Planetarian: An Analysis (Part Two)

Today, James continues his guest post series on the visual novel, Planetarian, which is now for sale and download at Steam.

At the end of Part One I suggested that there is a coherent religious message to be found in Planetarian. Before I elaborate, I must emphasize that there is obviously no way I can be certain that the author of the story intended to communicate the precise message I have in mind. Even so, considering the evidence that exists in the story, I think it is highly probable that the author at least intended to convey something very similar to what I propose:

I believe this story promotes the idea that true humanity is to be found not in ourselves, but rather in God and specifically in Jesus, the perfect human.

Again, I could never prove that the author actually meant to say this, but as I hope to show you, if nothing else it is incredibly easy and natural to take this message from the novel based on its content.

My interpretation is rooted in a key juxtaposition of music and story that takes place at the very end of the novel. Yumemi has sacrificed herself in order to save the Junker from certain death at the hands of the Fiddler Crab. As we see her fragmented remains scattered about, a mournful tune begins to play. This song is titled “Perfectly Human” in Planetarian’s in-game track list, but alternate translations of the title are “Perfect Human” and “The Perfect Man.” Assuming the song’s title has been meaningfully chosen, we must ask: in what sense is Yumemi “perfectly human” or a “perfect human”? The novel bends over backwards to periodically remind the reader that Yumemi, for all her intelligence and kindness, is still a robot. Clearly her tendency to constantly check her databases for information and coming up short—in addition to her corresponding failure to assimilate the new information the Junker repeatedly tries to convey to her—mark her as less than human, so in what sense is she a “perfect human”?

The answer becomes evident if we take into account the third possible translation of the song’s title, “The Perfect Man.” In this moment Yumemi has just “taken the bullet” for the Junker, thus saving his life. She approached the Fiddler Crab “without any hesitation at all” and the Junker observes, “It was like a scene from an antique religious painting.” In stepping into harm’s way for the sake of the Junker without considering her own wellbeing, she was a selfless servant to the end, even to the point of “dying” for the Junker. This scene strongly evokes Jesus’ death on the cross that he suffered so that not just one person, but all people might live. As Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

But why should I mention Jesus here? After all, he is hardly the only figure—religious, historical, or otherwise—to sacrifice himself for the sake of another. Why treat the scene as though it evokes him? Well, for the simple reason that as Yumemi utters her last words, the melody to the historic Christian hymn, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, is playing. The track is labeled as such on iTunes, and the Wikipedia track list uses the Japanese translation of this title, “Itsukushimi Fukaki” (“Deep Affection” in English), while the in-game track list uses an alternate English translation of this Japanese title, “The Loving Depths.” Yet this same tune as used at the very beginning of the story is labeled “Hoshi no Sekai” (“World of Stars”) in both the Wikipedia and iTunes track lists, and is referred to simply as “Opening” in the in-game track list. What is going on here?

At this point we must engage in a brief history lesson. In 1868, Charles Crozat Converse wrote a melody titled “Erie” that was subsequently applied to a Christian poem previously written by Joseph Scriven in 1855, “Pray Without Ceasing.” The words and melody together became known as “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” which went on to become a popular Christian hymn. This hymn was later translated into Japanese with the title “Itsukushimi Fukaki.” The melody was then taken and applied to a Japanese children’s folk song written by Daisui Sugitani, which was titled “Hoshi no Yo.” Not at all coincidentally, this children’s song is about the stars in the night sky. The title was rewritten as “Hoshi no Sekai” and is listed as the first musical track in Planetarian.

So why is the exact same melody identified under two different titles, the first referencing a Japanese children’s song about the stars and the second a popular Christian hymn? Bearing in mind that the reader ordinarily would not register any such naming distinction when experiencing the story, I believe that the author of Planetarian was ingeniously trying to send a message by using these two different song titles in the official track list. Imagine for a moment that you are reading the story from the beginning, and that track titles of songs are visible when the music begins to play. As Yumemi advertises the planetarium on a pre-apocalyptic Earth, the track title “Hoshi no Sekai” appears on the screen. Assuming you knew the information given in the previous paragraph, you would think to yourself, “Ah, it’s a song about the stars in the night sky. How appropriate for a story called Planetarian.” But if the exact same melody started playing at the very end of the story with the words “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” appearing on the screen instead, after Yumemi has sacrificed herself to save the protagonist and is using her last moments to yet again call for people to come to “the twinkling of eternity that will never fade,” you would probably think, “Oh! I thought this story was just about the stars, but it’s really about more, so much more.”

(continued in Part Three)

James is a fresh college graduate from Georgia who loves thinking about theology and how it factors into his favorite stories.  Some of his older work can be found at http://gamesforjames.blogspot.com, which he does not update regularly.

Part 1 | Part 3

TWWK

Husband. Dad. Occasionally Korean. Enjoys Star Wars, ASOIAF, and Meg Ryan movies. Tweets before proofreading. Ghibli. Oregairuuuuu. Jesus is King.

5 thoughts on “Planetarian: An Analysis (Part Two)

  1. I’ve always felt many of the most moving pieces of music I’ve heard from visual novels sounded rather hymn-like. Turns out this piece actually is one!

    1. This series of posts encouraged me to finally purchase Planetarian. I started on it, and right from the beginning it’s “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” So surreal!

      1. Yeah! I was familiar to an extent with what James wrote about in this part, but he elucidated it much further! Especially the non-hymnal roots of that particular tune, yet the different connections that can be drawn from its various titles and placements within the novel. Great stuff!

  2. totally going to buy this! i’ve always loved the key anime, and makes it sound really interesting.

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