This week I’m continuing my look at manga I loved reading in middle and high school. (See the last post for an explanation about a bit of the “cheating” I’m doing here.)
My first Watase series, Fushigi Yuugi, was my favorite manga and anime for a couple of years, so that inspired me to check out what else the creator had done. The series she was working on at the time was Ayashi no Ceres, which soon surpassed Fushigi Yuugi as my favorite series throughout middle and high school. At the time, no one was bringing it out in the States, so I imported the manga and read some fan translations (in script form–none of this “scanlation” stuff that goes on now) until Ceres finally got a US release when I was in college. Ceres eventually got an anime adaptation in 2000, but it was far shorter than the Fushigi Yuugi anime, and a lot had to be cut out. The 14-volume manga remains the best way to get a hold of the full story.
Ceres had a beginning I could easily see in a paranormal YA book today: High school twins Mikage Aya and Aki (Aya’s a girl, Aki’s a guy) are dragged to their grandfather’s house for their 16th birthday, a tradition the Mikage family upholds for all of their family members. Aya and Aki are confused to see their normally loving extended family acting somber and cold towards them. They open the gift they’re given and discover it’s a mummified hand! The hand causes Aya to transform into an older, beautiful woman and Aki to be cut all over his body by invisible daggers. The Mikage family tells Aya that she has to die, and even her parents do nothing to save her.
Aya manages to escape very real attempts on her life and finds a little solace in a new adoptive family that can explain what’s going on and wants to protect her. It turns out Aya is the reincarnation of a tennyo, a “celestial maiden,” that was a Mikage ancestor in ancient times, and there are other celestial maiden reincarnations out there, too. Every few generations, the Mikage maiden reincarnates in a member of the Mikage family on her 16th birthday, with the aim of wiping out all of her descendants and finding the celestial robe that will allow her to return to the heavens. Aya is the first in the history of the family to escape immediate execution, and she has to come to terms with this celestial being who takes over her body at times and communicates with her through her mind. Meanwhile, her brother is discovered to be the reincarnation of an important figure in the Mikage family as well: the original mortal man who forced the celestial maiden into marriage by stealing her celestial robe–and he wants his wife back. Ceres wants Aki dead; Aya wants to save her brother.
Ceres has got action, romance, fantasy and science fiction elements–I’ve barely scratched the surface! I remember actually not being too enamored with the main love story with Aya, but I loved the characters and the plot overall. I think the story holds up well even today; it’s still among my favorite series.
Please Save My Earth–which fans in the US call PSME for short–is one of those I’m “cheating” to count as a middle and high school manga fandom. I did get introduced to the series while in high school–I won a contest Animerica Extra held and they sent me the first VHS tape of the anime–but the manga wasn’t available in the US until I was in college. Since I couldn’t read it yet in full, I watched the six episodes of the (regrettably short) anime (that barely, barely touches on the whole story but does a great job adapting the first few volumes of the manga), imported the manga, and read as much information as I could about the series in magazines and online during the burgeoning years of the Internet. It was such a relief to finally be able to read the English release a few years later.
The 21-volume manga PSME ran in Japan from 1987 to 1994, a number of years before I got into it in the late 1990s. It’s actually even today still referred to by many modern manga artists as a favorite, particularly by those who do shoujo (girls) manga. There’s a sequel series that started in the mid-2000s and is still going–I just wish PSME had sold well enough to convince US publishers to bring that out, too! (Until then, I’m stuck with import manga.)
PSME is another tale of reincarnation. (I love these types of stories, if you couldn’t guess.) 16-year-old Sakaguchi Arisu (or “Alice”) is so painfully shy, she cries when 7-year-old Kobayashi Rin, her neighbor, teases her each day after school. Asked one night to be his babysitter–it turns out Rin has a crush on the older girl and asked his parents to request her–Arisu can’t bring herself to weasel her way out of the nightmare. Rin behaves for a bit but gets angry when Arisu (understandably) rebuffs his innocent advances and talks instead about having a crush on a boy at school. He takes it out on something he knows Arisu finds dear: a potted plant.
Rin knows that Arisu can hear animals and plants speaking to her, and plants and animals seem drawn to her, something her family has never been able to explain. By threatening to toss a potted plant off of the highrise apartment building balcony, Rin is basically threatening to kill something she thinks of as a friend. Arisu slaps Rin for being so cruel, but the force of the slap makes Rin fall of the balcony himself. He barely survives, and Arisu is devastated.
When Rin awakes, he’s not quite himself, but he keeps his new, darker, more adult-like side from his parents, who ask Arisu to pretend to be Rin’s girlfriend to humor him; after what she did, Arisu can’t bring herself to say no. It’s about this time that Arisu has a dream that she’s a beautiful humanoid alien who studies Earth from a secret scientific base on the moon. Shortly thereafter, Arisu befriends some people at school (including the one she sort of had a crush on) who’ve also had dreams of being alien scientists who work together on the moon, and they begin to realize they’re dreaming of their former lives.
PSME has a crazy, heart-aching romance amidst heated love triangles (pentagons?) and drama. It turns out life on the moon base wasn’t all rosy, and betrayals and feelings from those on the moon continue to haunt the current reincarnations. Rin reveals he was one of the moon scientists, too; and there’s a painful reason why he’s nine years younger than the other reincarnations. There’s also a lot of sci fi action, as reincarnated people from the moon have ESP, and Earth is home to a few people with ESP who are willing to fight the aliens if they do harm to the planet.
PSME is still one of my favorite manga and anime ever, and I think it would appeal to any age group. The romance is one of the sweetest I’ve ever read. Some of the characters make me swoon even to this day!