It's present day, and Archangel Michael is fed up with the pathetic development of the human species. The angels, in their world high above ours, have been given the choice between destroying or preserving humanity. This will be decided by having "Plus Checkers" looking for good points and "Minus Checkers" looking for bad points, and whichever finds 10,000 points first decides the outcome. Chihaya and Kagetsuya are angels who have known each other since their days at military school in Eden, and having taken up opposing sides of this "good vs. bad points" checking system, are teamed together during their stay on Earth.
However, Chihaya is unusual even by angelic standards—he has black hair, eyes and wings. He's one-of-a-kind, unusually powerful in spite of his naive demeanor (much to Kagetsuya's dismay), but set apart from his angel kin...until the Black Cancer strikes the heavenly population, darkening the wings and hair of its victims before spiraling them down into painful death. Tension builds among the angels and between Chihaya and Kagetsuya in particular, and it looks as if the secrets to the salvation or destruction of both Earth and Eden may lie with Chihaya himself. (source: BLU Manga)
Earthian was published in English by Tokyopop's Blu Manga imprint from October 30, 2005 to August 8, 2006. This edition is composed only by 4 volumes, as well as the Japanese bunko edition, while the Japanese non-bunko edition has 5 volumes.
No review for this classic manga? What a travesty! I will attempt to rectify that here. Be warned, however, that this won't be a typical review discussing the art style and plot and so on. For one thing, when Earthian was originally published in Japan, it took a long time to come out: over 15 years from start to finish! Many aspects of the manga, including the art style and the author's willingness to tackle subtextual themes head-on, changed from beginning to end.
My feelings on the beginning of the manga are mixed. The first volume (collected in English) is very episodic, which is cool,
but a lot of the episodes are cliched, which isn’t. Yun Kouga has a very stong design sense, which is cool, but there almost no backgrounds, which isn’t (this reminds me of Clover, although Earthian is not as overdesigned as Clover).
What’s really notable about this volume, though, is the sense of mounting dread. Starting from the very first chapter, and definitely by the second, you get the feeling that something is VERY VERY WRONG here. The plot is that Angels, who come from a planet called Eden, are sent down to Earth in pairs. One member marks down everything good that humans do (plusses), and the other marks down everything bad (minuses), and if the score ever reaches -10,000, the earth will be destroyed. And this has been going on for five billion years.
The whole set-up is fishy. The first thing you wonder is why the Earth hasn’t been destroyed already — with purposeful acts of genocide stacked against policeman helping little old ladies to cross the street, isn’t it obvious where the advantage lies? The next and more significant thing you wonder is, what gives Angels the right to judge humanity?
There are a lot of clues that they don’t have the right. Both checkers, plus and minus, are flawed. They’re far from impartial. Chihaya is too willing to see good and overlook evil, and he makes a lot of mistakes; Kagetsuya claims to hate Earthians (although whether he really does is not clear) and allows his feelings for Chihaya to influence his work. The system itself is questionable because it’s not clear what standard is being employed to decide “good” or “bad” — there’s no rubric or anything, so everything in the Checker’s reports is a subjective value judgement. Most importantly, it isn’t clear that Angel society is inherently any better than human society. It has problems, I won’t go into them, but they’re obvious — and “homosexuality is evil and a sin” is one of them.
In the second and third volumes, these themes become much more explicit. The Angel characters argue the morality of their actions and discuss whether their society is just - including, in one memorable scene, an impassioned defence of homosexual and other "deviant" types of love in court. Other Angel plus/minus pairs, as well as other Angel homosexual pairs, enter the story and are compared to Chihaya and Kagetsuya. Their backgrounds, personalities, motivations, and roles in society are all discussed, in a quite original and thought-provoking way.
If Earthian has one really strong point, it is that the entire manga is designed to be subversive. It's designed to make you question the rules of society, as well as traditional notions of masculine/feminine, dominant/submissive, and strong/weak. The characters are all very strong, and quite complex: relationship dynamics are rarely what they seem to be on the surface. In fact, one of the most enjoyable things about this manga is seeing your original views of who the characters are and what they value totally upended.
This is a manga for people who enjoy thinking about things. Oh, and while its science fiction plot doesn't quite make sense (can Angels really have been monitoring humanity for 5 billion years, when humanity has only been around for 2 million years?), it does have a lot of cool elements: special powers, teleportation, killer robots, space ships, rapid ageing, mysterious diseases, etc. Although somewhat dated by this point, Earthian is well worth reading, especially in the four-volume collected English version.
This might sound like such a simple story of angels and plus and minus checking, but the truth is there a an incredible depth to the story, to the narrative it tells.
Homosexual love is just one, extinction of animals, global warming, predujice, racism, they're all talked about, approached with such a sensitivity. Yun Kouga comes from a place that clearly says she is passionate about these themes, and how she delivers them poignantly.
This is both a dreamers tale and a rude awakening to those that look away from reality.
This is no common manga, and it is exactly for that reason that it stands out and
is one of my favorites ever.
Chihaya matures throughout the work, just like the manga delves deeper into harder themes like human experiences, androids, sin, incest, death.
Chihaya and Kagetsuya are both such beautiful and flawed characters, and their slow descent to Love that transcends their capabilities of holding back from expressing it is riveting, emotional.
When they have sex it's beautiful, it's ethereal, it's beyond this world, it is treated delicately and the transitions and the panels are so gorgeous.
I love this era of her artwork, before her art changed to more deformed like in Loveless, you can tell its age, and it's such a bold story to tell.
When Chihaya tries to atone for his "sin", as perceived by Eden, in order to protect Kagetsuya I just 😭
I don't have enough words, really. My heart goes out for him, and for Kagetsuya. It also reminds me that Chihaya has a beautiful, caring, loving soul, and it's why he's still trying to help his fellow angels from the Black Cancer.
Earthian doesn't follow just them two either, the cast is big. In particular, Taki's tale is beautiful, sad and its message is so important. What DOES make one human? Our infinite capacity for hatred? For evil? For disregard of life and the planet without qualms? Or is it love, affection, passion, tears?
You'll also get to know why Michael and Raphael appear so much throughout the story, and the true purpose of the angels, and the minus and plus checking.
Earthian does in 4 volumes what 100+ chapter series can never hope to achieve, it is not about quantity, it is about impact, the approach and the hand behind it. Yun Kouga has a sensibility that shines through, and she never makes a single story throughout this series that isn't relevant, interesting or poignant.
It all culminates about war, about justice, about what is right and wrong, and who has the right to decide extinction, death for a large group of beings? Who has given us, or any other creature, such power or right?
And don't let this work deceive you, this is not the common "all male" cast, in fact the strongest characters are the females, and there's a lot of them. I find I can't hate any of them, not just because they're strong, emotionally or physically, but because Yun Kouga shows both sexes being what they are, flawed. There is no "all girls are evil", or bitches, nor all the guys falling into love with one of the MCs or females. Let's just say this isn't a manga with tropes.
If you don't choke up, cry or feel emotional by the end of Earthian, then its message of love is not for you. Because that's what the message is in this series, love for family, love for mankind, love for animals and species, love for the planet and universe. And maybe it sounds cliche, but trust me that the way it is delivered and executed does it in the best way.
This is pretty angsty in the second half but it's because the subjects it broaches are darker and harder, so it figures.
I really do advise everyone to read this if this sounds like something you'd like to. I find you can't go wrong with Earthian, but it's so unique there isn't many mangas like it, so it isn't a mainstream work. It's thought provoking, and subversive, so get on it because we need more works like this.