK, KILLING 20 MILLION PEOPLE IN THE PROCESS.
I have never seen a more bizarre mix of apathy and incompetence from an anime military. I understand that they’re trying to set up the military as the antagonists in this story. They made that really obvious with how the big scientists of this world interacted with a military officer.
It’s not that hard to convince us that the military is going to be the bad guys in an anime. Even in anime where the protagonists are in the military, the military turns out to be the bad guys.
If it’s about showing off the military’s incompetence instead of how evil they are it still doesn’t work. May I remind you that we’re dealing with the lives of 20 MILLION PEOPLE! Being for the greater good doesn’t make sense either. The suddenness of this decision and total lack of exploring alternative solutions is simply baffling. You’d think that “try to fix the gears” would come up in conversation before “break off a piece of the planet and kill 20 million people.”
Now that I think of it, breaking off a piece of the planet would still mess things up, right? I mean, unless they’re shooting them off into space I guess, but they didn’t say that. They can’t really put the gears anywhere that wouldn’t interfere with the planet itself so scuttling the block wouldn’t help anything. Do you see how broken this is?
This was the moment where I decided that I couldn’t put up with this series any longer.
Despite how much I loved the show’s aesthetic and the interactions of Naoto and RyuZU, I could not continue. The sheer lack of oversight in constructing a consistent and believable sci-fi setting fundamentally breaks any suspension of disbelief this episode could have built.
I’m sure this conclusion isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s seen this first episode. I just needed to vent about this a bit after all that stupidity and show just how easy it is to fix these gigantic problems.
Clockwork Planet might not be as great as we hoped, but you can check out my favourites of Spring 2017 for a ton of shows actually worth watching.