Have you ever heard of the term “clockpunk”? No, me neither, but it’s a subgenre of steampunk with clockwork mechanisms providing the aesthetic pleasure instead of steam engineering. This is the playground in which Clockwork Planet plays, and I could never quite decide if it is an interesting or deeply silly idea. I lean towards the latter.
Clockwork Planet is set in a post-apocalyptic world, a thousand years after Earth has been destroyed and rebuilt as a planet that functions entirely on clockwork. The visual representation of that shows us a giant gear surrounding the planet in a position that brings to mind the rings of Saturn, and that sets the tone for how this is going to work. Gears are everywhere, including places where they can only possibly function as decorations. This means we really need to switch off the brain to a certain extent when watching this series, because it’s hard to accept a whole world where everything works because of moving gears, although I do like how it’s acknowledged on several occasions that clockwork relies on every last gear lining up perfectly, so one among thousands causes a huge problem, and there is also the question of how the world continues to function when large areas are damaged by weaponry. But in the end this is all about the visual impact of all those gears everywhere, which are lovingly animated, and a relatively rare example of CGI being integrated very nicely indeed. Whether or not you find the whole idea ridiculous, those thousands of animated gears sure look pretty on the screen.
A big idea like this, either good or bad, will only get you so far, and a series tends to live or die on the strength of the characters. Clockwork Planet retains a tight focus on five heroes, and I found them all memorable and likeable. Naoto is gifted with remarkable hearing, which gives him the unique ability to repair intricate mechanisms just by listening to them and identifying the exact fault. He ends up working with Marie, a young princess and brilliant clock technician who can effect repairs with superhuman speed. Later in the series there is a strong focus on how their powers are functionally opposite but complement each other beautifully. Marie has a cyborg bodyguard named Halter, who is on hand to help out with the fighting and is a funny character. Naoto has a love interest, RyuZu, a clockwork girl who has been dormant for over 200 years, until Naoto fixes her. Her origins are shrouded in mystery and her technology is beyond the abilities of the society in which she finds herself. She immediately rewards Naoto by pledging herself as his servant for life and seals the deal by sucking his finger, which makes this look like it’s going to be a pervy series, but after that point there is little in the way of fanservice, apart from a general idea of the fantasy of a robotic mistress. Naoto is one of those typical young male protagonists who doesn’t really take advantage of the opportunities that are handed to him on a platter. Mercifully, the finger sucking is not repeated when RyuZu’s younger “sister” is added into the mix, because I was already cringing in anticipation of that moment recurring, but in the end this is a series that takes a measured approach to its fanservice, whilst inevitably playing with the male fantasy of attractive robot servant girls. It doesn’t quite sit right, since the two automata are the creation of a godlike being and are so vastly superior to the humans, even Naoto, who was simply born with a gift.
The younger-looking automaton, AnchoR, is perhaps the character who never quite lives up to her potential. There is a lot of angst about how she was basically created as a weapon, and she is initially introduced as a very dangerous enemy, but once she joins the group she never quite rises above the moe cliché that she appears to be, latching onto Naoto and Marie as surrogate parents, although they do eventually get beyond their initial embarrassment and step into those roles surprisingly well, with the writer getting a lot of mileage out of the relationship dynamics between Naoto and the three girls.
There are some big battle sequences, but a whole lot of standing around and talking about the jeopardy before we get to those points in the narrative, and the big battle at the end is rushed, with an enemy who never makes much of an impression and doesn’t seem to possess a personality beyond being just a generic villain. But there’s a strong focus on how these five friends are fighting successfully against global corruption and incredibly powerful enemies, making a difference and saving millions of lives. As they headed off on a ship at the end of the series to fight their next battle, I was a little disappointed not to be able to join them for their journey. RP