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Please Save My Earth 1 - Saki Hiwatari

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Paperback: 173 pages / Publisher: Viz Media / Published: Nov 2003

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      20.10.2013 19:13
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      4.5/5

      Please Save My Earth (Boku no Chikyou wo Mamotte) is a manga series written and drawn by Saki Hiwatari. Genre-wise, PSME is the intersection of two specific genres, sci-fi and shoujo (girls' comics).

      To give some background, just as in the West, sci-fi was seen as a male-dominated genre until the early 70s. That was until the exclusively female Year 24 Group started producing more and more comics for girls, including manga adaptations of sci-fi novels from both Japan and America. Undoubtedly influenced by the Year 24 Group, Please Save My Earth began serialisation in 1987, in shoujo magazine Hana to Yume (Flowers and Dreams), and was brought to an end in 1994. The story was collected into 21 volumes, of which this is the first. The series was licensed and translated into English by Viz Media in 2003.

      Alice Sekiguchi is a highly-strung perfectionist of a teenager, prone to maudlin daydreams. It doesn't help that her parents gave her an English name that makes her stand out, or that she has an annoying younger brother - among all the other trials sent from God. Nightmare becomes reality for Alice when she is forced to babysit her annoying 7 year old neighbour. Rin is cute, less than 4ft tall and extremely manipulative. He can cry on demand and uses this to make Alice bend to his nefarious demands, such as taking him to the zoo or buying him an ice cream. When he's not exercising his evil cerebrum, Rin reveals an extremely naïve side of himself, especially about matters of an adult nature (such as when he asks Alice if his mother is a virgin). Whilst supremely irritating and a blight on poor sensitive Alice's life, he is for the most part a normal kid and their babysitting arrangement is far from bizarre. That is, until Alice accidentally throws him off a third floor balcony. Awkward...

      Meanwhile... two boys in Alice's class, Jinpachi and Issei, engage in what can only be described as gay moon conferences. The pair have a problem: they have been sharing the same dreams since middle school, and now the dreams are becoming sexy in nature. In the dreams, Issei is the female Enju, an anthropologist on a moon base, and Jinpachi is the male Gyokuran, the same moon base's archeologist. Despite the dream-Enju and real-life-Issei having different genders, they act strangely alike; likewise, both dream-Jinpachi and IRL-Gyokuran are virtually identical in looks and personality. The pornographic canoodlings of their alter egos is causing them some strife. Alice comes across the two of them having a stolen discussion about the gay moon dreams at school. Due to the duplicitous nature of what they're talking about (especially when Issei (and his massive fringe) runs away crying and screaming "I'm in love!" in a great parody of shoujo melodrama), Alice misinterprets the nature of their relationship... until Issei and Jinpachi explain it to her. You know, about the gay moon dreams. (I can't emphasise them enough.) I've got to say, weirdest cover-up story I've ever heard - I might use it.

      All this takes a back seat for Alice, of course, wracked as she is with guilt from almost killing a 7 year old (the hilarious circumstances don't alleviate her burden). Rin survives the fall, but is comatose. While his understandably anguished mother watches over him, Rin begins to dream that he is an engineer on the moon-base, who along with six others, observe the Earth...

      As PSME goes on, its main cast grows from four (Jinpachi, Issei, Alice, Rin) to seven (with the inclusion of Haruhiko, Sakura and the phenomenally useless Daisuke). Unfortunately, Hiwatari isn't the best at fleshing out a large cast of characters. Sakura and Daisuke bare the brunt of her lack of consideration. Sakura is fine, being quite funny, if nothing else. However, Daisuke literally does nothing, and his role could easily have been 'absorbed' (figuratively, I hope) by the other characters. As all of the main cast are brought together by their dreams, it becomes apparent that at the crux of the phenomena is something much more sci-fi than mere subconscious suggestion.

      As they piece together fragments of their synchronised dreams, the characters realise that their dreams aren't as simple as they seem; they are memories surfacing from previous incarnations. The problem is, the reason they were reincarnated is because the moon scientists they used to be died - in circumstances as bizarre as they are tragic. As the characters come to piece together exactly who they are and what happened in their previous incarnations, they struggle to prevent their past incarnations' feelings, identities, jealousies and ulterior motives from taking over their new lives.

