Considering the huge success of Western CG animation, it's surprising that Japan has yet to really embrace the medium. There have been a few attempts in the past, with the stylised, cel-shaded Appleseed films giving way to the more realistic visual style of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Vexille and most recently TO: 2001 Nights. They've all been pretty decent, but none have seen the unmitigated success of the likes of WALL-E or Up!. Nonetheless Japan has not shied away from CG animation completely, and their latest attempt is the mecha actioner Planzet.
Planzet is set in a
post-apocalyptic future where a massive alien attack has wiped out every major
city on earth and pretty much all of humanity. The few people that have
survived are protected only by an energy shield that limits alien raids, and a
small group of soldiers training with adapted alien technology to combat the
superior firepower and numbers the aliens can bring to bear. It's a
desperate situation but for Taishi Akeshima it's more than just a battle for
survival. Taishi's father was in the military and disappeared during the
initial alien assault, now a soldier himself Taishi trains to master the new
technology so he can protect his younger sister Koyomi and also get revenge.
Humanity is pretty much on its last legs, and the only hope for the planet is a
decisive attack on the alien base - a gigantic orbiting asteroid. However,
with traditional military hardware largely useless and only a handful of elite
troops trained in the use of alien technology the earth's final hope may rest on
the mysterious Planzet, a top secret military project which is rumoured to exist
within the bowels of Japan's Mount Fuji base. No-one knows what Planzet is
or what it does, but rumours are that the main energy shield needs to be
disabled in order to use it. If that is the case can Taishi and his fellow
soldiers hold off the alien assault long enough for the weapon to be deployed?
And even if they can does the untested Planzet take out in one blow what all of
the planet's militaries were unable to defeat before? Whatever happens
Planzet is humanity's last desperate gamble, an all or nothing attempt to defeat
their foe with devastating consequences if they fail...
After watching the surprisingly intelligent and imaginative sci-fi TO: 2001 Nights I had high hopes for more of the same from Planzet. Visually it is similar, going for the more realistic style of TO and Vexille rather than the anime stylings of Appleseed, and it promises a sci-fi heavy plot that suggests a core human drama and plenty of action. Unfortunately though Planzet eschews the classical sci-fi and imagination of TO in favour of b-movie action. Taking its cues from the likes of Independence Day and Starship Troopers, Planzet puts
swashbuckling action at its heart with a group of noble but flawed heroes sent on a last desperate attempt to save humanity. Like Starship Troopers you have alien meteorites used to assault Earth, like Independence Day you have giant, city-destroying alien ships accompanied by smaller fighters and humans using adapted alien technology to fight them. It wears its influences on its sleeve, leaving you with the nagging feeling you've seen it all before. Even the characters are unoriginal, mirroring those you've seen in a hundred mecha anime - a noble but troubled youth seeking revenge and aiming to protect someone important accompanied by a gruff veteran and a woman who may be attracted to him could describe the protagonists in several Gundam series.
What's frustrating about the derivative story and characters
is that Planzet does have some great things going for it. Visually
it's stunning, with some jaw-dropping vistas of a devastated Earth and some of
the most realistic-looking characters I've seen in anime. The design is
fantastic too, particularly the mechanical design of the mecha suits and the
alien ships - they may not be that original, but they look damn good. The
characters have a lot of scope and there's so much that could be done with the
premise, but it's on these aspects that it falls flat. Whilst we hear what
has happened to the planet almost all the action is based around the Mount Fuji
military base. We don't get to see much of what life has been reduced to,
especially not in the rest of the world, or a sense of the human impact of the
alien attack. There's no real exploration of how such a cataclysmic event
has affected the characters, with only a few stilted exchanges between Taishi
and his sister and some scenes of his commander cracking under the weight of her
decisions giving any insight into their emotional state. Taishi's fellow
soldiers are woefully underdeveloped, getting a scant few scenes with him and
very little sense of who they are or what they are fighting for, while his
sister's character is so paper thin as to be nearly invisible.
It does have some strong action scenes, and I like the realism of characters running out of ammunition, but with such an underdeveloped cast it's hard to attach any emotional involvement to what's going on. However, my main issue is with the story. As I have said it is pretty derivative of numerous alien invasion films, and because of this it needs some original elements to set it apart... and it doesn't really have many. Planzet's most intriguing aspect is the titular weapon itself, a mechanism with unknown effects that is
reserved as a last resort as it's a 'double-edged sword'. Due to having to take down the Earth's only defence from the invaders in order to use it, Planzet is seen as a final resort but when it's finally revealed it's somewhat underwhelming. The weapon is the series' big ace in the hole, and it's to be honest quite derivative as well.
It's a shame as on paper Planzet has everything it needs to be a quality anime with as much intrigue and intelligence as TO, but in practice it doesn't deliver. It looks great, in fact visually it's one of the best CG anime I've so far seen, but the story is unoriginal and the characters weak. It may only be 50-odd minutes long but its short length is no excuse for such a lack of character development, you know so little about almost the entire cast it's hard to give a damn about what could happen to them during the battles, which leaves the frenetic action lacking the impact it could have had. As a short action title and a visual tour-de-force Planzet is worth a look, but there are better sci-fi titles, mecha series and CG titles out there that deserve you attention more. One for mecha purists only.
As often seems to be the case with Kazé releases there were no extras here apart from additional language options. The French menus carry front-loading trailers for Kazé's French cable channel, Mardock Scramble and the intriguing looking film Colorful.