Jason Thompson's House of 1000 Manga - Please Save My Earthby Jason Thompson, Sep 1st 2011
Episode LXV: Please Save My Earth
"Psychic powers! Don't you know it's the latest fad? Bend one measly spoon, and the girls are all over you!"
—Hajime Sakaguchi in Please Save My Earth
Alice Sakaguchi is a shy girl who loves plants. And plants love her too; when she sings outside the school music room, the trees near the room gradually grow taller and taller, as if they get strength from the sound of her voice. By day, she can hear the flowers in the garden asking for water, the trees in the city yearning for the forest.
Alice is a transplant too; she and her family just moved from Hokkaido to Tokyo. The only person she knows in her new neighborhood is Rin, a seven-year-old boy who introduced himself when she moved in. Rin likes Alice; unfortunately, Rin is THE BIGGEST BRAT IN THE UNIVERSE. When he's not running around being hyper, he's putting gum in her hair and worse. Being asked to babysit Rin is Alice's idea of hell on earth, but she doesn't have any friends in Tokyo her own age. And on top of her link to the plants, at night she starts having strange dreams about being on the moon, looking down on earth from above.
Then one day, she stumbles upon two of her male classmates, the handsome, sensitive Jinpachi and the shy Issei, having an intimate conversation in the school garden. She gets embarrassed and immediately assumes there's some yaoi thing going on ("Could this be it…? The dream of fangirls everywhere…?"). Eager to correct the misconception, the two boys explain that they're not really lovers. (Not yet, anyway…keep reading.) Instead, they've both been having strangely similar dreams…dreams that they are different people, studying the Earth from an observation platform on the moon. Alice is startled by their confession, and immediately they share their dreams and start putting the pieces together. Are they really all dreaming of a past life as alien scientists on the moon? And what happened to cause them all to be reincarnated on Earth, Right Here, Right Now?
Alice, Jinpachi and Issei make a pact and try to find out more about their other lives, and soon they meet other high school students who dream of being on the moonbase. (One of the nice things about this story is that the characters handle the reincarnation situation intelligently; they find other reincarnated people by publishing the story of their experiences in a magazine, and they consider going to the scientific community with their stories.) At first, they're all happy to meet one another, like people who've only met online meeting for the first time in real life. It turns out that Issei was a woman in his past life, Enju, who had a crush on Jinpachi. (What did I tell you?) Alice was a beautiful woman named Mokuren, a woman caught in a love triangle between two men, the dashing scientist Gyokuran (Jinpachi in his past life) and the darkly handsome, dangerously instable techie, Shion. But none of them remembers everything about the past, and there are still gaps they haven't figured out yet. For instance, how did they die? Who did Shion reincarnate as? What was the exact situation between Shion, Gyokuran and Mokuren? Alice has the least memories of any of them, so she's unable to shed much light on the subject…and she's a little scared that, if she regains her memories of being Mokuren, she'll lose her own identity as herself.
Then tragedy strikes. While Alice is babysitting Rin, he climbs onto the balcony and she accidentally knocks him off from the 15th floor. Miraculously, Rin survives the fall, but his brain is injured, and when he wakes up from his coma, he's a different man. The once immature little kid now talks with an unearthly maturity, and his love for Alice has changed from a childish crush to a full-blown obsession. He becomes jealous of Alice spending so much time around other men, like Jinpachi. He tries to dress "grown up" and asks her out on dates. And most shocking of all, although he hides it, Rin has developed psychic powers, the power to fly, teleport…and kill. Is Rin also the reincarnation of one of the alien scientists? Could he be the reincarnation of Shion? Now, all this power and desire is trapped inside the body of a little boy…
Saki Hiwatari's Please Save My Earth, with its unforgettably-strange-in-English title, is one of the classic shojo science fiction manga of the '80s and '90s. Viz released the whole series in English, and did a good job on the English adaptation, although I wish they hadn't used the same font-explosion title logo they used for their release of the OAV series. A 21-volume epic, Please Save My Earth takes a while to get going, but the mysteries of the characters' past lives were so compelling I couldn't stop reading. (Incidentally, this kind of long story buildup seems much more common in shojo manga than in shonen manga; do shonen readers not have as much patience?) It's got beautiful women, Handsome Men, twisted relationships, Love Beyond Time (shojo) and clothes-tearing psychic battle scenes (shonen). It was so successful that readers started sending Saki Hiwatari letters, claiming that they too were the reincarnations of aliens on the moon, and Hiwatari had to write an afterword reminding readers that the events of the manga were fictional. She did too good a job making it all seem real.
