From the author of Freesia comes a story of three childhood friends - Nicolo, Cookie and Naomi - who grew up in a sleepy backwater town on an uncivilized planet. They struggle to get by while holding on to their dreams of leaving town and finding a better life... but can their friendship endure the tests of time? Can it withstand invading armies, broken dreams, conflicting ambitions, divided loyalties, jealousy and even betrayal?
Mikai Hoshi (meaning Uncivilized Planet) is not a sci fi manga, although it does take place in a futuristic world. It seems to take place in the ghetto of this world; the characters have less technology and modern conveniences than you or I, and the sci fi aspect of the plot mostly serves to give the characters false hope. It is an essentially human story, devoid of gimmicks, raw, and powerful.
Mikai Hoshi, like most Matsumoto Jiro manga, is much more than it appears to be at first glance and is far greater than it would appear to be on a surface level. It actually
tends to be underrated even among fans of Matsumoto Jiro's manga, for supposedly being more conventional and simple; the truth is that it is absolutely unique, even among his extraordinarily strange manga, and it is utterly fascinating. The art is sketchy and unrestrained, in this mangaka's characteristic style, and could even look slightly amateurish to the untrained eye, but it is astoundingly atmospheric and closer examination will show that it is in fact chaotic, but it is an expertly calculated and purposeful chaos. The plot seems simple and short, but there is far more to it than it would initially seem. For instance, on my first read through I made the fatal mistake of assuming the sex was meant to be erotic (it is absolutely not) and that it was inserted into the plot for the sole purpose of fanservice, but I soon realized that sexual desire, objectification, and corruption is one of the core motifs of this manga, and is important in how it parallels modern society. Mikai Hoshi is a heart-wrenching and tragic tale, but in a very unconventional way that is entirely atypical in classical storytelling. Most of the characters lash out uncontrollably as a result of their suffering, making them intentionally difficult to empathize with. The cast seems doomed from the very beginning, and it's clear to us that there will be no complete happiness or truly happy ending, making this manga more of an affirmation of nihilism than an argument for it. The readers witness a snapshot of several characters' lives, eerily similar to our own, yet exaggeratedly horrible. There is no epic plot, there is no fall from grace, and there is no nobility. There is no grand war, but there is an oppressive, yet cowardly, military force. There is nothing pure, nothing sacred, and all becomes corrupted soon enough. There is no happy present, just an unreachable past plus a seemingly unreachable future. There is nothing but a cesspool, on rock-bottom, populated by dreamers, exploiters, and the exploited; all of them getting by however they can, and the distinction between these three categories being often indiscernible, never clear cut, and constantly overlapping as the plot progresses. Despite this constant and unshakable misery, this sorrowful tale is brought to a compelling and unpredictable conclusion, and it somehow manages to remain an emotional roller-coaster throughout.
The characterization is arguably the strongest aspect, although there are only three central characters. This is one of the best and most intriguing love triangles I have ever read, if their relationship can be considered simple enough to be classified like that at all. The two women in the main character's life go through much development as we learn more about them, as they commit acts of desperation, and as the plot progresses. In the beginning of this manga it seems as if one of the girls is "good" and the other is "bad," but this is quickly changed as the audience's perceptions and ideas of what these words mean are challenged. They both show displays of compassion and malevolence realistically and understandably. You will most likely end up feeling equal parts fascination, sympathy, and animosity towards the pair of them. The main character is a sympathetically meek and artistic space-case (pun unintended) who just wants to live his life, but is never really allowed to. He spends his time and money on people who never appreciate him and who treat him, literally, like dirt. People use him and treat him like an object, rather than an artist or a person. Everyone around him pushes him around and generally makes him miserable, forcing him to take refuge in his daydreams about a small cast of surreal space-adventurers. These bits of fictional comic relief, that took place in his head, contrasted and paralleled with the main plot in a masterful way that actually enhanced the bitterness of the atmosphere rather than clumsily injecting sweetness or humor into such a bleak plot. The main character slowly comes down from this fantasy world, and they eventually connect, as he suffers more and more, and he slowly becomes one of the more self-aware characters in the manga, although that may not be saying much considering the consistently delusional nature exhibited by most of the cast. Character development is universal and every character serves a purpose.
Mikai Hoshi is saturated with symbolism and demands much attention (perhaps a couple readings as well) for full appreciation, even during the disturbing, depressing, and difficult to look at scenes that this manga is so full of. It has just about everything that I look for in a manga, and it is easily Matsumoto Jiro's strongest non-one-shot work. It takes most of the best ideas that are explored in his one shots and expands on them, thematically and atmospherically; it does this in a somber way and, as mentioned earlier, all humor only serves to make the plot darker. It contains more profound and intelligent, if simpler, societal commentary than all 82 chapters of Freesia, while never losing focus, and it feels a lot less aimless than Netsutai no Citron. Mikai Hoshi is a multifaceted, cynical, and supremely nihilistic story that just about anybody who isn't overly sensitive to sexual themes or tragic plots will most likely appreciate in some way or another.
