The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Planetarian: Review and Reflection

“I think of space not as the final frontier, but as the next frontier. Not as something to be conquered, but to be explored.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson

After a devastating global war eliminates civilised society, survivors eke out living in a grim world fraught with danger. Originally a kinetic novel, Planetarian is told from the perspective of a Junker who takes refuge in an derelict shopping centre while hunting for supplies. He encounters the planetarium’s guardian, Yumemi Hoshino, who offers him a special performance on account of his being (nearly) the planetarium’s 2.5 millionth customer. Despite finding himself annoyed at Yumemi’s talkative nature, he agrees to sit through one of the projections and assists in repairing the projector. Yumemi insists on escorting him out to his destination following the show, but the pair encounter a heavily-armed combat robot. The Junker’s efforts to engage it ends with Yumemi attempting to protect him, and she is torn in half by the robot’s auto-cannons. She recalls her pre-war memories before powering down, and the Junker is left to make his way back outside the city walls with Yumemi’s memory card. A relatively short and poignant OVA about the seemingly paradoxical dichotomy between human excellence and human limitations, Planetarian is one of the summer season’s shorter offerings.

That human constructs, such as Yumemi and the planetarium dome, continue to persist well after the fall of human civilisation suggests that, in the event that our so-called intelligence causes us to wipe ourselves out in a global conflict, aspects of our world will nonetheless continue to persist. These aspects can speak both beneficially and detrimentally about our species; in particular, humanity is capable of great good and great evil. In Planetarian, Yumemi represents the side of civilisation where creativity and ingenuity has resulted in the forging of a construct that serves to further an observer’s knowledge of humanity’s history with the stars and their desire to visit them: ever-cheerful and totally devoted to her assignment, Yumemi’s persistence is able to sway the Junker who comes across her old planetarium. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the large battle droids that continue to carry out their initial assignments. Programmed with (presumably) sophisticated machine learning algorithms, these droids are purpose-built to fight wars, mirroring the side of humanity that is war-like and barbaric in nature. Although we might be capable of great good, humans are also more than capable of committing atrocities towards one another. These dynamics appear to be mirrored in the robots: towards the end of Planetarian, Yumemi is destroyed by a war robot, but the Junker retrieves her memory card. Thus, although destruction may seem to be the more powerful force, this only holds true in the short term; the Junker’s recovery of Yumemi’s memory card and aim of resurrecting her suggests that the human spirit and desire for constructive acts outweigh our tendencies for destruction.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The protagonist in Planetarian is only known as a Junker and remains unnamed, so for this post, I’ve opted to refer to him as such. Here, he’s evading some anti-personnel combat robots while venturing into the derelict city to scavenge for supplies and high-value goods, using the FN P90 to fend them off in the process. The P90 depicted here seems a little shorter in proportion and seems ill-suited for taking on the heavier armour on combat droids. Earlier this week, I dropped by a local pub for wings and nachos to mark the deployment of a prototype at work: it’s surprising as to how quickly the summer’s passing by.

  • Technically, the Junker is not the 2.5 millionth customer to visit the planetarium, but according to Yumemi’s algorithms, he’s “close enough”, and so, she offers him a makeshift bouquet before stating that his prize is to be a special viewing of the planetarium’s main feature, which includes a bonus segment. Kindhearted and quite fond of speaking, the Junker does not take too kindly to her friendly personality when they first meet.

  • This is Miss Jena, the planetarium’s main projector. Generally, planetariums make use of dome projectors to simulate sophisticated views of the heavens. These projectors can be set up to work with sophisticated systems that can project the night sky for any given time point, with systems that enable for laser and fog effects optionally present to further the planetarium’s experience. Owing to their size and cost, large setups are typically restricted to museums and science centers.

