Please Save My Earth is one of the finest manga ever written. Due to it’s unconventional narrative structure, reminiscent of films like the Kurosawa masterpiece Rashomon, the manga creates exceptionally emotionally deep explorations of the interesting and unique cast of characters.
There are relatively few film or manga that depart from standard narrative structures. Each scene is shown once, from a single perspective. Generally, each scene moves forwards chronologically. Where there are flashbacks, they serve the limited purpose of informing the viewer of what previously happened, so as to provide context on what happens next.
Ordinarily, these conventions make logical sense. Repeating scenes run the risk of redundancy and boredom, chronology provides coherence and structure that permits you to follow and understand the characters over time.
Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950)—widely considered one of the greatest films ever made—was the first film to flaunt this convention. It is said to have inspired diverse films like Citizen Kane, The Usual Suspects, and Memento.
In the film, 4 different witnesses each tell a different story of how a Samurai ended up murdered. The bandit claims he seduced the wife, then challenged the samurai to an epic duel, killing him. The bandit clearly wants to look wild, dangerous and cool.
The wife claims she was raped by the bandit, and fainted when her husband looked upon her contemptuously and accusingly—waking to find he had committed suicide. The woman appears to want to protect her honor and reputation.
The ghost of the dead Samurai claims the bandit raped his wife, before the wife encouraged the bandit to kill her husband, and the samurai committed suicide. The samurai appears to want to cast blame on his wife as the instigator, and himself as honorable.
Finally, the woodcutter claims the bandit raped the woman, then the woman encouraged the men to engage in a duel over her—the men were bullied by the woman into reluctantly fighting, conducting a pathetic tentative fight before the bandit won more or less accidentally. Yet we are given reason to doubt even the woodcutter’s account, because he stole a jeweled sword from the scene of the crime.
Rashomon’s greatness comes from it’s understanding about the limits of human subjective perspective, and how those limitations can be translated to film. As Kurosawa himself put it, humans are incapable of being objective or honest, even to themselves. A flashback need not be objective, simply because a scene plays out on screen—a filmmaker can choose to create an “unreliable flashback” that is colored by the subjective perspective of the person telling the story.
Please Save My Earth’s “Moonbase storyline” unfolds in manner very reminiscent of Rashomon. A substantial part of the story is told via flashback. A number of such scenes are shown multiple times, word for word identical, from multiple perspectives.
Each time the scenes are visited, the perspective and interpretation of the narrator is deeply subjective and personal to the person experiencing the flashback. Very often, the person experiencing the flashback is wrong about the motivations or reasons they attribute to others in their flashbacks.
Use of this technique permits the author to explore on a much deeper emotional level both who the characters are, and why they act the way that they do throughout the storyline.
Please Save My Earth involves two interdependent stories that progress in parallel, which can be termed the “Moonbase storyline” and the “Present Day storyline.”
The manga opens centering on the protagonist, Arisu Sakaguchi in modern day Japan. Arisu is a charming, if shy high school student who recently moved to Tokyo from Hokkaido. She is quirky—she feels at times like plants are speaking to her, and that she can interpret their emotions or thoughts. A friend compares her to Anne of Green Gables.
Arisu has a chance meeting with two classmates, Jinpachi and Issei. Arisu finds out that the two boys have been seeing identical mysterious dreams since they were young every night. The dreams largely take place on a mysterious moon base, where Jinpachi is a man named Gyokuran, and Issei is a woman named Enju.
Awkwardly for the two childhood friends, Enju has intense unreciprocated romantic feelings for Gyokuran. Further awkwardly, the first time Arisu encounters the two discussing their dreams, they had just shared a dream the prior night where Gyokuran and Enju had slept together.
Quite quickly, it becomes apparent that the dreams that the Jinpachi and Issei have shared are flashbacks to their past lives—before they were reborn through reincarnation. Those now deceased individuals were 3-4 inch tall humanoid technologically advanced aliens that maintained a small base on the surface of the moon. It is explained that thus far, the base has been undiscovered by humans due to it’s tiny size.
