Jan 7, 2009
Beatnik (All reviews)
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.