Although they have psychic powers, the alien scientists aren't gods, and Hiwatari does a good job fleshing out their backstory. (One minor detail which is mentioned once or twice is that the aliens were actually only a few inches tall, which is why their moonbase hasn't been noticed by human telescopes; I think having the moonbase just be buried or invisible would've been a simpler explanation than having the aliens be a race of tiny elf-people observing a planet of ginormous humans, but let's just run with it.) The seven scientists are from a war-torn world, and to them, Earth seems like a green paradise, an unspoiled piece of nature they must watch over but never interfere with. (I was reminded a tiny bit of the old sci-fi film Silent Running.) But this isn't one a preachy environmental manga; it's much more of a character story. Mokuren, the previous incarnation of Alice, is a Kiches Sarjalim, a virgin priestess raised in a secluded sanctuary, who loves plants and living things. Gyokuran, one of the men who loves her, admires her nobility and puts her on a pedestal. In contrast, Shion is a war orphan, whose terrible childhood has made him grow up cynical and misanthropic. He is baffled by Mokuren, who seems so saintly and privileged. ("Such people exist? They're allowed to exist? How can the world be so unfair…?") Shion is drawn towards her…but is what he feels for her love or hate? But Mokuren isn't as pure and simple as she seems on the outside, and when we finally see inside her head, we realize that she's also got flaws.
As the main characters deal with their issues, the regrets and loves of their past come back to haunt the living, which is especially weird when the new Shion is a 7-year-old boy and the new Mokuren is a 16-year-old girl. But I won't judge Hiwatari; the young boy-older girl crush in Please Save My Earth is just turnabout from the other 98% of manga where some twentysomething guy is in love with some teenage moe girl. (Just give Shion and Mokuren 20 years, and it'll all seem perfectly acceptable. Really. But until then, yeah, it's still creepy.) Still, this manga goes to some dark places; things get very uncomfortable, very fast, in the flashback to Shion's past in volumes 8-10. Some people might not be able to get through it, but it's undeniably got some powerful emotional scenes involving some flawed characters. (There is also an interesting effect when we see the same scene over and over from the perspective of different characters.) Rin's mother, who slowly watches her young son's personality change into some unrecognizable new person, has a few especially touching moments. One of the major plot points hinges on that big question about reincarnation: are the new incarnations doomed to follow in the paths of their predecessors, or are they really New People? Is the past a burden or a blessing? "You're a human on earth, scheduled to come out of his cocoon, with your old self as a stepping stone," one character tells another. Or as another person says, "The past is just a tool for us to use. It's not essential for living in the present... but it can come in handy from time to time. Think of it like reference material. It's the simplest way to understand yourself. That's all it is. It doesn't change who you are."
Hiwatari's art changes a lot over the 21 volumes. In the beginning, it looks very quirky in an early '80s way, and there are a lot of sight gags, like Hiwatari suddenly drawing Jinpachi and Issei in love as characters from Saint Seiya. (Yep, Hiwatari's a fujoshi. This is also the oldest manga I've read that uses the term shotacon.) Later on, when the plot gets more serious, the art gets more realistic too, and everyone gets handsomer and prettier and sexier, in an early '90s way. (Hiwatari's art seems to evolve to follow the trends of the time, judging by her modern work, which looks…well, modern.) And of course, befitting the plant theme, there are also tons and tons of flowers. (I have to wonder, do shojo artists buy fresh flowers to use as reference? Can they write them off on their taxes?)
I couldn't stop reading this manga once I started, but when I put it down at the end, I do have some problems with Please Save My Earth. It's hard to speak without summoning the dread Spoilers, but to me, the buildup is better than the ending; maybe that's just my personal preference, but I have trouble reconciling the characters' actions in the present with what happened in their past lives. It's a quieter ending than I expected, too, although it suits the generally character-driven (rather than, say, psychic-blast-driven) nature of the manga. One thing is for sure: I wish that Hiwatari had drawn more scenes involving Kyaa, the giant alien cat which shows up in a few scenes in the flashbacks. In 2003 Hiwatari started drawing a sequel to Please Save My Earth, Boku wo Tsutsumi Tsuki no Hikari ("Embraced by the Moonlight"), which hasn't been translated yet, but at least it has more cat scenes. Despite my misgivings about PSME, I like Hiwatari's manga, with their long, intricate character-driven stories and forbidden loves and weird twists. I hope she draws more of them. Also: please draw more cats.
Jason Thompson is the author of Manga: The Complete Guide and King of RPGs, as well as manga editor for Otaku USA magazine.
Banner designed by Lanny Liu.
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