I recently wrote a review on Studio Trigger‘s Kill La Kill, which I branded “utterly insane.” From the context, you’ll notice I meant this in a positive way.
I am now going to resurrect that phrase, but with the exact opposite connotation. Clockwork Planet, insofar as the first episode, is almost objectively unappealing. With mechanical precision, it manages to violate not only my lenient moral standards, but also my standards for storytelling as a whole. The total absence of worthwhile animation, the tasteless situational humor, and the abusive tongue-in-cheek plot developments all work to remind me of the end of Taboo Tattoo—a trial I’d rather never endure again.
In Clockwork Planet, the world died a thousand years ago, and lives on only due to the actions of a legendary clock-maker known as “Y,” who restored the world from scratch with his clockwork skills. Naoto Miura is a flunking high school student who loves clockwork with unabashed passion. One day, after shouting to God that life is unfair because he’s still a kid and can’t create or work on automatons, a slumbering automaton crashes through the roof of his apartment. After restoring the automaton to a functional state, he learns she’s named RyuZU, and he’s now worthy of becoming her master.
Let’s begin with the opening sequence (A.K.A. the OP). Typically an anime’s OP has better animation than most of the anime itself, since it’s short, quick, and compact, yet Clockwork Planet‘s is abjectly bad. It’s plagued by still frames, too many basic movements, and too much cluttered computer animation, especially in how mechanical apparatuses fit together (a reoccurring issue throughout this episode). The theme song itself is forgettable, with a vocalist who sounds like she’s been under the weather for several days.
The handful of protagonists each suffer from I’m-Obviously-A-Main-Character syndrome, possessing designs far more interesting than everyone around them (and it’s not even a card-game anime!), but that’s only my first concern when discussing the art style and animation. There’s a lack of lines in the art, which strikes me as less of an aesthetic direction and more a bout of laziness. Most character models befall the fate of very basic lighting, especially the robot fodder at the beginning of the episode. The fighting is clunky, poorly-choreographed, and wields almost no emotional impact whatsoever. It reeks of filling a trope quota. Yet, perhaps the greatest sin to be held against the animation is the scandalous misuse of computer-generated graphics. It’s everywhere, especially in the clockwork gears. The end result is an uninspired, visual composition which would strike horror and shame into the hearts of animators like Hayao Miyazaki, Yutaka Nakamura, and Toshiyuki Sato. (Pretty much any self-respecting animator, really.)
Despite the world being remade completely from scratch (how, exactly, we have no idea), there’s still a place called the Kyoto Grid, which, as the name suggests, is exactly like Kyoto, Japan. While I suppose it’s possible this neo-Kyoto could reinforce the idea of Clockwork Planet being an alternate timeline to our own, it’s instead perceived as a mandatory setting by way of being written for a predominantly Japanese audience, and thus sacrifices the hope of making a cool, new setting in exchange for the safety of a comfortable one. The only redeeming quality of the Kyoto Grid is its futuristic appearance, which takes all of the the most basic parts of other fictional worlds (like those seen in many cyberpunk and steampunk universes) and mashes them together into whatever shape is most convenient at the time of each scene. I didn’t say it was a particularly stellar redeeming quality.
As the episode progresses, we learn there’s a problem with the internal clockwork beneath the city, but honestly I couldn’t really follow the plot. Apparently the military is okay with “purging the Kyoto Grid” and thus allowing the city and twenty million people to die, but I won’t start breaching the many levels of questions which comes with that development, especially not the ones pertaining to the author’s knowledge of how human beings work and our lack of willingness to uniformly annihilate country-sized groups of people.
Things just kind of happen in Clockwork Planet, with no discernible key-ins as to why. The series of coincidences which fall in place to push the story along is so tongue-in-cheek it managed to extract many groans from me during my viewing experience.
I want to pick just one example of poorly-manufactured dialogue. Let me set the scene for you:
Naoto staggers around his living room, a fresh wound in the ceiling from where a beautiful girl crash-landed on top of his dining table only moments earlier. Paying no mind to the strangeness of the situation, he scans his gaze up and down the girl’s shape. She seems to be in a catatonic state, not even breathing. She must be a robot. But, man, she’s a pretty robot. An innocent, but hungry blush warps Naoto’s face into a shade of raw pink.
