Clockwork Planet is a 2017 anime by Xebec based on a 2013 light novel series by Yuu Kamiya and Tsubaki Himana. This looked like a good prospect when I chanced upon it online. Sadly, there were no steam engines, airships or goggles. Its summary describes it not as steampunk but “clockpunk.” The show’s premise is that after the Earth was somehow destroyed, a genuis engineer rebuilt it out of gears. As bizarre as that sounds, it could have worked if the story was good or if the humor was crazy enough. Sad to say, that wasn’t the case.
First of all, this clockwork world is too much like our own, being big enough to have oceans and an atmosphere. Countries like Japan still exist, though the land consists of many layers of metal and gears, with hollow spaces below. The action starts in Kyoto as teenage clockmaker Naoto narrowly escapes being killed by a box that falls out of the sky. It contains an inactive automaton in the form of a beautiful girl. After being stereotypically awkward about undressing her and opening her chest, he finds and repairs her one defective gear. Thus the automaton RyuZU comes to life. Naoto falls madly in love with her and she accepts him as her master. She is quite capable of defending him, as she possesses numerous swords mounted on mechanical extensions that pop out from under her skirt.
The second (human) protagonist is Marie, a child prodigy and a member of the Meister Guild, which maintains the city’s machinery. They discover that the city’s gears are malfunctioning and that the military plans to destroy it to keep the entire country from collapsing. In fleeing with her cyborg bodyguard Halter she encounters Naoto. It’s hate at first sight, as the domineering young genius can’t stand Naoto, a geeky idiot savant who fixes clockwork using only his instincts and superior hearing. Yet the imminent threat to their city forces them to work together.
Clockwork Planet is like a kid’s show in that its juvenile heroes successfully face insuperable odds that should have killed them before the end of the first episode. Yet it’s not really suitable for a child audience. There is of course violence though at least it’s not shown in a graphic fashion The dialog has a lot of profanity (could this be a translation issue?) and inappropriate sexual jokes. Worst of all from the American perspective, some of the secondary characters (gasp!) smoke cigarettes.
I could perhaps accept this show as an over-the-top satire like the brilliant Kill la Kill, but it’s nowhere near as outrageous or funny. Like that series, Clockwork Planet pokes fun at common anime tropes such as fan service (that is, scantily clad busty females.) Yet its story is too childish and the character motivation too ridiculous for it to appeal to an adult audience. Sadly, it doesn’t even achieve “so bad it’s good” status. There are, however, two positives: its visual character design is excellent, especially Marie’s guild uniform with its stylized gear patterns. There’s some great cosplay potential there. The theme music is also good, though they didn’t bother to subtitle the Japanese lyrics.
In summary, there’s really nothing steampunk about Clockwork Planet except the omnipresent gears and its cyborg and automaton characters. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend it to anyone except the most diehard anime fans who might be amused to see just how weird this medium can get.