Please Save My Earth Review
You know how, now and then, you run across something that would have been absolutely stellar but for a fatally weak ending? It pains me to report that Please Save My Earth is that kind of animé series. It's still worth watching for all of its good points, but its conclusion forever resigns it to the 'merely good' category. Which is a genuine shame, as by every indication the source material on which this show is based tells a far stronger and more satisfying tale.
Please Save My Earth (Boku no Chikyu o Mamotte) remains one of Japan's most beloved shoujo [girls'] manga series. Serialised over the course of a decade, the first instalment saw publication in 1987 in the popular manga anthology Hana to Yume (Flowers and Dreams). Written by Saki Hiwatari (who went on to pen Mirai no Utena and Cosmo na Bokura!), the manga [Japanese comics] version runs to 21 weighty volumes, each a couple hundred pages in length.
It's perhaps no surprise then that there was difficulty distilling such a wealth of detail into 6 half-hour OAV [original animated video] episodes, as was done in 1993/1994 by Hakusensha. At a time when the Western animé market was dominated by shounen [boys'] titles, Viz brought the show over and produced the English dub version, which aired in 1996 in the US. After a great deal of speculation by PSME fans, Viz released this DVD version in 2000, which includes the entire three hours of the series in bilingual format, along with a smattering of extras.
The premise of Please Save My Earth is original and particularly appealing... and about as far from your bog-standard shoujo story ['school girl(s) falling in love'] as you can get. Set in the modern day, an observation team of seven alien scientists takes up residence on Earth's moon... but eventually the expedition succumbs to a deadly virus and all of them perish. Through some spiritual affinity to the world they have been watching all this time, they end up being reincarnated as humans on Earth... and at different points in their childhood begin to have 'moon dreams', which are essentially memories of their previous lives. (As is generally the way in such matters, all seven happen to live in Japan... three even attending the same high school!)
However, what really makes the show is its wild card aspect, because it becomes clear early on that something is amiss with two of the seven team members. After the first five – all teen-aged students - manage to locate one another, they are shocked to discover that the sixth member was reincarnated much later than they were... and is therefore now nine years younger than any of them! While the group searches in vain for their missing seventh comrade, the backstory of their time on the moon waxes in prominence – eventually revealing a love triangle that has grave consequences for their new lives on Earth.
If I sound as if I'm dancing around the issue a bit, I am; after all, I have no desire to ruin the series for you. Unfortunately, in order to discuss the show in much further detail, I need to venture into possible spoiler-land... so I would recommend that anyone who hasn't read or seen Please Save My Earth skip the entirety of the Episodes section. That said, a spoiler-free concluding paragraph or two to explain the downside of this otherwise solid series...
The fact is, there is nothing wrong with the first five episodes of this OVA series. The story is interesting, some of the characters – thankfully including the antagonist - are particularly engaging, and the plot exhibits a strong and natural progression. Then the final episode plays, and everything falls apart. (I had an uneasy feeling of impending doom as early as the end of the fourth episode, when I began to seriously doubt that there was any way the story could reach a satisfying conclusion in the remaining hour of run time. Alas, my fears were completely justified.)
Instead of using that critical last half-hour to tie up important loose ends (even a few!) and give the story at least some sense of closure, the production team opted to squander it on one huge flashback/memory sequence for one of the lead characters. The consequence of this is that the end of the show seems unnecessarily slapdash, and will probably leave you feeling a little cheated. It's fine for loyal fans to argue that the animé is 'open-ended' and to recommend reading the manga for 'the full story', but the audience truly deserves better than this. Please Save My Earth has a great story to tell, and tells it quite well for the first five episodes... so it's all the more disappointing to be left hanging in the end.
Episode Guide (and Spoilers!)
Alice lives a normal enough life... if one discounts her ability to understand what plants and animals are thinking. As the story opens, she has only one 'intrigue' and one 'problem'. First, she observes two of her male classmates, Issei and Jinpachi, in a clandestine dialogue that seems to paint them as gay. Meanwhile, she's being tormented by the neighbour's kid (a brattish seven year-old named Rin), and is soon pressured by her family into babysitting him.