In addition to Gyokuran and Enju, there are 4 others that were working at the Moonbase. Shortly after hearing about the dreams, Arisu sees a dream indicating she may have been reborn from a member of the moonbase.
The “Moonbase storyline” covers the lives of those that lived there. The story is gradually told in the form of flashbacks from the perspective of various characters, with each piece unfolding a deeper understanding of the characters.
It is established very early on that the broad outline of facts and key events at the Moonbase are already known by everyone. A catastrophic superweapon war wiped out their home planet’s civilization. One of the team members was raped. All 6 members died of a mysterious plague for which they could not find a cure.
But in each telling, the reader learns not what happened, but why. The new perspective on a scene sheds light on the motivations behind each character’s actions or comments. You learn more about their backgrounds leading to their decision in these key events. And along with some complex romantic feelings among the team members, the flashbacks provide very different renderings of each of these events each time you see a new perspective from a different character.
It is these flashbacks that are so artfully presented in the style of Rashomon, and provide much of the emotional core of the Please Save My Earth’s story.
The second storyline takes place in the present day, involving Arisu and her companions. The story deeply involves Arisu’s next door neighbor, Rin—a troublemaker elementary school boy who torments her with pranks such as spitting a piece of gum into her hair on her way to school.
One day, while babysitting Rin, Arisu unintentionally knocks Rin off the 8th story balcony of her apartment. Rin seemingly miraculously does not suffer any serious injury, but enters into a coma for several days.
Things seem initially seem fine, but it becomes clear to the reader that Rin was also one of the reborn members of the Moonbase. And Rin has inherited the telepathic and telekinetic powers that he had in his former life—along with a mysterious plan he’s set in motion with unclear motivations.
Rin provides an interesting and complex antagonist, with some chilling ESPer action/suspense scenes reminiscent of Doumu (though not nearly as bloody).
The storyline explores how traumas and literal madness from Rin’s past life on the Moonbase is affecting his current child self’s psyche, as well as the deep explorations of his motivations and aims of his mysterious plans. The other Moonbase team members’ gradual recognition of what is developing, and the danger Rin may pose on a planetary scale form the core of the “Present Day” storyline.
These two storylines are not separate “arcs” but are interwoven together, and revelations (the return of memories) from the Moonbase storyline can then directly influence new developments in the Present Day storyline.
Both storylines also move forward one of the most fascinating and powerful romances ever written in any manga.
Any potential reader should be warned that the greatest weakness of Please Save My Earth is in its first volume. Much of the set up for the tale prior to the first meeting of the reborn moon team is frankly tedious. The pacing picks up considerably in subsequent volumes before turning into a unstoppable freight train of emotions by the second half of the series.
On the whole, Please Save My Earth is an absolute masterful and artistically ambitious work that delivers in spades. It defies easy categorization, with elements of suspense, romance, drama, and science fiction. it has a very large cast, with over a dozen significant characters. But as the characterizations and the purposefulness of each scene are so strong, it is never a challenge for the reader to comprehend what is going on.
For anybody who has interest in manga, Please Save My Earth is a manga you should take the time to read.
Title (English): Please Save My Earth
Title (Japanese): ぼくの地球を守って (Boku no Chikyu wo Mamotte)
Abbv.: ぼく地球 (BokuTama)
Published: 1986 - 1994; 21 vol. (orig.); 12 vol. (large book reprint)
Genre: Shoujo, Sci-fi, Drama, Romance, Suspense
Available at: Amazon (Official Translated Books), MangaFox (Fan Scanlation), TheSpectrum.net (Fan Scanlation)
This is the first in a (planned) series of reviews of manga classics. My goal is to introduce the finest manga from the mostly the 70s, 80s, and 90s to a new generation of readers. The focus will be on series that do not get as much continuing attention (i.e. no Dragonball or Parasyte).