Rating: 4/5 – Don’t Call It Steampunk
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Al Sparrow.
My wife and I picked up a grandfather clock at a yard sale a few months ago. No real rhyme or reason to it, it just kind of spoke to us as something we wanted in our home. They’re a real curiosity in our modern electronic world. You don’t plug them in. You have to maintain them weekly or they’ll stop working. There are no apps or programs to control them. They’re all built around an intricate and actually quite beautiful system of gears and pulleys that function as a sort of universe within itself. I got the first volume of Clockwork Planet around the same time and the comparison between the two wasn’t lost on me.
While the story of this series is nothing new to manga veterans – prodigy/pariah student comes across amazing technological girl/robot who somehow attaches to him and adventures ensue – the setting itself caught my eye. About 1000 years prior to the book’s current timeline, Earth faced utter doom when a legendary master technician created a series of massive gears, springs, and cogs that essentially covered the planet. These constantly rotating machines keep the planet and its cities alive and intact, and should one ever stop, it could spell imminent disaster. Thus we have our title for the book, and a fairly unique world for it to inhabit.
Unique? Isn’t this just steampunk? That’s what I thought when I picked this book up. I’m not an expert by any means on the genre, but I know enough to know what it is and isn’t. Clockwork Planet definitely falls under the “isn’t” category. This isn’t a throwback Victorian society of steam-based technological wonders. People wear modern shades, not monacles. There are no massive factories or dirigibles or other trappings of the Steampunk realm to be found here, or at least none in this first volume. In fact, modern tech seems to exist side-by-side with the old-school gear-based machinery, creating a blend of the old with the new that somehow manages to work.
Normally, the “boy and his robot” storyline isn’t enough to grab me for the long haul. As mentioned before…been there, read that. Repeatedly. Clockwork Planet has a few things going for it that buck the general trends of that kind of story. For one, not-so-hapless mecha otaku Naoto is a pretty fun protagonist, not your usual everyman who kind of exists in the background waiting to come out and save the day at the end of the series. It also helps that the story doesn’t just focus on him and his relationship with Ryuzu, the obligatory cute robot girl who assigns herself to him when he awakens her. She’s a bit of a fun character as well, but the story only partially focuses on their initial meeting before moving on to an equally interesting plotline; several families work as guards, overseers, and repairpersons for the gearworks, complete with rivalries, backstabbings, and enough court intrigue to give this story a depth beyond many of its ilk.
Readers who see the gear-oriented artwork and read only the pitch of this series can be forgiven if they picked it up hoping for a manga-meets-steampunk romp. It’s likely they may find themselves taken in by the archaic meets modern technological aspects, compelling storylines, and solid artwork and character designs (I think cosplayers will have a lot of fun re-creating Ryuzu’s costume). Ultimately, Clockwork Planet may not be anything at all what people expect, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. In this case, it has enough going for it to bring me back for Volume two.
Reviewed by: Al Sparrow (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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