When the four of them meet by chance in the zoo one day, Jinpachi and Issei take the opportunity to explain themselves... describing their recurring dreams of a previous life on the moon, where Jinpachi was a man named Gyokuran and Issei was his lover, a woman named Enju. Her interest in their story spurs Rin into a fit of pique that ends up with him in the hospital... and upon recovery, he promptly decides he'll marry Alice. The shock of this causes the (ever-fragile) girl to faint, and during her slumber she has her first 'moon dream' about her prior existence as the beautiful Mokuren.
Things start to come together as Alice, Jinpachi, and Issei succeed in locating two other reincarnations – Daisuke (who used to be the team's leader, Hiragi) and Sakura (who was the fiery Shusuran). Daisuke is able to fill in many of the blanks for them, explaining how their civilisation destroyed itself and left them stranded on the moon, only to be killed off in the end by a virus. The five still have no idea where the other two (Shukaido and Shion) are, though.
Meanwhile, Rin seems to have his own agenda. Apparently his accident has awakened certain psychic powers, which he uses to bully Takashi (the son of a wealthy businessman) into allowing him access to the ongoing renovations of Tokyo Tower.
Rin's abilities grow ever stronger, and when Takashi's guardian – a man named Tamura – goes to investigate, the kid gleefully pummels him into submission. By another marvellous coincidence, a young friend of Tamura's (Haruhiko) possesses similar powers and – sensing Tamura's severe injuries via telepathy – teleports himself to the scene in time to get the latter to a hospital. However, this proves a turning point for him as well, as he discovers that he and Rin both share a link to the moon team.
Rin gets Alice to bring him to her next meeting with Jinpachi, Issei, Daisuke, and Sakura... at which point he informs them that he has been having 'moon dreams' too and remembers himself to the be the team doctor, Shukaido. Later he hunts down Haruhiko (the real Shukaido), and explains that he's actually Shion, doomed by Shukaido's jealousy to live another nine years alone on the moon after Mokuren died. (The reasoning behind this is complicated and scientifically preposterous, but the general upshot is that the doc pulled a fast one with a last-minute vaccine against the moon virus, and Shion descended into madness before he too perished.)
Having been intimidated by Rin into a guilt-ridden silence, Haruhiko can't bring himself to explain his situation to anyone - even his mentor Tamura – and in the end attempts to drown himself. Luckily, Sakura and Issei just happen to be passing by – as the latter still has unresolved feelings for Jinpachi and wanted to talk them out with someone who might understand – so they rescue Haruhiko, not realising that he's their missing seventh team member. Meanwhile, Alice has convinced herself that she's not actually Mokuren and has stopped attending the meetings... though Rin sees that she'd still like to meet Shion and begins to work this into his plans.
Rin engineers a meeting with the group where he has Haruhiko masquerade as Shion. (He can do this because: 1, he's by far the most powerful and dangerous member of the team; and 2, he's threatened to murder Haruhiko's friend Tamura if he doesn't co-operate.) Speaking of which, Tamura (having realised that both Rin and Haruhiko possess paranormal abilities) hooks up with a psychic named Mikuro in an attempt to protect Haruhiko from Rin. The only problem is, Rin catches wind of this and an epic battle between him and the human psychic ensues. Just when it seems certain that he's going to lay waste to both Mikuro and Tamura, Haruhiko shows up and deflects the final blast back at Rin.
Rin, back in his hospital bed and severely wounded from the above confrontation, recalls his childhood as Shion. Although this episode goes some small way towards explaining why Rin/Shion is such a psycho-boy, most viewers will only remember it for the abrupt and worrying appearance of a huge, anthropomorphic cat creature (apparently a member of a different alien race) named Kyaa! (Yes, with the exclamation mark.)
In short, this episode: 1, resolves absolutely nothing about any of the lead characters; 2, fails to explain what (if anything) will happen to the Tokyo Tower and how this would benefit either Rin/Shion (or anyone else, for that matter); 3, doesn't address why the show is called Please Save My Earth; and 4, ignores a slew of very obvious questions about the moon team, like 'Why were they observing Earth in the first place?', 'How exactly does a vast, space-faring race wipe itself out overnight?', 'How did a virus suddenly appear in a sterile, lunar environment?', and 'Are we really expected to believe that an experienced medical scientist would only be able to create one dose of a vaccine?'.
