Planetarian: An Analysis (Part Three)

Today, James concludes his guest post series on the visual novel, Planetarian, which is among those we recommend for Christian audiences.

Note: This post continues directly from the end of Part Two

If we keep this meaningful juxtaposition of music and story fixed firmly in our minds and accept the Christian interpretation, the rest of the novel falls into place remarkably well. To begin with, consider the setting Planetarian takes place in. The entire world has been ravaged by a “Great War” instigated by “foolish and selfish human beings.” By the Junker’s own account, “People worked so hard to slaughter each other…even when there were no humans left to fight” because they had become bent on “the internecine creed of revenge and massacre.” In this way, “The purpose of life became merely to live,” and “There was nothing left in this world but dirt immersed in poison and unspeakable ruin.”

In light of the Christian interpretation, this terrible state of affairs represents the depravity of mankind when left to its own devices, in all of its fallen sinfulness. (Not even the institution of the Church is immune to this systemic corruption, as the mere existence of the sniper nun from “Jerusalem” sadly attests.) The grim world depicted here is captured all too well in Micah 7:2-3a, “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net. Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well.” The fruit of mankind’s evil literally descends on people’s heads and destroys them in the form of the poisonous Rain. No one seems to have even an inkling of a better way of life, much less a means of attaining it. Indeed, in what must be the epitome of tragic absurdity, some people actively worship the very instruments of their own self-destruction (recall the Junker’s memory of the village idol made out of battle mechs). What delusion is this, that people would seek salvation from the works of their own hands, and artifacts of destruction to boot!

When the Junker, a product of this degenerate world, first meets Yumemi, her kindness, innocence, and unflagging devotion to serving others are initially dumbfounding to him, even repellent (note how at first he characterizes her smile as “childish” and her selfless behavior as “deranged”). As time goes on, however, he begins to describe her in much more generous terms—her smile becomes “pure,” “innocent,” “gentle,” “so gentle that even the angels would covet it,” and she herself is a “treasure.”

The Junker himself changes dramatically too. Where his mind was once “an empty desert, a clattering graveyard of hollow sounds,” after meeting Yumemi, “grains of stardust were shining like a stain undying on an imperishably dark heart of hearts that had long been without a single decent thought.” At the end of the novel he drops his grenade launcher in a puddle and leaves it behind, abandoning his old life as a Junker altogether: “I walked forth into this fractured world, yet my thoughts were forever of the sky.” Following the Christian interpretation, it would seem as though the Junker underwent some sort of miraculous “conversion,” but what was it that inspired him? Taking a closer look at Yumemi’s character will help us answer this question.

Yumemi is, first and foremost, completely and selflessly devoted to serving others, unceasingly kind and gentle, to use the Junker’s own words. This brings to mind what Jesus says about himself in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” as well as what Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 9:35 when they are arguing over which of them is the greatest: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Toward the end of the story, Yumemi’s lack of interest in a Heaven of self-fulfillment and her prayer that Heaven not be torn in two so that she can serve everyone for eternity is a perfect model of this Christian calling, as well as the Christian hope for life after Christ’s return, when we will serve God and worship him for eternity. Yet despite Yumemi’s kindness and eagerness to serve, the Junker initially finds her behavior totally off-putting, just as his older friend did. Recall how the older man told the Junker, with great distaste, that Yumemi was “not a thing that is of this world,” a turn of phrase reminiscent of what Jesus says about Christians in John 17:16, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of it.”

Within the immediate context of the story, Yumemi is not of this world in a very noticeable sense: she’s got her head in the stars! The novel begins with her issuing a call for people to come to the planetarium, it ends the exact same way, and in between she regularly practices her invitation so she can do it well when customers come. What are we to make of her singular devotion to the stars and her “utmost and terribly genuine pride” in calling people to them? Keeping in mind the Christian interpretation, as well as the Junker’s first impression of the planetarium as a place of worship, it could be said that what Yumemi wishes so dearly to show people the glory and wonder of is more than just the heavens, but Heaven and the God who reigns there. In this vein, her other prayer (apart from the one that Heaven not be torn in two) that she offers during the commemorative projection is that people would never forget the stars (God), even when they are in the dark and can no longer see.

I began this analysis by asking, why is Planetarian so touching? In light of all I have said, my answer is simply this: how can we not be moved by such a selfless sacrifice made by one who is pure, gentle, kind, and blameless? In Yumemi these traits are striking, but ultimately not as impressive as they could be for the simple reason that she was “programmed to act that way from the start,” as the Junker points out. Yet despite her overtly robotic qualities, she amazingly approximates true humanity (without matching it perfectly) simply by serving and “dying” selflessly, akin to Jesus’ own selfless death on the cross. To complete the analogy, the story even holds out the possibility of Yumemi experiencing future “resurrection” when she gives the Junker her memory card (i.e., her “soul”) so that it can be placed into a new body.

In closing, consider the opening words from “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” the name of which is deliberately invoked in the novel’s ending:

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Yumemi directed the Junker’s thoughts to God by asking him (twice!) if he ever prayed to God, which is precisely what this hymn is all about, and she devoted her existence to inviting people to come be in the presence of “the twinkling of eternity that will never fade, no matter what.” Let us heed her exhortation and forever fix our gaze on the heavens, on Him who reigns in Heaven, and let us also follow her—and by extension, Christ’s—example in selfless service to others.

 Part 1 | Part 2


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