Warning, long analysis post
Planetarian: one of the most accessible VNs in the occidental market. With a price of just 5€ during sale seasons, this VN is one of the best options for those who want to experience a new storytelling media.
For me, as one of the KEY VNs I had yet to read, I installed it in my laptop and brought it with me to Madrid, where I had about 10 days to experience this and other KEY VNs. One of those days was a day I planned around reading Planetarian. It was quite an experience for me, and I encourage you to read my slightly long story about it.
This time however, I want to talk more objectively about what I thought that Planetarian did well and not so well. However, to be honest, I don’t know how to start. I have many things to talk about. I guess most of the times, stories start from the beginning, so I’ll talk about the origins of the world Planetarian takes place in.
Our story takes place in Earth. One would think that this is obvious, but we are told that humanity had colonized the Moon. This also tells us that the story is set in the mid term future, perhaps in 100 years, maybe 150, but definitely not many more. This time data can be extracted from the Junker saying that some things looked like technology from the last century. In such an advanced world, where proper humanoid robots are a thing, we set the main point for our timeline. At this point, overpopulation and resource shortages are the main worry of the governments. Perhaps it is as a result of this problem that these worried governments got associated and ramped up their space program budgets, in search for places with the resources needed to sustain humanity’s growth. Space colonies were stablished in the Moon and a plan for humanity to keep on developing was plotted.
Except perhaps the governments weren’t thinking about the whole humanity, but just their respective countries. The slow pace at which the whole colonization project was taking place wasn’t enough and the people with the most power in the world didn’t like it. They tried to accelerate the process to save their own country through the expropriation of others’ resources, even if that implied destroying the hopes of an insane amount of innocent people. With this in mind, the invasion of a space colony was the spark needed for the explosion of madness and death to occur. Nuclear and biological weapons reduced the human beings count by 3 digits at least and modified Earth to the point it would be raining forever.
This is the first stopping point for us to analyze what has happened. First of all, I’d like to point out that this distopia isn’t as unlikely as it looks like. We are currently running short on some natural resources, specially fossilized hydrocarbons like petrol, gas and carbon. While we have other technologies on the works, nuclear power is our best ally in the short term, but keep in mind that uranium and plutonium are also limited (although there is still a lot to be used before we run out). Even if we manage to develop solar and eolic power to a greater potential, there is a possibility that such technologies will not be enough to sustain the growing human species. We are already looking to the nearest planets to emigrate and colonize them. With a manned mission to Mars not far from our present, it looks to me like we might be close to that distopia.
What Planetarian shows us here is that humanity should be prepared for the worst. We tend to postpone problems and don’t like putting many efforts into solving matters that affect the whole humanity or Earth if they get in the way of some selfish localized interests. An example of this is Global Warming, although I won’t go into detail about this particular concern. My point is that we are reminded that the worst could happen and we might find ourselves forced to lower our living standards or to regulate our population growth. While doing any of these could be an offense to many of us, not doing so could end up like in Planetarian. A fight for resources would be almost assured and only disgrace could follow. Knowing what could happen, we could prepare ourselves, both from a country’s perspective and from a personal perspective (physically and mentally), for what we would have to give up for humanity to persist. This message is something quite important, at lest for me, and I would put it among one of Planetarian’s main messages.
Also, since I mentioned the rain, let me expand upon it. The eternal rain is, by definition, a diluvium. According to the Genesis (First book in the Bible and the Torah), God wanted to clear all live from Earth and reset everything leaving just a pair of animals of each species and Noah’s family, a honest person who believed in God. Anyway, I think this diluvium is making a reference to this. Since humanity obviously made many mistakes and caused too big a damage for themselves to be able to repair it, the rain acts as a punishment and it’s destructive characteristics exist to reset the world and create a new generation of live afterwards.
Let’s now follow the story a bit more. In this Pandemonium, not happy with the despair caused, the remaining governments started to send mechanized extermination units, or more directly put, robots designed to eliminate any survivors.
And now we stop once again to meditate about why these people would want to cause any more harm than the one they already caused. I find myself at a loss when I try to think a logical explanation. Don’t people get tired of fighting each other after 10 years of constant destruction? Aren’t governments made of people with families who they love more than the country they represent? I sincerely think that nothing like this would happen in our world. This would make me think that such robots are a cheap plot device used for the last events in the VN, but since the fiddler crab is a defense oriented robot, I’ll discard this theory. Now, without much to work with, I’ll turn to you and ask you: What do you think about the way the killer robots were introduced to the world. Does it hide a message?
