Guest review by Aaron (@lothos88) for Anime Secret Santa 2017.
Planetarian is a bitter sweet experience. Slowly paced, but never really feeling dull. As someone who’s always had a fascination with the cosmos, this movie resonated with me in its simple message, that mankind should keep looking up to the sky with wonder.
After some war in the near future, the world’s been covered in ash and gone into a nuclear winter. Our protagonist, an old man pulling a cart in the snow, informs us that it’s estimated only 100,000 people are left on earth, but nobody’s really sure as records aren’t really being kept and people are spread out and don’t really communicate any more.
The old man is exhausted, and collapses in the snow, but is found by some kids; Levi, Job, and Ruth, who have been living in a bunker built below an old church with some other adults. They nurse him back to health, and find out what he was carrying with him was a projector from a planetarium. The village elder, Ezra, refers to the old man as a stargazer and says they are very lucky to have him there. The children ask what stars are, as the world’s been covered in ash and clouds for decades and they’ve never seen stars in the sky. The old man says he’d never seen them as a child either.
He then recounts his story of meeting “her” and how he came about finding the projector years ago when he was a young man scavenging through an abandoned city.
Taking shelter from automated city defenses inside a building, here he meets a girl inside a theater greeting him as the 2,500,000th customer, and also the first customer in 29 years and 81 days. She hands him a boquet of random junk, saying the flower shop wasn’t answering their phone. He quickly acertains that she’s a robot, and she confirms that she is a robot named Hoshino Yumemi and a member of the staff of the Flowercrest Rooftop Planetarium. She is insistent on him viewing the presentation that’s been prepared to comemorate, he initially goes along with it, but then finds that the projector (who Hoshino refers to as Ms. Jena) is broken.
Our still unnamed protagonist decides to try to repair the projector, seemingly on a whim as he doesn’t have much else to do, even though he is running low on supplies. At this point, we also learn that Hoshino is “dying” in a manner. At midnight she announces, per protocol, she’s going into sleep mode and will have 76 hours of battery life remaining upon rebooting at 9am. This fact seems to not really register with the protagonist at this time, or he simply just accepts that she’s going to shut down forever in a few days.
He eventually gets the projector operational, and is finally able to view the presentation. Clearly seeing the sun, moon, stars, planets, and images of Earth before the war for the first time in his life. She shows the various constelations, and goes into the ancient stories behind their names. He is drawn into these stories and the beauty of the stars. However, before reaching the finale of the presentation, the power goes out in the building. He convinces her to continue the presentation, simply providing her commentary without the projection.
She goes into a history of mankind’s fascination with and exploration of the heavens. From the early days of simply gazing up to the heavens, to early astronomy, flight, rockets, and eventually venturing into space. All of this makes a profound impact on him, and now whenever he closes his eyes he sees the stars she showed him.
The story then jumps back to the current time, where the old man asks the children to help him make a “big umbrella” made out of cloth to put up on the ceiling indoors. He later explains that what they’re making is actually space, another concept that’s foreign to them. As they finish the umbrella, he begins to teach another one of the children, Ruth, how to assemble and care for the projector. Providing her with an instruction manual that he wrote. Finally, he hooks it all up to a hand crank generator and shows them what the projector does. Showing them images of the moon and stars. He then recounts the same stories of the constellations that Hoshino told him. The children as fascinated by all of this, just as he was the first time he saw them. He tells the village elder that he wants the children to come with him, and to be his successors, teaching them everything he can so they can take up his role once he passes on.
Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say things end on a hopeful note for the future, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
Planetarian is nothing spectacular from a visual perspective, the animation and character designs are decent enough but nothing really breathtaking. Likewise, the music, while fitting, also isn’t anything I’d really remember. Where it does shine though is the story. Even though I could foresee how things were going to end, it was still is enjoyable and might lead to some teary eyes at times. While it’s definitely more of a sentimental story than I usually prefer, I’m glad I watched it.