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.