  • I’ve not seen a full planetarium presentation since I was in primary school, but I do recall that I enjoyed the two that I had the opportunity to see. There’s a magic about dome screens that can’t quite be captured even with VR headsets; in recent years, I’ve not seen any planetarium shows at the new Telus Spark Science Centre. My last visit to their dome theatre was for the Giant Walkthrough Brain, and I was quite nervous about the prospect of implementing a camera to project the show onto a dome screen. Fortunately, this feature was not needed, allowing me to focus my attention on ironing out remaining bugs in the show, and our Beakerhead presentation’s two performances to a sold-out crowd proceeded very smoothly.

  • I’m still getting used to the whole idea of using Flickr as an image host, and while they’re a little clunkier than Picasa, Flickr allows for bulk image editing, offers a reasonably powerful set of tools for organising albums and above all, allows for images to be copied directly to this page (whereas Picasa limited users to copying from a link, which is slower). For now, the time taken to set up a post is roughly the same, but Flickr offers 1000 GB of storage against Picasa’s 15 GB, so it’ll be a suitable replacement I’ll quickly acclimatise to.

  • While quite resistant to the idea of watching the planetarium’s show, the Junker eventually comes around and consents to repair the broken projector to see what sort of presentation awaits him. He catches rainwater for consumption during a break, remarking that a special filter renders the water potable: the war that devastated their world arose with the deployment of a biological weapon that precipitated a nuclear war. Society collapsed, and similar to Metro: 2033, survivors were forced to eke out survival amongst the ruins of a once-great civilisation.

  • Yumemi assists the Junker in repairing the planetarium’s projectors, using her onboard power stores to test various pieces of equipment before installing them into the projector. On the topic of installation, the reason why this post did not come out sooner was because I’ve been remarkably busy over the past week; my 6 GB EVGA GTX 1060 SC arrived. It was Tuesday afternoon when I received a phone call saying the the video card I reserved was available for pickup. I dropped by the retailer after work and picked it up, installing it on Thursday evening and got around to testing it yesterday evening.

  • The 1060 is so far, proving to be a beast of a card: some of the games I initially tested ran quite poorly and saw frequent frame rate drops, it turned out that it was because I was running several downloads and other processes at once. Once the downloads completed, most of my games seem to run very smoothly, maintaining a steady 60 FPS at 1080p on ultra settings. In particular, Battlefield 4 and DOOM run buttery smooth now, as does Alien: Isolation. I’m very excited to try out Deus Ex: Mankind Divided now, having spent today preloading it.

  • Back in Planetarian, the Junker and Yumemi succeed in repairing the projector, so the show can finally get started. While skeptical, the Junker finds himself amazed, in spite of himself, at the wonders of the night sky seen on screen. Technology has come a very long way since I was a wide-eyed primary school student with a newfound curiosity in all things science, and although we may have 4k screens, consumer-accessible VR and even augmented reality devices now, very few display methods can compare to the immersion provided by a dome screen.

  • Despite introducing herself as a basic android model, Yumemi is remarkably sophisticated by contemporary standards. She is programmed to be effective in looking after her customers, and there are several points where viewers see the world from her perspective. Advanced image processing algorithms allow her to quickly ascertain her environment, and her AI is capable of allowing her to make her own decisions in the event that her access to a centralised database is removed.

  • Yumemi’s internal storage would presumably not be spent largely on the planetarium’s programmes, and instead, be used to hold her memories: the uncompressed text of Wikipedia occupies around 51 GB of storage, which fits comfortably on a 64 GB memory card. Here, Yumemi presents a story about the mythological stories behind each of the constellations seen in the sky. The show proceeds nominally until the emergency power stores are depleted.

  • Despite the lack of imagery, the Junker is now interested to see Yumemi’s take on the special presentation. This special presentation follows the history of humanity’s interest in the heavens above, and how humanity strove to, through its technological innovation and determination, eventually allowed them to begin exploring other worlds. Aware of the strife and warfare in the world, Yumemi remains optimistic that humanity will eventually be able to reach other stars.

