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Buried Treasure
Please Save My Earth

by Justin Sevakis,
After two consecutive entries into the "Buried Treasure" database that were pretty difficult to find, I figured it was time for something easy.

Back in my budding otaku days (the mid 90's), the 6-part OAV was one of the most prevalent forms of anime. The short episode count made collecting the series easy, and the direct-to-video format usually meant animation of far better quality than TV series of the day. The most popular on VHS fansub were Iria, Video Girl Ai, and of course Please Save My Earth. Please Save My Earth (Boku no Tama wo Mamotte*) was my favorite of the three. I even successfully used it as a recruitment tool for other anime fans. It wasn't a dark series per se, but a moody one that dealt with real emotions and mature characters in a way most people never expected of animation.

What I didn't know back then was how influential the manga was in Japan. Something about it, be it the time and place, or the feeling of nostalgia, struck a cord with the public at large, and the series became one of the best sellers in the entire Hana to Yume catalog. Many shonen manga artists refer to Katsuhiro Otomo's "Domu" as the reason they wanted to become artists. Shoujo authors refer to Please Save My Earth. Artist and writer Saki Hiwatari would never again make a work so influential.

Alice Sakaguchi, a shy recently-displaced country girl, moves to Tokyo with her family. She's miserable; the smoggy air bothers her, the plants (her best friends) are far fewer, and she's routinely bullied by the 7-year-old terror next door, Rin Kobayashi. One day, she's stuck babysitting him and takes him to the Zoo. They run into two boys from her class, Jinpachi and Issei, who she thought she saw the other day in a yaoi moment.

Over an awkward lunch, they explain themselves. The two of them have been having identical dreams for a few years, where both of them are scientists on a moon base, part of a team of seven. They're very realistic dreams, as if they're remembering a past life, and they're completely different people. This all sounds fascinating to Alice, but seeing her interested in a boy infuriates Rin. Pitching a fit as they get home, he ends up falling from the window, at a height that would kill most people. Alice is distraught, and blames herself.

Rin soon recovers, but he's never quite the same after that. He's now outwardly in love with Alice, to the point of asking for her hand in marriage. And by night, he's scheming. And he can fly. And as for Alice, she has one of these dreams on the moon - where she is a woman named Mokuren.

There's so much more to tell. Things move fast. I'm only twenty minutes into the anime and half way through the first graphic novel. It's a complicated story, and there's a lot of characters to keep straight. One by one, the seven scientists that were once stationed on the moon are reunited as teenagers in Japan. By piecing together their memories (which are starting to flow back faster and stronger), they realize that they were on an expedition to study the Earth, sent by their own people from a distant planet - one that eventually self-destructed.

But as these memories flow back, so do all of the old feelings. The loves, the rivalries, the intense hatreds. Oh, and the ESP. And Rin - he's one of them. The one to awaken first.

What's so fascinating about PSME is its characters. Between the cast on the moon and the cast on Earth, we learn nearly everyone's back story. There's a sense that, even without remembering their past lives, the kids of today would turn out very much like their old moon base personas. And for Rin, when his memory comes back all at once, he becomes a full grown man, wistful and bitter, in the body of a seven-year-old. The idea of losing one's free will to the will of someone who once lived is a concept that I've never seen explored quite so realistically. It's a very unsettling scenario, but an endlessly fascinating one.

Many fans are a bit frustrated by the ending of the anime. As the manga is 21 books long, it would have been completely impossible to tell anything resembling a complete story in six episodes, so instead a flashback is told - one of Rin's moon alter-ego, his desperate childhood as a war orphan, and his brief moment of happiness in the care of a foster father.

It's this last episode that always levels me. The nostalgia for a lost childhood and the desperation of being unloved strikes a deep chord. And yet, there's an incredible hope here. The ending is like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket on a cold winter day; to reflect on it is like remembering your own sepia-tinged memories.

Still, the lack of a satisfying conclusion is a problem, and I'll admit that left me a little disappointed for many years. Now that Viz is nearly done releasing the manga in English, it's a blessing. The manga and anime are meant to compliment each other, and now enjoying one recalls memories of the other. They fill in each other's cracks.

The anime is an earlier Production IG work, and the beauty with which this series was rendered is one of the reasons they continue to be held in such high regard today. Director Kazuo Yamazaki's tone is a slight departure from the manga; a more mature and realistic vision that does away with the super-deformed moments that filled many of the manga's early moments. Certain awkward scenes (particularly between Alice and Jinpachi) remind us that he also directed Maison Ikkoku.

Special mention must be made of the music, which is an early collaboration between fan favorite Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi. It's easy to tell what came from who; Mizoguchi's background music is soft, soothing and sometimes somber, lilting between the wonder and nostalgia of a past life and the epic tragedy of how it ended. Kanno's vocal tracks are among her best work. The ending theme, "A Moment's Memory", ranks in my book as one of the most haunting, evocative themes in all of anime. (Unfortunately, most of her other songs only appear in the Music Image Video OAV, which is not available in the USA. Most of them are great, "Ring" and "Flow of Golden Time" - both variations on the same theme, take you to a completely different world.)

So how is this a "Buried Treasure?" Most newer fans don't even seem to know this series exists. Despite its popularity in the VHS fansub scene, Viz's dubbed release slipped by unnoticed. In those days, Viz (like many anime distributors) really didn't know how to properly market a release, and a shoujo drama like PSME simply didn't have a chance among the mecha and martial arts fanboys of the day. The DVD release occurred only a few years later, and retailers who were still sitting on piles of unsold VHS copies weren't too keen on stocking a DVD. I'm finding most bookstores do not stock the PSME manga, as its older art style means that it likely is one of the more unloved titles in Viz's gigantic catalog.