I'm pleased to report that the picture quality presented on this disc is perfectly acceptable across the board. (I know that many people – myself included – get a bit leery when distributors cram 3 hours of video onto a single DVD. Fortunately, Viz/Pioneer didn't drop the ball on this one; whatever the bitrate is set at, it's more than sufficient to keep nasty artefacts at bay.) Furthermore, the colours in this show are bold and bright, the lines crisp with no hint of rainbowing, and the animation is fluid. The character designs are perhaps not particularly interesting, but that's not much of a flaw.
In fact, the only things I would flag up as 'flaws' are minor niggles, like the fact that there are a few very noticeable typographical errors to be found in the subtitles late in the show, and the fact that the new English logo that Viz/Pioneer whipped up for Please Save My Earth looks particularly ugly when overlaid at the beginning of each episode. (Nowhere is the original Japanese logo provided, so I don't honestly know if the English one is an step up or down.)
Nor is there anything wrong with the audio quality... but as both the original Japanese and English dub tracks are only presented in plain stereo, don't go expecting a lot of 'wow' factor in this department. There's not a lot of left/right directionality – after all, this show is more dialogue- than action-driven – but there were a couple places where you could see the speakers getting a good workout.
On the good side, I have to say that the musical score composed by Hajime Mizoguchi for this series is quite lovely, surpassed only by the eerie ending theme by Yoko Kanno... which (for those who may have heard it) bears a striking resemblance to 'Voices', the opening theme of Macross Plus. (Mizoguchi and Kanno also composed the music for Escaflowne, so if you liked the sound of that series, it's safe to say you'll enjoy these melodies too.)
About the only seriously detrimental aspect regarding the audio on this DVD concerns the quality of the English dub. In a word, the voice acting is atrocious. I guess I should have expected this, seeing as the people responsible (The Ocean Group) are also the ones behind the English dub of Ranma ½, but whereas the dub on Ranma ½ is merely markedly inferior to the original Japanese, the dub on Please Save My Earth is painfully bad. Beyond this, there is quite a lot more swearing present in the dub version than in the original language... a common enough script change decision in converting animé to English, which I've always found puzzling.
The menus on this disc are functional, but nothing to shout about. Other than for a nice 13-second animated intro sequence (which, alas, plays every time you return to the main menu and is impossible to bypass), everything here is composed of static pages, although both the main menu and scene selection menu have a sample of the haunting end theme music playing beneath them. 'Setup' lets you toggle the subtitles on/off and the language between English/Japanese. 'Jump to a Scene' provides direct access to all six OVAs (with four chapter breaks for each, plus one for the 'next episode preview' where available). 'Viz Information' lets you find out about other Viz products.
Under 'Extra Stuff', you'll find a small but decent selection of special features, including: 'Seven Scientists' Biographies', 'Frequently Asked Questions', 'Voice Credits', 'DVD Credits', and the always-appreciated 'Non-Credit Ending'. (There is no opening sequence for this series.) While the 'Voice Credits' and 'DVD Credits' are just what you'd expect – static pages of names – the 'Seven Scientists' Biographies' are nicely presented (see the sample pic), and the FAQ is quite informative considering it's only 7 pages in length. All the same, I would strongly advise against reading through either the FAQ or the char bios until after you've watched the show in its entirety, as they are spoiler-happy.
I really liked this animé... until the last episode. (Which is to say, I've taken a point or two off the 'Film' score on this basis alone.) Your own mileage may vary. If you're the sort of person who enjoys films that are very open-ended, you may feel the concluding instalment of Please Save My Earth is sufficiently satisfying. On the other hand, if you prefer to see at least half of the plot threads resolved by the time the credits roll... well, you may find this a very frustrating watch.
That said, it's a beautiful piece of animé and if the story I've outlined above sounds appealing, you should check it out. It's definitely convenient to have the entire show on one DVD, and the production values aren't bad at all. It's just a shame they didn't have the budget to make it an 8- or even 13-episode series.