This is a pretty interesting tale by Jiro Matsumoto, containing all of his trademark style and ambition yet lacking a little in the art, story and humour department compared to his other works. Yet the story is what makes the manga most interesting, even though it is a composite of conventional narrative beats, it’s still a strange animal of its own and remains unique compared to other manga.
Contrary to appearances this is not a sci-fi tale, but it is interestingly set during a vague war that Matusomoto continually returns to in nearly all of his manga, even throwing in a cameo appearance of two
of his best characters from his previous published manga. The backdrop in Uncivilized Planet looks a mix of middle-eastern and east European. Architecture and clothing styles look mildly Arabian at times and random extras populating the story look like gypsies, but fear not as there is no hackneyed allusion to modern day warfare in those regions, instead the war aspects remain universal in nature.
The sci-fi aspect shows itself through continuous fantasies dreamt up by the main character to mirror his current mental state in the real world. It plays out like a humorous manga version of old American TV sci-fi, like Lost In Space. It gives the manga an extra spark that makes it stand out from the crowd, and it needs it because the entire manga at heart is a pretty simple and conventional tale of wanting to get the hell out of a backwater town.
Uncivilized Planet lives up to its name. It’s a dark depressing existence full of desperation and misery. The populace focused on in this tale live under occupation and resort to violence and sex to get through each day. It is under these circumstances we are dropped into the lives of Colo, Naomi, and Cookie. Three childhood friends who are actually a triangle with very sharp edges, as the two females detest each other and the witless indecisive meek artist Colo remains between them bearing the brunt like an amazing car test dummy.
Although all three characters may not earn your sympathy or respect during the two volumes, what’s interesting is how Naomi and Cookie in some ways begin the tale on opposite sides of a personality scale and throughout the story slide into the middle then onto the other side again. Their arcs ensure that even if you don’t like their characters, you'll be fascinated by their development and find yourself feeling mixed emotions as to what you're meant to be feeling for them. At the end of the day, they're human beings under pressure of war and seeing them squirm and struggle against something greater than them is compelling, however depressing it is. Or perverted.
Matsumoto's tales always have time to think up new ways to insert things into women, and this is no different. His previous manga handle sex much better than this through imaginative ways to move the story or affect the reader, but this time it feels more conventional (as conventional as Matsumoto can get considering the crazy sex here) and as a result it feels a bit tired and overdone. At least he remains able to create these scenes without it feeling too exploitative, in that he doesn’t revel in the abuse of women but has these scenes as a ridiculously heightened way to convey utter despair, unflinching desire, and survival instinct.
Uncivilized Planet is a decent coming-of-age tale that despite some shortcomings still emerges victorious in the end thanks to Matsumoto's ability to wrestle a satisfyingly emotional resolution out of all the sex and violence. The victory is so good you should hopefully feel a pang in your chest in the final chapters as each character's arc nears its end, proving that even when reigning in to convention, Matsumoto brings the goods when it comes to character, story and art.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five has a same type of setting, in that a rather clumsy and ‘loser-ish’ character is placed in a setting of violence and strife, and ‘escapes’ that setting by conceiving of another dimension. The difference is that Slaughterhouse Five plays on the concept of the 4th Dimension while Mikai no Hoshi plays on the old trope of ‘a person escapes into his imagination during times of great trauma’.
Now, Slaughterhouse Five achieves a higher aim by taking this method because of many reasons. Firstly, it allows for the juxtaposition of everyday banalities and quirky alien settings with the horrors of the war itself
– creating a commentary on the insignificance of the suffering in the greater scope of things. Secondly, it shows that Billy Pilgrim isn’t merely escaping, but harkens to the idea that every single moment of a person’s life is interconnected. It gives a great thrust to his character.
Mikai no Hoshi never really escapes to this higher perspective. It has all the old stories about the atrocities of war and the plight of the oppressed – while also indulging in that deviant sexuality that Jiro Matsumoto is known for. A good twist comes from the fact that there are some twists in character expectations, which I won’t spoil, and draws to light a few points on the nature of evil and good. All’s well and good in that, except for the fact that the subversion comes in ways that you would normally expect, after the twist itself plays out.
Now, I still like this work mainly because of Matsumoto’s Art, which is where it has an advantage over SH5. Simply put, the muddy and raw sketchy style fits the atmosphere. The scenes of quirky comic-book art is also interesting, even though Inio Asano’s Dedede also does something similar.
If you enjoy this, closest comparison would probably be Now and Then, Here and There. But read moe comedies afterwards to compensate for the gloom.