Mizukami Festival: Planet With and the Eternal Spirit

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In preparation for seeing Arcade Fire this weekend, I spent a good couple of days running through to their old albums (We don’t talk about Everything Now!). What originally started as a preparation for the concert transformed into me re-listening to Florence and the Machine’s latest album instead. It’s a great one – while not a critical darling like Lungs or How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, it’s a subdued, intimately personal revelation, and I always end up coming back to it somehow. This time around, upon listening to certain set of lyrics, a chord was struck inside of me. I paused and sighed. My heart was heavy, and I felt more tired than I had been in weeks.

My held breath fills the room with love
Hurts in ways I can’t describe
My heart bends and breaks so many, many times
And is born again with each sunrise
And is born again with each sunrise

Planet With is my first introduction to Mizukami, and in many ways it has been an overwhelming one. I’ve written a little bit already about how the show caters to me as an anime fan that grew up on 2000s era anime, and I think that’s a fair chunk of what makes Planet With good, but over the past 12 weeks, Planet With has increasingly reached ‘great’ territory for me. Many have compared it to Gurren Lagann, and I don’t think that’s an incorrect comparison: both shows are about a triumphant reckoning to break rules, a re-examination of systems at fault, and the drive to continuously improve and reach for the skies. They’re both unsubtle as hell, and also really love mecha. Planet With is of course, half of Gurren Lagann‘s length and as a result, takes many more shortcuts to achieve its message and emotional heights.

Achieve. Achievement is a funny word, isn’t it? It’s a theme that takes root at both shows, and yet only in Planet With does it blossom into a shape that goes outside the boundaries of anime conventions. Take for instance, this scene:

Or this one:

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Planet With talks a lot about justice. It actually talks about a lot of stuff, but it talks the most about justice. Mizukami loves the idea of it, much in the weird way Yoko Taro does in his games. However, whereas Taro is more focused on nihilism and corruption, Mizukami wants to examine why justice is a misconstrued subject, and is just another way of enforcing one’s selfish beliefs on the other. It’s different from heroism, which Mizukami seems to say, is far more personal, far smaller in scale, and far more powerful. Heroism is selfless, but it’s often driven by inspiration. Justice is selfish, and enforces what we consider right and good. They’re two very different things, but are often linked together since heroes embody being right and being good.

Of course, those two terms are completely vague and inconsistent. Being right is subjective, as is being good: Mizukami persistently attacks our image of this with switching what we consider the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ throughout the show. He doesn’t really quite care about world or universal justice, and it shows with the rather minimal lore. We’ve heard those stories before. We know where they go. Instead, Mizukami focuses on small, powerful moments like these:

This comes all together in the final act of the show, which is not necessarily its strongest thematically (I do have serious issues with forgiving a dragon and an organization that was previously called out for committing genocide upon worlds!) but still emotionally hits, as it’s revealed that the dragon is the younger brother of the agent from the People of Paradise. It is here where Mizukami comes out with his bold thesis: we are weak. Even together, we become influenced by groupthink and our desires. We will always want what we cannot have, and that will always lead to conflict. But in our weakness, we love. We connect in our pain and our dreams; in some ways, we may all desire the same thing, just differently. Justice is a facade, but a personal act of hope – of delivering it, and inspiring it – is the strongest courage we can wield ourselves with, in this terrible and unfair world. As Nozomi very bluntly states, “I’m on the side of the ones I want to befriend.”

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The world is weary. Every time I get onto public transportation, I walk through homeless people crouched in their corners. People commit horrifying crimes and get away with it. We cannot all be heroes that lift the burdens and guilt of others upon our shoulders – we are human, not gods. Caring is an effort after all, and the more we care, the more we realize how powerless we truly are. But Planet With reminds us that in spite of cruel realities (or maybe, because of them) we have to stand our ground. We don’t just owe it to our ancestors, or our family and friends, because that’s how cyclical guilt begins. What we build is something that is passed onwards, rippling through one person to another. It’s not justice, or forgiveness, or platitudes of peacemaking. It is something far simpler: acting in the personal faith of hope, and how that in a way, is hope itself. Who we hope for, or have faith in – family, friends, society – is something that’s irrelevant. As long as we do it for someone, that’s enough. That is all we can achieve as human beings, in our honesty, in our vulnerability, and in our weakness.

I believe in you
And in our hearts we know the truth
And I believe in love
And the darker it gets, the more I do.

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