Let's open this discussion with an example we're all familiar with. Imagine your professor just assigned the class a critical essay on this week's lecture topics. Like all essay assignments you've ever received in your life, this one has a page limit, let's say, 4 pages. Can't be more, can't be less. As you sit down the night before it's due to finally complete (or start) the assignment, you're likely to face one of two problems:
You are struggling to meet the 4 page limit that was set for you, experiencing a lack of material to complete the essay or have simply answered the prompt in a concise manner.
You are struggling to trim down your essay to fit into the 4 page limit, left feeling like you could not adequately prove your point within the limit or that there is just too much material to be fit within such a small space.
Neither situation feels great for you: you either feel frustrated that you just can't seem to fill up those 4 pages with meaningful content, or cheated that you didn't have enough space to present your full thoughts. The page limit itself begins to subtly dictate your essay-writing experience, rather than having your focus be nailed to the prompt and the topic (as it should). You fill the pages up with meaningless garbage to get up to those necessary 4 pages. You cut some of your earlier valid points to trim down to exactly the page requirement.
Both options end up hurting the overall quality of your essay, although at this point it's 5:34 AM and your class is at 8:00. You get a nice cat-nap, drag your caffeine-addled self to class, turn in your paper, and pray to God that the next essay goes better for you.
If your professor keeps giving you a strict length requirement, it's likely to happen the same way all over again.
Claiming that mandated length can put a damper on the creativity or quality of a work is far from a stretch. We see it all the time in television and movies, with anime in particular being one of the worst offenders. Anime runs on a relatively small core force of talent and an even smaller pool of money, and is a medium that is for better or worse rich with adaptations of varying source material. Any sort of requirement outside of (usually) adhering to the source impacts a studio's final production dramatically. Viewer expectations and network blocks don't make this any easier; an episode runs for 24 minutes and a season is 11-13 or 24-26 episodes. Many a series has been ruined by needing to extend or shorten their material to meet these norms, whether that be through cutting/alteration of important source content or the addition of filler to pad out the season.
It's exactly for these reasons that I've found short-form series to be so refreshing as of late, with Planetarian, Space Patrol Luluco, and even incredibly dumber stuff like Okusama ga Seitokaichou being notable examples. Each one of these series has their content and delivery strengthened by their shortened runtimes, so much so that I'd never recommend any of them under any circumstances had they been full-length, 24-minute, 13 episode series. Well, maybe I'd still recommend Luluco to TRIGGER-heads, but a full-length version of Okusama would absolutely be a garbage fire and Planetarian would likely be brushed off as just another hamfisted Key feel-monger.
What's important to note with our two above short-form adaptations (Luluco is the only anime-original of the three) is that each has more than enough content to justify a full-length, full-season series. Planetarian has an original kinetic visual novel, three full drama CDs, and some additional in-print prequel and sequel content. Even though there is likely more than enough content to flesh out at least an 11 episode, 24-minute each series, this ONA is just a mere 5 episodes long with a total runtime of about an hour and half. If you didn't even know about the show until now, you'd be forgiven; it flew largely under the radar (like many short-form series) and was only available on FunimationNow for legal streaming in the US. Like other Key adaptations, this one will try to pull on your heartstrings, but thankfully Maeda is nowhere in sight and there's not enough time for the plot to grind to a halt like Clannad or get absolutely insane like Charlotte.
Planetarian's greatest strong point and stand-out quality when comparing it to other Key works is its focused plot and setting, coming out of necessity with length of the work. Rather than waste your time setting up a VN 'backbone' to satisfy an otaku audience, we jump right into a hard science fiction plot in a post-apocalyptic setting with our two main characters. With a series that's so short, I really don't want to get too much into the specifics of the plot, but Planetarian is a series that really tries to explore questions about the human condition, empathy, and our relationship with technology as it becomes more and more indistinguishable from the natural.
With themes so heavy, you'd think that Planetarian would feel like it's pressed for time, but it's actually the opposite. It feels like it doesn't "overstay its welcome". With a plot focused on just two characters and one core setting, anything more than what we got would feel forced or dragged-out. It's also pretty apparent that the choice to go for short-form was primarily focused on budget. David Production has never really been known for jaw-dropping visuals, but the backgrounds here are honestly stunning, accurately nailing that post-apocalyptic, sci-fi vibe, although the animation at times can be a little stiff outside of some action sequences. However, the budget definitely wasn't skimped out on for the musical score, with Orito bringing the same high-quality pieces that we've heard in shows like Clannad and Kanon (2006).
Planetarian is a perfect example of knowing when to "cut your losses" with a production and prioritize what's most important in making the work a success. By choosing to only adapt the core story of the franchise, which is plenty powerful in and of itself, it allows the work to stand alone stronger than it would if a full-blown adaptation of all material was attempted. It also has the benefit of allow the studio better use their budget on the fewer number of episodes, as well as to back out on follow up content if the project didn't do well financially. Never getting a sequel always sucks as fan, but it definitely hurts less if the first installment was more masterfully done and satisfying in its own right. Thankfully, Planetarian was fairly successful for an ONA, and has a movie set with content from one of the drama CD's sequel content scheduled to release later this year.
Planetarian is a Key visual novel adaptation done in a short form style to great effect. Like a lot of Key stuff, this one will try to pull on the heartstrings, but unlike Clannad and the others that they're famous for, this one doesn't waste your time (nor does it have time to spare) with an over-abundance of melodrama and contrived scenarios. Instead we get a one-shot character story between our two mains. Lots of emotional beats here, with heavy themes about what it means to be human and how the relationship between humans and technology warps over time.
David Production gave it their all for the short time that they had with this one. Some of the background art is drop dead gorgeous, and the character designs have a large amount of love and care put into them (which is honestly expected considering there are really only 2 recurring characters). They do a great job of making the post-apocalyptic modern world of Planetarian dismal and abandoned but not completely lacking in life or action. The animation overall can be pretty stiff at times but I attribute mostly to the fact that the show actually contains a large lack of motion and is mostly dialogue. Facial animations have a good bit of time put into them to make up for this, but you'll mostly enjoy this one for the story, not for the better-than-average art. Music is stand out thought, just as great as other Key adaptations (think Clannad or Kanon 2006 quality).
Overall, a great sci-fi drama with an incredibly satisfying ending. At only just about an hour and a half total time investment, this is definitely one that you don't want to miss.