Planetarian is an odd little series, no question about it. It’s quite unlike any other Key work in many respects, but it shares one essential trait. And that (as I’ve said before) is that it has the power to move you even when you know you’re being emotionally manipulated. That’s certainly true of Little Busters and Kanon for me (Clannad not so much, but at times) but it expresses itself in Planetarian in a markedly different way. Whatever else you may say about it, Planetarian is the odd duck among the classic Visual Arts visual novels.
For all Kuzuya’s talk about finding a power source for Yumemi and going out on tour as astral storytellers, it always felt as if this wasn’t the sort of story to give you a happy ending. I never believed Kuzuya, and I don’t think he believed it even as he was saying that stuff. It was a nice dream for a human struggling to find a moment of grace on a dying world but not the sort of dream that comes true. So that we were headed for a tearjerker always seemed like a given – the question was what form it would take.
Once Kuzuya missed his kill shot on the combat drone, the die for that tragic ending was pretty much cast. I did at least entertain the possibility that it would be the junker who would die, and for a while it looked bad. First the drone blows up half the abandoned building Kuzuya is hiding in, then the tank he hides behind after taking out one of its legs. Its moves may be predictable but this is a frighteningly sophisticated robot – it knows to take out the building above where Kuzuya is hiding in order to shower him with rubble, and it plays hide-and-seek with him as he’s hiding behind that tank. That second explosion manages to break one of Kuzuya’s legs, making him pretty close to a dead man.
Yumemi is very clear on her prime directive, and I don’t think she’ll have been surprised by what happened when she approached the drone. It was an act of self-sacrifice, no more and no less – she’d no doubt say it was her programming that made her do it, but that’s not so different that if their situations had been reversed. Yumemi does indeed save Kuzuya’s life, but it’s at the cost of half her body – and it leaves her with only 10 minutes of battery life after Kuzuya takes advantage of the distraction to put an end to the combat drone once and for all.
This is not especially subtle stuff here, but Planetarian isn’t really about subtlety. It’s a very simple story that unabashedly leans on the pathos of its premise to make it go, and it certainly does so effectively here. The pedal is pretty much to the metal for the entire second half of the episode, which takes place in real-time. Manipulative or not you have a pretty cold heart if you felt nothing watching Yumemi’s last moments play out. But as heart-wrenching as this is, it isn’t a tragedy in the sense that after 29 years of waiting, Yumemi finally got one last chance to serve humans (and did so with the last full measure of her devotion). And Kuzuya did her a kindness by telling her a “good” lie – effectively, that she was going to Heaven.
Simple as this series is, there is some symbolism at work without question. Yumemi comes to believe Kuzuya is God – and in truth, from her perspective is he not? When we create artificial consciousness (and make no mistake, we’re pretty close to doing so) are we any different from Gods? The question of our responsibility to the Yumemis in our future is an implicit part of Planetarian‘s message, though it doesn’t beat us over the head with it. How we choose to answer that question is going to have profound implications for who we are as a species.
I’m not sure how the upcoming movie relates to this ONA, but Kuzuya’s epilogue declaration that he’s not a junker but a “hoshi-ya” (starteller) indicates that at the very least he’s going to carry on Yumemi’s dream in her absence. As for the 128 exabyte SD card containing all her memories, who knows? It’s nice to believe in hope, even if there doesn’t seem much room for it in the Hellish world Kuzuya inhabits. Yumemi may be a bargain model and unable to shed tears (or was that not rain after all?) but Kuzuya – and I suspect a good chunk of the audience – are only too happy to do so in her stead.