  • I was on campus last Saturday to clean up my office space. The Korean BBQ house on campus remains one of my favourite places to eat on campus: I enjoyed their Korean BBQ spicy chicken on rice with a side of noodles and sweet potatoes while watching the final three episodes of Planetarian during noon hour. The Junker is visibly moved by the presentation, and reluctantly agrees to allow Yumemi accompany him to the city walls. While Yumemi is well-suited for her role as a guardian of sorts for the planetarium (which I’ve read is set on the rooftop of the Matsubishi Department Store), her algorithms for movement are not so advanced as to allow for learning to move efficiently on uneven surfaces, and so, she trips on several occasions.

  • After making a short detour into an abandoned liquor store and finding a bottle of Scotch Whiskey inside, the Junker contemplates taking Yumemi with him, finding a power supply to keep her running and allow her to continue on with her wish of serving people, telling them wondrous stories about the heavens above. However, their path is blocked by a massive combat robot.

  • The Junker fields a M79 break action 40mm grenade launcher, a standalone grenade launcher that was adopted by the American military in 1960. Despite its versatility in being able to fire a wide range of projectiles, from HE to smoke rounds, it was limited in being able to fire only a single round, and moreover, restricted the user to carrying a sidearm as his backup weapon. The US Army would address this with the M203 under-barrel grenade launcher, which could be mounted to the underslung rails of the M16 rifle.

  • High-explosive rounds for the M79 arm themselves after travelling 30 meters and have a muzzle velocity of 75 m/s. However, the Junker’s plan to use such a round on the combat robot is unsuccessful: it fails to detonate, and the robot trains its railgun on him, forcing him to retreat. While he is able to deal some damage to the robot, he becomes injured in the process.

  • Having never seen a combat robot before, Yumemi walks out into the open and attempts to initiate a shutdown protocol. The robot does not respond and opens fire on her with its secondary cannons, blowing her apart. In the chaos, the Junker lands a round that finally disables the robot, but Yumemi is now critically damaged. In her final moments, she shares her memories with the Junker, revealing that she’s served many happy customers and desires nothing more than to continue doing so.

  • Instead of a system of mighty organs lying strewn across the pavement, Yumemi’s power cables, hydraulics and other components are exposed. Being a robot herself, Yumemi remarks that she can continue to exist even with the destruction of her body, as she can be transferred to a new body. Moved by her plight, the Junker takes her memory card, a 128 Exabyte (1018 bytes, or a million terabytes) device that holds her personality and memories, resolving to restore her.

  • As a final gesture, the Junker leaves Yumemi with his necklace, depicting the cross-shaped constellation Cygnus. It can be seen in the northern hemisphere during the summer and early autumn, and its brightest star is Deneb, which has an apparent magnitude of 1.25. These final few images bring my Planetarian to a close, and all told, I found a rather enjoyable, straightforward story in Planetarian.

  • My posting patterns have become (unsurprisingly) sporadic as of late owing to my schedule, but once I finish this last journal paper, I imagine that I’ll be able to find some time in the evenings to continue blogging. I intend to write about Brave Witches (Strike Witches‘ long-awaited third season) during the fall season in an episodic manner, as well as Hibike! Euphonium‘s second season in the two-post format. Before we reach October, I have several other posts upcoming, including my final impressions of Alien: Isolation (as of today, I’m one mission from finishing), and first impressions of both DOOM and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. From an anime perspective, I’ll be dropping by in September to write about Amanchu! and New Game!.

Simply written and surprisingly moving, Planetarians’ five episodes were remarkably enjoyable to watch. From a technical perspective, the post-apopcalyptic environment was rendered quite well. Similarly, Yumemi’s voice is masterfully delivered by Keiko Suzuki: slow and precise, yet joyful, Yumemi sounds as an android should, adding much depth to the anime and giving the Junker’s interactions with it a much more plausible feeling. Similarly, the soundtrack was a joy to listen to, While I enjoyed Planetarian, there is a single caveat I found with the presentation. Given that Planetarian was originally a kinetic novel, I felt that the entire story would been better presented in a movie format: in the absence of break points, the extended runtime of a movie would permit for the story to be presented in a fluid manner. Curiously enough, there is in fact going to be a movie format for Planetarian: titled Planetarian: Hoshi no Hito. Set for release in early September, this movie is presumably going to be a sequel of sorts. I’m quite excited to see what themes lie in this continuation; this series of OVAs is relatively short and quite worth watching. For individuals interested in seeing what’s happening next, but have yet to see Planetarian for themselves, there is a small time frame to catch up on this anime.