The robots themselves are another important topic by themselves. During my reading time of the VN I could classify all the robots into 3 types. The human-serving ones (Yumemi), with an apparent emotional intelligence; the human-killing ones (the small hunter robots), that swarm their prey and won’t let it scape, and the fiddler crab.
The fiddler crab is a very interesting robot. Its function was to defend the city it had been placed in. It adopted an overwatch position and looked for intruders of that prohibited area. However, when the Junker attacked it, the crab (as I’ll call it for short) looked more like a scared animal, doing everything it could to defend himself. It strafed doing evasive maneuvers while shooting repetitively it’s 13mm machine gun. Even after it only had 3 operational legs, the crab decided to use it’s railgun at a very short range, knowing that firing it with 3 legs would affect its own frame. This made me think that even a robot designed to kill (even if for the sake of defending an area), it possessed a fair amount of intelligence, or at least emotions. In this case, fear and a self conservation sense.
Yumemi was a humanoid robot, and many more had existed like her. She was the personification of Asimov’s ideal for a robot. A robot that would serve humanity to the point of giving its own life and one that would never ever under any circumstance try to cause harm to a human. However, this idea is a bit cold, and the fact that KEY decided to present Yumemi as a buggy and worn robot was great for this topic. Yumemi’s emotional intelligence benefited greatly from her bugs and defects. Since she was designed to keep learning during its operational lifespan, the fact that she tended to talk all that much meant that she would receive many new pieces of information that she would then include in her database. If you look closely at that fact, you realize that she acted like an innocent child. She didn’t actually know much about the common information a human would need to live in society, but she kept on asking about it and learning it little by little, just like children would ask their parents about everything they didn’t understand.
There isn’t much to say about the hunter robots. They were programmed to kill humans and that’s what they do.
If we contrast all the information we have about robots, one would think that we have a good type, a neutral type and an evil one. Does this really mean that there are good robots, neutral robots and evil robots? I’d say no. The ones who were good, neutral or evil were the ones who designed those robots. There were people with good heart, who wanted to help others and thought that sharing knowledge was a good starting point, thus creating Yumemi. There were people who feared for their lives and seeked protection from attackers. These people transmitted their fears to the design of the crab. There were ill-minded people who seeked death, the annihilation of their enemies and human life itself. These people too, put their most sincere feelings into the creation of the hunter robots.
After all, robots aren’t good or bad. They’ll be as good or as bad as we want them to be. And this isn’t something all that good. Would you dare say that Yumemi’s way of being is just the reflection of the feelings a group of people had? No, negating Yumemi’s personality would almost imply denying Planetarian itself. Here, one message overlaps with another. Yumemi’s outgoing personality and the fact that she has her own dreams and aspirations reference a question many people ask themselves: up to which point do we want robots to be able to learn on the go and to have a unique personality? I’ll leave this one open to you, but, in my opinion, Asimov’s laws are compatible with a fully intelligent being like I consider Yumemi was.
Now that I’m talking about Yumemi’s personality, I’d like to, sadly, recall her last moments. She was obviously broken beyond all repair, but her memories were stored in a memory card. She was ok with inserting that memory card in another frame. Would you consider that that new frame was Yumemi? If so, then, what would death be for a robot? Should robots die? Should they even be asked if they want to die or not once they reach the end of their operational lifespan? Robots should have a beginning and an end for their lives. Robots like Yumemi have reached an intelligence state in which they can make such a choice. Robots like Yumemi should, in my opinion, have a fair amount of control over their lives.
Oh my! Isn’t Planetarian full of philosophical potential? Well, enough of philosophical chatter anyway. Let’s bring the article down a level. I’ll now attack metaphors.
Let’s start with the world and the planetarium. Obviously, the world is, vulgarly put, fucked up. The planetarium appears to be, however, an oasis amidst a crumbling universe. The planetarium too, acts as a gate to a more cheerful universe, a universe full of possibilities. It’s the universe projected in it’s hemispheric screen and the universe evoked by Yumemi’s commentary. Therefore, the planetarium represents humanity’s last hope. It’s humanity’s only possible transition from the cruelty of their current universe to the radiance of the new universe.