      Looking back, this has to be one of the strangest stories I've ever read. The originality of PSME is even more exceptional within the shoujo genre, which these days is thoroughly uninteresting, with few exceptions.

      What makes Please Save My Earth so compelling is the peculiar balance of sci-fi, romance, drama and action. Saki Hiwatari utilises the shoujo genre and all its clichèd trappings for all they're worth. From the art style to the flowery monologues that make very little sense ("Say, mother. The moon and Tokyo Tower look prettier than I thought. The tower is like a dinosaur. A lonely dinosaur with a moon for a friend") - Hiwatari either hams up the tropes of her genre, wringing situations for humour, or subverts them totally for dramatic emphasis, while never crossing the line and alienating her audience.

      For a shoujo manga, the complaint I read often about the series is that Saki Hiwatari's art is very much of its time. I still like it: it's very emotive without descending into 'chibi' or super deformed styles. Interestingly, as this spanned almost a decade, Hiwatari's art evolves throughout the series in quite a dramatic way (though I didn't really notice while I was reading it). It's pretty average as shoujo art goes, but it still might put off people. Still, it's a superficial criticism. A more profound one is that PSME's values are dated, too, including an incident where a character is sexually assaulted and it's like, totes okay. I love this comic, but I found Hiwatari's depictions of gender dynamics very disappointing in a series that contained other more progressive elements.

      Another profound criticism is how goddamn hard to understand this manga is at times. For each character, they have a corresponding past-life reincarnation (or 'moon friend', as I call them) and the tangled web of relationships spanning both sets of characters can be hard to follow. For example: Issei is the reincarnation of Enju. Enju was in love with Gyokuran. Gyokuran was in love with Mokuren. Jinpachi is Gyokuran's reincarnation. Jinpachi and Issei are best friends. Jinpachi develops a crush on Alice, who is Mokuren's reincarnation (ostensibly). Issei is in love with Jinpachi. And so on. These are only half the characters and relationships involved. Despite the complexity, the story never feels convoluted - probably because it spans so many volumes, the narrative never feels rushed or overpowers the reader with information. Luckily, there are character/relationship charts online for the reader who has missed something. Even so, PSME is definitely a comic suited for re-reading.

      That's great, because as of 2006, over 15 million copies of Please Save My Earth volumes had been sold in Japan. It's not too unpopular in the West either (which is to say I know a few people who have read it without me having to bully them). Perhaps a double edged sword, as Hiwatari received a lot of creepy fan-letters from people who believed they, too, were reincarnations of aliens who lived on the moon...

      As shoujo sci-fi manga go, PSME is not as weird as Reiko Shimizu's Moon Child, but not as serious as the sci-fi works of Hagio Moto or Keiko Takemiya's Ryu Mitsuse adaptations. PSME's sci-fi element is as strong as its dramatic equivalent, though it doesn't escape the ubiquitous patronising tone of sci-fi, especially in its virulent anti-war sentiment. Notably, Hiwatari has managed to build a world (the home planet of the original moon base scientists) which seems fully fleshed out, with its own religion (more pleasingly, their deity is a woman), society, politics and, most prominently, warring factions. Some of the most effective sequences in the manga are flashbacks to a character's experience as a war orphan, a reading experience I haven't found duplicated in any other medium in quite the same way. Perhaps mostly due to the involvement of a giant alien cat, but I digress.

      In conclusion, this is one of my favourite comics ever. Something about all the disparate, sometimes eccentric elements of the art and the story coming together just really works for me; the first time I read it, it took me about 10 hours because I didn't stop until the very last page. I hesitate to call it an 'epic', but for over 20 volumes Please Save My Earth certainly is a consistently surprising and (for the most part) well thought out piece of science fiction. Well worth your time, and if you're a fan of classic shoujo titles as I am, I think it's fair to call it unmissable.

      ISBN-13: 978-1591160595

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