“This is my ideals, personified,” he says to the girl, his eyes still hanging on the perfect contours of her body.
(This translation, brought to you by Crunchyroll.)
In what I can only assume was a development intended to make Naoto appear competent, there’s a scene where he locates a tiny, stationary gear among an estimated 4,207,600,008,643 turning gears in what he says is an unfamiliar automaton. He’s able to pinpoint its location through sense of hearing alone. That number I just shared? He somehow knew that off the top of his head. Again, he just said prior to this moment that he was not familiar with the robot. These astonishing feats don’t make him appear competent, or even passionate about clockwork. They make him appear impossibly written and unbelievable as a character.
The only reason I remember there being any sort of soundtrack in Clockwork Planet is because of a song that sounds like a jumble of brass and percussion which played while one character drove around town. There’s a noise in the track which made me think something was wrong with my monitor for a second.
I didn’t even bother to watch the ED.
Spiritual Content: There’s an almost spiritual aspect to clockwork and how they “choose” people. There’s a scene where Naoto screams “God’s not fair!” because he’s still young and thus can’t be a working adult.
Violence: A building collapses. Robots explode after being attacked. Some characters use guns, another uses some blades. However, there’s no blood at any point.
Language/Crude Humor: I counted a single use of “d***,” “s***head,” “b******,” and “h***” each.
Sexual Content: A character in the opening cinematic is naked, the particulars being covered only by her legs and hair. Another character in the OP is considerably busty and revealing (might be the same as the aforementioned naked character, just with a few different details). Naoto calls clocks his “sweet lovers” multiple times, once while moving his hands up and down their curvature. RyuZU’s body unfolds, revealing a sexless chest, which still makes the protagonist blush. Sexless though it might be, her physique still manages to be notably endowed, which is odd not only because she’s a robot, but also because she’s supposed to be fifteen. There’s a close-up on her chest at least three times once she’s clothed again.
There is one scene of heightened viewing concern, where RyuZU submits her loyalty to Naoto, him having been judged worthy of being her master. The process of confirming such loyalty is an uncomfortable twenty seconds of RyuZU licking and sucking on Naoto’s finger in the most suggestive ways possible. All the while, a pink, floral lighting is used to accent the backdrop. There’s no explanation for why this is the standard procedure of binding an automaton to a human, but it is. The interaction is followed immediately by the following dialogue:
“Master Naoto, you are a pervert,” smiles the girl who had a guy literally open up her chest. Because of course he liked the interaction.
“Yes. Sorry.” Naoto answers, appropriately flushed in the face, though why he’s flushed is coming into question more and more.
“Now you are my master.”
(And I’m just over here like, “but Y tho.”)
After RyuZU becomes Naoto’s servant, the degree of sexually-charged situations and dialogue increases several times over, as evidenced by an artistic depiction of her on a bed of roses with nothing but a light flare to cover her genitalia, while she says: “No matter how indecent or unusual your desires, it is my job as your servant to accept them all.” When looking for a place to rest for the night, she suggests they go to a love hotel nearby because it’s apparently the most reasonably priced. Furthermore, she chastises him for almost ignoring the opportunity to sleep on her lap, which he proceeds to do with excitement. Remember, RyuZU isn’t even a human, so if it wasn’t bad enough for Naoto to be so titillated by her, it’s even worse that his infatuation might develop into a pathological concern regarding his ability to distinguish what’s real and what isn’t. Also, doesn’t this count as some sort of abuse of power? No? Okay, then.
At another point in the episode, a group of ruffians come off the street and approach RyuZU, suggesting they go over to the love hotel to “have some fun” and threaten to hurt her when she declines.
Another character sleeps nude, and when startled awake only puts on a jacket. Her particulars are covered by hair and a conveniently placed baton which blocks the camera. At least the male bodyguard who finds her has a mature and decent response. She then proceeds to cry and call him an idiot.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None present.
Other Negative Themes: This is one of those series that gives anime a bad name.
Positive Content: RyuZU is fiercely protective of Naoto and remains loyal to their pact, protecting him from harm.
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