Clockwork Planet, Vol. 4

By Yuu Kamiya, Tsubaki Himana, and Sino. Released in Japan by Kodansha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by fofi.

This volume gives a lot of attention to Halter, who has tended to serve as the realist and voice of reason for our little band of terrorists. To be fair, this role seems to be his by default; Naoto and Marie are such shiny idealists it’s a wonder you can look straight at them without going blind, RyuZU would destroy the world if Naoto asked her to, and as for Vermouth… yeah, let’s not. So it’s fallen to Halter to explain that, in fact, the world does not end up being sweet and caring just because you wish really hard. Especially when they’re in the steampunk Thailand, where anything and anyone can be bought and sold. So it’s not a big surprise when he turns out to “betray” Naoto and Marie in order to make sure that they aren’t, well, killed in eighteen different ways. That said, while Halter may be the sensible one of the goup, that’s only by a matter of degrees. Because this group is, to a man, utterly broken. In a gaming sense.

The cover girl is TemP, the newest of RyuZU’s siblings to show up, but she’s arguably the weak point of the book, being something of an airhead and lacking a purpose in life beyond “get revenge on her sister” and “be silly”. No, as ever, it’s the main group that commands the most attention, particularly the way that they react to each other. We’ve seen this before, but it’s spelled out explicitly here: Naoto, Marie, AND Halter all think of themselves as being “normal” people surrounded by insane geniuses who do the impossible every day. Since Naoto thinks of his hearing as something that’s typical, he can’t appreciate that he does what no one else can do. Marie’s own self-deprecation frequently gets in her way whenever she runs into a fresh new obstacle. And, as we really see in this volume, Halter is not merely a bodyguard and mercenary, he is possibly THE bodyguard and mercenary, able to take out whole divisions by himself with ease. Each of the three help each other in this book (indeed, Marie helping Halter is almost framed religiously), and are reminded that they can’t stop chasing in Y’s footsteps, but have to create something new. Be artists, not artisans.

At the end of the book we’re headed further west, and it’s definitely open ended. The afterword talks about the anime that was being made, and does mention the 5th book being written in among its goofiness. That said, it’s now nearly three years on, and there’s still no 5th book in Japan. One of the two authors has been dealing with health issues, and also writing the (more popular) No Game No Life books, which have also had lots of delays. The other author (who you get the sense wrote most of this book, if only as it’s slightly less lewd than the other three) started another series for Kodansha in 2017, but that also seems to have stalled out. And so we may be left with this as the final volume, and it’s not too bad a way to go out. You get the sense that Naoto and Marie will eventually achieve the heights they dream of, and manage to have the whole of RyuZU’s siblings around them. As to how that happens… well, the reader is invited to spin their own tale.

Clockwork Planet, Vol. 3

By Yuu Kamiya, Tsubaki Himana, and Sino. Released in Japan by Kodansha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by fofi.

Last time I said that reader sympathy was largely shifting away from Naoto and towards Marie. I’ll go further this time: Marie is why I’m reading this series. There’s actually some decent not-Naoto characterization in this volume, as RyuZU begins to actually appreciate who Marie is and AnchoR is able to realize that she is not merely there to be a giant Mass Weapon of Destruction (though she possibly wishes she learned that lesson a bit earlier). But it’s Marie who the reader follows throughout the book, as she’s now become the star far more than Naoto has. This despite the fact that, like Naoto, she too is shown to be something more than human – after she angrily rants about his amazing hearing one too many times, Naoto comes right back and mentions how Marie’s eyesight is just as ridiculous, and allows her to perform equally impossible tasks. They may not be a romantic pairing (though AnchoR calling them her parents is not helping), but together they are a force of nature.