Next up we have a long metaphor. It’s the one the whole projection represents. From its beginning to the very ending after the Yumemi’s commentary without projection. It’s shown how at the beginning, there is day. That’s the apogee of humanity. Everything is bright, but all brightness dimes away as night comes. Night isn’t dangerous by itself, but it is a moment of uneasiness. It is the uneasiness brought by the scarce amount of resources left in Earth. Humanity is now faced with a problem of uttermost importance. How will it react? As the title for the special projection says, it’s time for Mankind Spreading its Wings. That’s what humanity is supposed to do. It should give its best and find another place to live in, using cooperation to achieve this goal faster and in an easier way, instead, the sound in the VN freezes, the projection stops, and Yumemi doesn’t know what to do. Humanity decided to remain forever still. Time froze also for humanity. They decided to keep their issues and not to solve them. Mankind did not spread its wings…
There is in this projection a mention to Perseus and Andromeda. Now, I didn’t know Andromeda was a constellation, I always thought that it was a galaxy (which, in fact, is), but for the time, I’ll assume that it is a constellation. Yumemi states that Perseus and Andromeda are chained to the sky, or to the night we might say. If we consider the night as the doomed world the story takes place in, we can think about these two subjects being Yumemi and the Junker, chained in a horrible world, set to die sooner or later (more sooner than later though). I’m not convinced with this metaphor myself, so, once again, I turn to you. I seek your thoughts on this matter.
At this point, I’m done with metaphors. These were the most significant ones I could find, although I’m sure you’ll be able to find even more. One more time, let’s step down the game a level. On to quotes.
I’ll steal something @Kanon said when commenting on Shiori’s route in the Kanon Bookclub (ironic, huh?). He said that the entirety of Shiori’s route was very quotable. Well, let me say that the entirety of Planetarian was very quotable. And it is true. Fragments quotable because of their deep meaning, fragments quotable because of their sentimental value, fragments quotable because of their good-quality writing… Everything was pretty much quotable in a way or another. I’ll leave some of my favorite quotes here with a brief explanation of why I chose them.
“I pray that you will never forget the starry sky. When you are lost in the dark and can no longer see the stars in the sky, please remember what you have seen here today. This is my little reverie.”
Here I see a robot expressing a wish. This also leads to the metaphors I explained. The dark being the ruined world and the planetarium being the last hope.
“If I just walked into its midst, I would be able to return. Back to the world that I had lived in since the day I was born, back to the world in which I had no choice but to live. However, that was not her world.”
A human showing true concern about a robot. It’s also well written and presented to the reader.
“Please, do not divide Heaven in two.”
This one was quite impactful. I’ve always heard of Heaven, and when I asked about dogs, cats… The typical response that they go the the dogs’ Heaven and such was what I got in return. It just made me think for a while about it, and I found it of value.
“I’m a robot. For me, my customers’ smiling faces are the most important things. And yet, I seem to always end up causing so many discourtesies for my customers.”
Pure emotional value. It was a sad realization to have just before dying…
“The thing that was broken was not me, but… Why did everything break?”
Just beautiful. So many emotions and messages conveyed in such a short fragment. Sadness, impotence, agony, ignorance… It also shows how Yumemi was capable of some deep thought. This is my favorite one by the way.
“Where were the stars now? Where would I have to go in order to see them? I walked forth into these fractured world, yet my thoughts were forever of the sky.”
What a way to end it. The last part shows how the Junker had gone throughout an important character development. He started being cynical and inflexible, and was now comprehensive and able to think beyond his immediate present and about just his survival.
This is it for the quotes. I’ll now talk a bit in general about some general VN topics.
One thing I want to praise is the visuals. It wasn’t HD version Planetarian, but just having sprites that included from the knees upwards allowed for a full set of gestures and an expressivity I hadn’t seen in any other VN. The CGs, even though scarce, were of very high quality. The small GIF features added a lot to the immersion. The rain, the flicker in Yumemi’s last projection, the smoke… It was just splendid.
About the music I can’t say much. It was the typical for a KEY OST. A voiced ending, two very emotionally intense songs (Gentle Jena and Loving Depths) and a set of ambience and more comedic or light-hearted tracks. I want to emphasize how much I loved Gentle Jena and Loving Depths. When these two tracks played during the projection and during the end, I felt really moved. They occupy now an special spot in my iPod. Gentle Jena is a very peaceful and simple tone, that carries a sadness tone with it. It sounds a bit like a requiem to me. On the other hand, Loving Depths sounds very pure and innocent, just like Yumemi’s personality. The strings playing on the background, however, add a sense of heaviness to the music. They seem to make the reader remember that something important happened.
I also want to praise how this story was a bit out of KEY’s ordinary male main character and tones of female heroines with problems to solve. Only two characters were required to make Planetarian a unique experience. Perhaps this is because of its short length, maybe it’s because it didn’t have any choices that it was easier to do, but now I’m looking forward to reading other short Kinetic Novels. Harmonia is apparently about to come. Let’s hope it doesn’t get delayed much more…
With a minimum cast, a short amount of text, a reduced OST and some CGs less than usual, KEY was able to produce a small VN the impact of which is just as great or even greater than in other of their productions. Bravo for Planetarian.