What’s it about? After an accident that killed his parents, high schooler Soya wakes up with no memory in a household run by a girl in a maid costume and a giant talking cat. Nevertheless, his life is pleasant enough—until a UFO appears in the sky and a group of superheroes arrive to fight it. Soya’s adopted family urges him to fight as well, but it’s not the UFO they’re after. No, they want him to take out those superheroes!
Planet With is buck. Freaking. WILD, y’all. It’s an explosion of plot points and reveals and battles, a gleefully weird cocktail of absurdity, action, and sudden emotional sincerity. It’s a total mess and it has no business working and I cannot wait to watch more of it.
This first episode is labeled “1SP – Special Preview,” probably because it’s 90% hook. It introduces a lot of characters and conflicts, but it’s difficult to say exactly what it’s about at this point because there are so many balls in the air and so many mysteries at the heart of the story.
First, there’s Soya, the amnesiac protagonist who’s gradually recovering vague memories of the night his parents died. The superhero group was apparently present for this, but the competing flashbacks from Soya and team leader Hideo make it unclear whether they tried to prevent the deaths or were responsible for them. At first he’s an easygoing kid who just wants to eat some tonkatsu (#Relatable), but his returning memories leave him with a lot of understandable rage by episode’s end, so it’s hard to tell what kind of main character he’ll be going forward.
Then there are Soya’s guardians: Ginko, a girl dressed like a maid who serves as Soya’s coach when he inevitably Gets In The Robot; and “Sensei,” a giant purple cat-man with horrifyingly perfect human teeth who turns into the aforementioned Robot when he swallows Soya whole. Both Sensei and the UFOs are an eerie blend of animal and human physical features, giving the entire series an uncanny overtone that’s as silly as it is unsettling.
Which brings us to the UFO itself, a smiling bear-like monstrosity with the misspelled “Peace” painted across its chest. Its major function seems to be projecting images of loved ones into the heads of the people who try to attack it, robbing them of their will to fight (the HORROR!). That humanity’s first response is to shoot it with missiles and then send its superhero team to destroy it may hint at some underlying social commentary at play.
Our other major players thus far include Soya’s Class Rep, Nozomi Takamagahara, a friendly girl with a love of the occult, and the powersuit-wearing superhero team. While the folks running the superhero team seem real nefarious, the fighters themselves have thus far been painted with a sympathetic brush. Team leader Hideo even gets an entire (surprisingly affecting) flashback about how he became a firefighter because his mom died in a fire when he was a child. This immediately draws a connection between Hideo and Soya, especially since Hideo was present at the fire that (seemingly) took Soya’s parents.
Again, there are a lot of balls in the air, but any early confusion seems intentional. This is a premiere that wants to hook its audience with uncertainty and weirdness (and some real good-looking animation), and for me at least it very much succeeded. What happened to Soya’s parents? How was Hideo and the superhero team involved? Are the UFOs benevolent forces, malicious ones, or something in the middle? What the hell is up with this cat and maid duo? Is anybody trustworthy?
Planet With seems to be built on a foundation of moral ambiguity, given that both sides of its conflict are already shady as hell. That should lead to an engaging narrative as long as the series has a satisfactory end-game in mind. “Mystery Box” shows can get mired in their own questions, so that’s one thing it’ll have to watch out for going forward.
From a feminist perspective, this first episode was mostly harmless. The only cause for concern was a bizarre scene where Sensei picks up a figure of a girl and peers beneath its skirt. We don’t see anything, so it comes across as more absurd than titillating (and this is a premiere that revels in the ridiculous as much as it does the sincere, so it’s in line with the overall tone). That said, if this is set-up for Sensei being a “comedic pervert” type and his behavior extends to real girls and women in the coming episodes, we’ll have a pretty serious problem. It’s something to keep an eye on, for sure.
Beyond that, though, I’m actually quite pleased with the way the female characters have been handled thus far. The class rep is a likable kid whose knowledge of the occult is almost certain to come in handy; Ginko’s maid outfit is definitely someone’s fetish, but she’s never sexualized and her chipper take-charge attitude is enjoyable to watch; and while we haven’t spent much time with them yet, it is worth noting that the superhero team is fairly evenly gender-balanced, with no fanservice-y character designs or costumes.
I’m not going to give out any cookies to a show for clearing the low bar of “treat your female characters like actual characters instead of talking sex dolls,” but it’s still a relief when it happens. Makes it a whole lot easier to enjoy the dynamic fights, wild plot twists, and straight-faced humor.
Whether or not Planet With will work for you likely depends on how endearing you find its full-steam-ahead pacing, confident weirdness, and tongue-in-cheek tone. Whether or not Planet With will continue to work for me largely depends on how it teases out its mysteries, develops its morally gray conflict, and treats its female supporting cast. But with a premiere as gloriously off-the-wall as this, I’m more than willing to stick around for a few episodes to see how it goes.