The basic plot of this series has been the same over the three books, as this book picks up shortly after the end of the second one. Things are looking very bad for our terrorist heroes, who are up against a very crafty enemy, who knows both when to show off its amazing power and when to step back and simply watch the government fall apart. The scenes with the cabinet were viciously satirical, and you get the feeling that the authors are no great fans of politics in general. Meanwhile, RyuZU is out of commission, Halter and Vermouth are down to brains and heads, (and not necessarily both), and Marie is constantly feeling as if the end has finally arrived. Naoto gets frustrated with this, mostly as he’s no0t that type of personality (which is why his characterization suffers – where can he go from here?), but I feel for Marie, as this is indeed a horrible situation it’s impossible to get out of. Luckily, with her, Naoto and his “wife and daughter”, they can achieve the impossible with a bit of effort.

The afterword suggested that this volume was mostly Kamiya’s work, and I’m not surprised, as there are elements of the book that are rather sleazy, particularly everything involving Vermouth, who is absolutely horrible and yet absolutely hilarious. This volume is also considerably longer than the others, and is one of the longer light novels on my phone – when it hits print, I’ll estimate it may be around 300 pages. There’s a lot going on here. That said, almost all the plot threads get wrapped up nearly – in fact, a bit too nearly. If I didn’t know there was a 4th volume of the series I’d swear that this was the final one, and I wonder if their editor made it end like this just in case they were late with the manuscript one too many times. In the meantime, I understand the anime was not well loved, but fans might want to give the novels a try, as they’ve gotten very good indeed.

Clockwork Planet, Vol. 2

By Yuu Kamiya, Tsubaki Himana, and Sino. Released in Japan by Kodansha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by fofi.

The first volume of Clockwork Planet felt very faithful to its genre. We’re introduced to the weirdo hero, identifiable to the core readers mostly due to his robot fetish, and much of the book is through his eyes. As such, Marie seemed to be the typical shonen heroine – romance aside, she was constantly yelling and hitting the hero while also secretly being impressed by him, which is the standard operating procedure for this type of heroine. So I was rather surprised in this second volume to see Marie get the bulk of the audience sympathy and POV. It doesn’t exactly shift to her – she did get a lot of attention in the first book as well. It’s just Naoto seems to be moving further away from us as the series goes on. This is lampshaded towards the end of the book, when it’s hinted he’s actually a reincarnation of something much bigger. Even his perversion seems more… messianic.

The plot of Book 2 is pretty much ‘deal with the fallout from Book 1’, as our heroes travel to the next clockwork town over only to find it disturbingly empty save for a horrible monster death machine deep in the basement. They also see AnchoR, who is the younger sister robot girl to our vicious robot heroine RyuZU, and is unfortunately being brainwashed at the moment, so that will have to be dealt with. (Actually, it’s dealt with pretty quickly and easily – for once, this sort of light novel sequence does buildup better than fight scenes.) Along the way we see how much of this is just the government trying to keep itself in power (a lot). I actually like how this is handled, with Marie being the one unable to immediately figure out everything right away. This is not because she’s stupid (as RyuZU implies) or oblivious to anything but robots (as Naoto is), it’s because she is a big shining ball of idealism who tries to pass herself off as a complete cynic, and has trouble imagining people being truly evil.

This is still written by Yuu Kamiya, author of No Game No Life, and as such you’re going to get a lot of tasteless service here as well. Mostly this is pointless or annoying (AnchoR seems to be a “little sister lolicon” robot purely for those reasons), but occasionally he hits a home run, such as the content of the secret “coded” message for Marie, which was so appallingly explicit I laughed out loud. I’m not certain what the original Japanese was, but you won’t see language like that in Sword Art Online, even if you did paste Chapter 16.5 into your book. And aside from Naoto, who remains mostly static because he’s becoming messianic, there was good character development here. It’s also impressive that I like Marie so much given how much of the book shows her yelling, screaming, or kicking people in the head. There are many times I wanted to do the same thing to everyone she was dealing with.

Clockwork Planet is not terrific, but I do have a lot of fun reading it, particularly Marie. It will be interesting to see if the series, like Marie, can keep going without looking the idealism that it seems to have. Honestly, judging from the cliffhanger, things aren’t looking good.