4 responses to “Planetarian: Review and Reflection

  1. Flower August 21, 2016 at 00:23

    Good post!

    I am not sure whether or no it would have been more powerful in movie format , but I could definitely see it being presented that way. As you point out, the follow up to this series will in fact be in movie format, however (as we talked about when I sent you the pv link).

    Hafta admit though – Yumemi as a character and the OST piece “Gentle Jena” have no become very powerful memories for me. Hopefully the movie to come will be able to put the icing on the cake in a manner equal to (or better) than this wonderful series. ^^

    Like

    • infinitezenith August 21, 2016 at 12:34

      On account of my procrastination, I watched all the episodes at once, rather than separately. I imagine that there could be a different experience had I been watching Planetarian as the episodes were coming out. I’m looking forwards to the movie, as well: I’ve dug a little deeper, and it seems like it’ll be coming out on September 3. Not far by an means🙂

      Like

  2. cloudst12 August 21, 2016 at 02:48

    Been awhile since I last posted here.

    Planetarian has a special place in my heart for being one of those visual novels that really did succeed in making me cry. And maybe one of these days, we should visit a planetarium just to revisit those feelings.

    It definitely could’ve benefited from being a fluid stand-alone movie in my opinion. (I’m sure someone with good enough video editing skills could make that happen). But the way it is presented here is still fine. It mostly mirrors the visual novel. And I believe that Yūichi Suzumoto is a pretty good writer. You should definitely check out the visual novel if time permits – it’s on the app store for $5.49 Canadian dollars. You won’t regret it, I guarantee.

    I wrote a short review of what I thought of the last episode of the anime. And actually, if you’re a fan of key stuff, I’m sure you’ve heard of the forum too.
    https://forum.kazamatsuri.org/t/planetarian-anime-episode-5-yumemis-wish/3033/9?u=cloudst12

    There’s one thing that I didn’t talk about in the review (mainly due to strict spoiler policies). That is what Yumemi said about:

    “Don’t split heaven in two.”

    I wonder when artificial intelligence will reach a point where it’s no longer artificial. Would they be Asimov law compliant? Could they make true moral choices? It’s something we might have to ask ourselves one day.

    Btw, the song “twinkle starlight” is one of the nicer EDs this season. (Have you heard the karaoke version on the key main channel? lol). And… maybe… only Rem’s image song (which just released yesterday) might be better.

    On another note, hope you’re doing fine and your research is going smoothly. Med school’s been picking up so, there’s not as much opportunity to search for too many new series. Mostly, been keeping up with rewrite, fate/kaleid liner 3wei and re:zero.

    Cheers.

    Like

    • infinitezenith August 21, 2016 at 12:42

      5.49 CAD isn’t so bad, especially for an app that runs on iPad and iPhone. I’ll look into it🙂

      The concepts of AI reaching a point where it no longer becomes feasible to apply the Turing Test on an artificial intelligence is an interesting one. For the time being, our current way of dealing with AI is creating decision trees, look-up tables and classifiers. These operate on some sort of goal functions to analyse a set of inputs and subsequently, pick an action to execute. A sufficiently complex setup of these would conceivably be able to make decisions that mirror human complexity, so it would seem to us that they are as fluid as we are. Of course, unless we develop new forms of expressing these systems, I will probably continue to think of an AI’s actions as being driven by a goal function of some sort (possibly influenced by a database of past actions and outcomes), rather than similar to human processes, which also take emotion into account.

      I’ve just picked up the soundtrack and will be listening to it shortly, as well. Finally, concerning my research, I successfully defended my thesis back in late June, went to a conference in Cancun and then started working. So, I’ve also been spending decreasing amounts of time with my hobbies as I settle into new schedule and way of life.

      Liked by 1 person

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