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Review: "Planzet (UK Edition)": The Plan Doesn't Work For Me

In the mid-21st century, humanity has finally colonized Mars. This is quite fortunate, as no sooner have the first cherry-picked colonists been dispatched than Earth is attacked by a mysterious race of aliens. Bringing a moon ship into Earth’s orbit, the aliens quickly reduce mankind to but a fraction of their number and reveal quick adaptability to any and all human devised weapons. In a secret Mt Fuji facility that serves to power a planetary shield for Earth, rookie pilot Taishi Akejima gets his chance to gain revenge for his father when he and his allies are dispatched as part of a final strategy to fell the invaders.

Just about every piece of entertainment being made today is likely to contain an homage, a respectful tip of the hat to previous works that inspired the creators. The problem of course is when a ‘creator’ can’t seem to stop making such references; or, even worse, just knits together already existing ideas.
There is really very little to see in Planzet that hasn’t been seen before and done better. The core story for instance is a hybrid of Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer and Independence Day (to name but two): mysterious acronym-branded aliens arrive in a world ship, offer no communication beyond attacking, and leave their mother ship in orbit whilst their eclipse-causing saucer ships wipe out the metropolises on the surface.

If the plot falls flat, it means the characters need to be extra appealing. No such luck.
Taishi is an awkward attempt at an everyman, a low-ability slacker who joins the military to avenge his late veteran father and to take advantage of the perks military families enjoy to protect his younger, more talented sister. The problem is that we have very little else to go on. Beyond being told that mankind has started colonising Mars and that the remnants following the attacks have formed a final united army, the world and society of Planzet is given little explanation. Questions such as why military servicemen’s families take such precedence, and the complete absence of any real point to the colonization (other than to create brief tension between brother and sister) result in a world that feels half-baked. It  feels empty, too: Aside from Taishi, his sister and his father, we only see three other living characters (Taishi’s two fellow mecha pilots and the base commander). In this context, the conceit that humanity has been nearly wiped out seems like a flimsy justification for a lack of budget and running time. I was reminded of how early episodes of Transformers: Prime likewise created an awkwardly empty Earth and used cheap tricks to imply the existence of wider society in place of having to show it.

Taishi’s drive to protect his sister falls flat as a motivation because she’s simply too annoying to like. She’s a brat who just seems to parrot abuse back at her brother and lacks any chance to redeem herself with the audience, having become her brother’s monotone cheerleading sidekick by the end.
His squad mates do little better: there’s a perpetually drunk squad commander who tries to act like a mentor when his number is up, and a token female low-calorie love interest who became a pilot to chase after her own brother. Finally we have the base’s commander, who seeks to be the one to finally save humanity in order to step out of the shadow of her legendary father and vindicate her own career and accomplishments. In a better production I’d call the mirrored issues of the cast intriguing symbolism. However this is the same film in which the commander’s pursuit of her questionable strategy sees her hunched over a countdown clock as the digits reflect in her eyes to give them a demonic crimson glare. Clever symbolism doesn’t really seem to be Planzet’s way.

If the failings of story and cast weren’t bad enough, the animation is also a mess. Its motion-capture CGI is just plain creepy. As static images the CGI models would be passable, but in motion they are terrible, with realistic heads on bodies that shudder like a cross between a Disney animatronic and a Gerry Anderson puppet. I initially wondered if comparisons to Anderson were intentional, as the homes and ships of Planzet’s mid-21st century seem to draw heavily from the ‘retro future’ visuals seen in the likes of Thunderbirds and Stingray.  However by the end I was convinced it was simply poor animation. The characters look akin to high-end collector dolls that have an ultra detailed actor’s face stuck on a generic body, moving with a sense of weightlessness. A dramatic moment towards the end of the film where the spirit of Taishi’s father decks him is completely ruined as Taishi flies off and goes limp like someone just lobbed a marionette.
The only real positive usage of CGI is in the very brief usage of the Geometric Limbs mecha. These are nice designs that work well as a believable attempt a modular humanoid mecha, and the animation works for them for all the reasons it doesn’t with the humans, presenting a robotic movement that is still flexible enough to make the concept credible as a military weapon. Watching the Limbs swoop down ruined streets as they face off with alien saucers is actually pretty impressive, sadly brief though it may be. Unfortunately, from a story perspective the Limbs are incredibly underutilised, appearing solely as part of a cheap attempt to create character drama. Furthermore, their load out makes no sense: they carry a bewilderingly small amount of ammo, and one wields a katana which seems only present to allow for a fraction of the aforementioned melodrama.

The US release of this title apparently came with a set of extras but none can be found here. I can only assume that this is a result of this Kaze release having to cater to at least four different EU countries. As always, I respect that this is still a niche market and certain conditions must be met to get titles released here, but Kaze’s apparent exorcising of extra content in order to make a multi-language product will, I feel, only work against them. Especially when the titles Manga are releasing independent of them manage to retain at least some form of extras.

I don’t recommend purchasing Planzet. In terms of technical value to animation it’s worth watching at least once. However, the limits of both story and animation and the absence of any further on disc incentive make the reasons to recommend it few. Again, these ideas have already been explored so much better elsewhere. Mecha fans might get some enjoyment from it but quite honestly you’re better to sticking to the likes of Gundam, Macross or your mecha series of choice.

Planzet (UK Edition) can be purchased through Amazon.co.uk.

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