I enjoy the dubbed version of the anime on some levels, but can't recommend it. As an early Ocean work, the dub does exhibit some of the studio's tendency towards overacting (as the studio was mostly doing children's cartoons at the time). Child actor Christopher Turner's Rin, unfortunately, is so wooden that many key scenes are hard to take seriously. After hearing Yumi Touma perfectly capture the chilling tones of a child gone horribly wrong, it's impossible to go back to the dub.

Please Save My Earth is unforgettable; the sort of story that only comes along once in a decade. I consider the manga to be on par with some of the greatest works of modern fiction. The anime and its soundtracks are its required companions.

(* most Americans learning Japanese use the standard pronunciation for 地球, reading it "chikyuu." Here, it's read "tama", making the Japanese fan-abbreviation "Bokutama.")

A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

How to get it:

Viz released the entire series on one DVD back in 2000. Anybody who stocks anime DVD's should have this disc, or can special order it, as it's still in print. I recommend ordering online, as brick & mortar stores are unlikely to carry it. It's a good disc, but as this is one of my favorite anime, there were a few small things about it that bugged me. As this used the same masters as the VHS release, the post-production is not up to today's standards. Due to old equipment and/or over-compression, the image looks quite soft. The gorgeous ending animation is covered by credits in a gigantic block font, artlessly slapped on top. (Luckily, a credit-less version is included.)

A much better boxed set has been released by DVD Ani in Korea. The three disc set features English subtitles identical to the Viz release (but no dub) and video quality equal to the R2 DVD's. The six OAV's are spread on two of the discs; the third disc contains both the Movie version and the Music Image Video. (No subtitles on either, unfortunately.) The Movie version is over-edited and not worth your time, but the Music Image Video OAV is a must-have. You can get this from most places that stock Korean imports, like YesAsia.com.

The manga may be similarly hard to find at brick & mortar shops, but it's worth the effort. Oh, and be careful if you order from Amazon - it's hard to tell the difference between the English and the Spanish versions.

SPECIAL SECTION! Secrets of Anime Production
Today's Episode: Where Those Rainbows Come From

Broadcast-level video technology has changed a lot since 1992. The quality that we take for granted in most DVD's today is the result of new formats and technology that have overtaken the pro video world in the last ten years or so. Unfortunately, anything put to video before 1998 or so simply won't look as good as it could. Even more unfortunately, the anime industry has only recently started getting good at saving important materials such as film negatives (now that they barely even use film), so chances are the existing video masters are as good as we're ever going to get for pretty much anything that never got a theatrical release (and even some shows that did). As everybody moves on to HDTV, the disparity is going to become more and more obvious.

PSME was a higher-budget release, which meant the producers could afford to shoot in 35mm (like most movies, as opposed to TV series that were usually shot on 16mm film) and do their work at a post-production house with the latest equipment. The end result is that the video, while not perfect, looks pretty darn good compared to other shows of its day. Keen-eyed viewers will notice a bit of flickering and rainbow effects in areas of tight line work. That effect is caused by "composite video" - the now-antiquated method of squeezing all of the picture data - including both the brightness and the color information - into one analog signal. Nowadays, analog is barely ever used professionally, but when it is, the signal is split into three parts - now called "component video" - which gives the very complicated electrical signal pattern some room to breathe.

Your TV set almost certainly has composite inputs. It's the yellow plug in the ubiquitous yellow-red-white RCA inputs on almost every consumer TV made in the last 20 years. But chances are, you also have S-Video inputs, which use component video and look much better. If you have a high-end TV made recently, you might have full robust component inputs - green, orange and blue - that look even better (and can sometimes handle analog HDTV formats). Only the higher HDTV's have digital inputs.

Most anime made in the mid 90's was mastered to composite videotape formats, called D2 and D3. (There was a D1, but it was so expensive that it didn't get used much.) D2 (and Panasonic's unloved competitor D3) were digital formats, but in a world where everything else was analog, what mattered was how easily you could hook the VCR up to other things. At the time, everything still used composite analog. So these machines simplified things by storing the full composite signal on the tape, rather than separating things out. But with the entire image all squished together on one track, things get a little muddy. Since everything was getting seen off of broadcast TV (composite), Laserdisc (composite) and VHS (composite and crappy), it didn't really matter. Besides, it was a lot cheaper - a good D2 recorder only cost about as much as a mid- to high-end car. (As opposed to D1 or other high-end formats, for which recorders cost about as much as a house.)

Despite its limitations, D2 looks pretty good, especially compared to most analog formats. Even up until 2003 or so, D2 was commonly used in the US as part of anime post-production, particularly on longer shows. Digital Betacam, the last (and best) commonly used format for standard definition video, could only hold 90 minutes on a tape at the time, so for anything longer you had to use D2 to get a continuous program. D2 could hold up to three hours in its largest size, a hilariously big "Wide Mouth" 18-inch cassette. DVD authoring houses of the era usually had both types of machines - DigiBeta and D2 - and it was often preferable to lose a seemingly imperceptible hair of quality for the assurance that nobody at the authoring house would screw up editing two separate tapes together.

Whenever you see rainbow flickering in anime, it's because somewhere along the line, either in Japan or in the US, the video signal was forced into composite before it got to your DVD. And it's looked like that ever since. If you see it on newer shows, it's because somebody is using old equipment that should really be put out to pasture.

Screenshots ©1994 Saki Hiwatari • Hakusensha (Hana to Yume Magazine) • Victor Entertainment • ING Co.

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