READER’S NOTE: This blog post contains some discussion of reading illegal manga scans. Industry folks and comics authors despise those scans, for good reason: artists aren’t compensated when readers solicit illegal copies of their work, and the comics industry dies on the vine if nobody buys their stock in trade. On the other hand, piracy is a major pillar of Western anime and manga fandom (hell, even Crunchyroll began as a pirate site) and to ignore that history is to erase whole sections of the culture that continue to influence the current manga and anime scene, for better or worse. With that in mind…
I discovered Satoshi Mizukami’s work through word of mouth: a 12 Days of Anime blog post that extolled the virtues of The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer. “Huh,” I thought. “That’s interesting.” So I looked up the fan translations on a long defunct illegal scan site…and reader, within one volume I was hooked. I can’t speak for Japanese fans, who likely found Mizukami through more natural means. But from what I’ve picked up from other English-speaking fans who grew up in the same community, Mizukami is the kind of artist you stumble across like I did. Maybe you saw a JPG of the infamous first few pages of Biscuit Hammer on a forum, where the hero is implored to save the world by a talking lizard (he throws the lizard out the window immediately!) Maybe you were scrolling through OneManga and clicked on a title at random. Either way, the end result is the same. Readers stick with Mizukami’s work in search of quirky genre comfort food. Then he knocks them on their ass, and they become cultists.
I’d like to think that Planet With had a similar effect on its audience. It doesn’t make the best first impression: the main cast includes an angry child, a grotesque cat man who turns into a robot, and a maid. A coworker of mine still won’t watch the show because the characters “look weird!” In addition, while the music is excellent (courtesy of Gunbuster and G Gundam composer Kohei Tanaka) the animation’s mostly just functional, and the show’s CG robots don’t move convincingly in action. Yet something happened halfway through the summer season: people started screaming about Planet With. “PLANET WITH” “Holy fuck, Planet With!!!” Some of these folks, like my fellow SBD blogger and manga expert Laura, were already huge fans of Mizukami to begin with. But another friend of mine, Natasha, went as far as to write a glowing review for IGN, without having read Mizukami’s other manga at all! Six episodes in, Planet With did to its audience what Biscuit Hammer did to me and Laura long ago. They were charmed, and then Mizukami knocked them on their ass.
Planet With faces stiff competition from Trigger’s excellent SSSS Gridman as the best faux-Gainax show of the year. But while I’d say Gridman is my pick for the best show Trigger has ever done, a perfect storm of staff, style and subject matter, Planet With is still the most fun I’ve had watching anime in a long time. With only 12 episodes to work with, the series packs so much into its short run time that it’s astonishing it managed to do justice to it all. A varied cast of characters that grow and change through tough moral quandaries? Sure. A mid-season climax that completely changes the status quo, and is still further outdone by later developments? Okay! Acknowledging and then repudiating Human Instrumentality within four minutes? Fuck yeah!! Jumping into a time skip two episodes from the end??? Whoooooo!!!!!
Anime is incredibly time-consuming and difficult to make. People are paid almost nothing to painstakingly craft entertainment within a short time frame. Even then, Planet With never settles. Within its limited means, it tells a ruthlessly efficient story about a young man who learns the limits of revenge, and finds both family and a reason to live in the process. At the end, as Ginko the princess sheds tears over a monster who has destroyed whole planets, Sensei the talking cat said what was on my mind, too. “Behold, the universe is full of blessings.” The comics artist who blindsided me as a kid has done it again, and I couldn’t be happier.