The 1995 animated miniseries Please Save My Earth is not without flaws – it could be clearer in its denouement and its sudden introduction of more fantastical SF elements in the final episode feels clumsy – but it remains a solid and intriguing piece of classic-feeling science-fiction that made a change from the military stories I generally enjoy.
What I found interesting about it was how it focused on the periphery and aftereffects of the sort of space conflicts that usually form the subject of popular science-fiction. Its plot centres on a group of aliens trapped on a decaying moonbase, sent long ago on a mission to the furthest reaches of an empire which collapses while they are away. As a mysterious disease begins to affect them, with no way of communicating with home and no cure in sight, they end up reincarnating themselves in human form to try and live new lives. The series follows those humans who have become vessels for the aliens’ consciousnesses trying to come to terms with this, and trying to avoid the rivalries and resentments that had begun to affect the crew of the dying base being played out again.
In many ways, Please Save My Earth is a very spiritual piece of science-fiction, dealing as it does with reincarnation and trying to seek justice for past sins. However, it distances itself from actual religions in its use of science-fiction, and focuses more on where ideas of reincarnation fall down; that one could find the reincarnations of enemies and exact posthumous vengeance on them, or that disagreements could never truly be resolved if one party had a mind to continue them. Yet while ultimately it is a story about vengeance – as one of the station’s crew tries to exact judgement on the others for leaving him the sole survivor, stranded up there as it decayed, it is low-key; while there is action, and the characters have psychic powers, the action itself is so sparsely deployed – and by generally one character only – that the tone feels more like a thriller or horror story. The fact that the antagonist of the story has reincarnated as a child – set up from the start to be mischievious and with behaviour at times on the wrong side of acceptable – is a stock horror film trope, but here it is deployed ably enough and that the viewer is made aware of his identity long before the others is used in later episodes for some strong dramatic tension.
One sub-plot that is also particularly interesting in how it handles the limitations of reincarnation, almost as a mirror to the main vengeance plot, is of a man-and-woman couple who by the end of their time on the base were growing apart and so when the time came to reincarnate chose to return as two men who could hopefully continue a friendship without any concern for their past physical attraction; this plays out as a journey of sexual identity for one of them, who is unable to ignore his feelings for the person who was once his girlfriend. It may not be subtly handled and the series may not approach the subject of gender identity in the best way, but the idea is interesting – almost evoking to me one idea that is presented in some SF that in the future, or for some species, gender will be a meaningless thing (notably Iain M Banks’ Culture novels, which present an apparent sexually liberated utopia). It is also interesting to compare this to another series which featured a male/female relationship being subject to a sex change; Aquarion EVOL. In that, one of the leading women was turned into a man by the villains, and the series followed her lovers’ conflict as he tried to come to terms with it. In the end, the series being what it was, the whole affair was played in line with the comic tone of the rest of the plot and the matter was resolved with the transformation being reversed rather than the man involved continuing the same-sex relationship – which is where Please Save My Earth differs. It makes a key subplot of how the two students’ nascent relationship disorients them and fractures their platonic friendship, and how others are shocked by it.
In using romance stories like this, and cliches of romance anime, Please Save My Earth makes it even clearer that this is a series about the effects of science-fiction technology and societies on those who live in them; it is about how relationships can be harmed in artificial attempts to repair them and prolong them. While all its characters have immortality via reincarnation – held in spiritual terms as an intended fresh start and blank slate, the reality (since it is an artificial thing) is that it is quite the opposite; the protagonist’s journey is about coming to terms with her life not really being her own, but the reincarnation and replaying of someone else’s.
Ultimately, all of the reincarnated crew of the base want closure to their past conflicts in some way; true reincarnation, rather than simply the chance to repeat their mistakes in another body. The series’ languid pacing works well for the most part at communicating this; the ultimate goal is not some big conflict or act of vengeance, but instead a journey to find a way of avoiding it. The villain sees at one point that the characters are forgetting their past, and coming to terms with it as just a dream so they can live their own lives – and so begins to try and bring them back together with his own manipulation of their relationships. The real evil is not what has been done to him (even though his quest for vengeance could be justified) but instead that he is unable to accept that the others want to try and break the cycle – changing the flawed process of reliving past lives in new bodies into proper spiritual reincarnation, with the associated absolution.