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Madowanai Hoshi, vol. 1, Masayuki Ishikawa. Grade: A
惑わない星 (Madowanai Hoshi, or "Not Lost Planet") is the latest manga from the creator of Moyashimon and Junketsu no Maria. It started running in Monthly Morning Two magazine with the July, 2015, issue. Volume 1 collects the chapters up to Feb., 2016. If you read Moyashimon, then you'll recognize the character designs here. The background artwork is great, and the story elements are educational, in that they teach basic astronomy (names of planets, lengths of years, gravities, wind strengths, etc.)
(Life in the underground shelter that is Japan is dominated by anime.)
Madowanai is set some time in the far future. The Earth is a cesspool, with sludge where the oceans used to be, garbage covering the planet's surface, and an atmosphere dark gray with pollutants. Japan is now an underground country, with the majority of its inhabitants working in the anime industry to keep each other distracted from reality. The "sky" and "clouds" (ceiling lighting) change color depending on the day of the week. Advertising in the malls is anime-inspired, and even the news is delivered by anime characters. Life is divided into "inside" and "outside" - that is, people that live and work within the underground shelter making anime, and those that have to work outside.
(Front cover, without the jacket wrapper.)
Enter S-zawa, a balding, older, overweight guy that commutes between the shelter and one of the domes on the surface. He's a bitter, jaded man who only wants to be left alone. He works with Oikawa, an attractive woman that also lives in the shelter and uses the dome as an exit point for going out on the surface to scavenge stuff. One day, S-zawa is doing his job, which is to "send letters to outer space," and someone actually decides to answer that letter - a beautiful woman that knocks on the dome's airlock to be let in. She's not wearing a hazardous environments suit, she's accompanied by a hovering rock, and she's in extreme pain. S-zawa had just ordered a bed chamber so that he can sleep in the dome and avoid the commute, and now this stranger is using it instead of him. The rock introduces them as "Chikyuu" and "Tsuki" - "Earth" and "Moon". Pretty soon, a few other women arrive, along with their rocks, including Venus, Mercury and Mars. These personifications are there to help save their sister, while the remaining planets refuse to get involved.
(Two of the planets rig the dome's systems to run a holodeck sim of old Earth. S-zawa is the older guy, and Oikawa is the woman in the suit.)
Oikawa wants to help, but since S-zawa is the one that sent the message, he's the one expected to do all the work, and he keeps saying that there's nothing he can do, that the planets have come to the wrong country. They should be talking to the U.S., or Singapore. After a little while, all the visiting planets want to do is sit around and watch anime. But, they do figure out how to rig the dome's control systems to project images of what Earth used to be like a long time ago, with things like "ocean," "sunlight," "trees" and "spiders." But, the Japanese are in a really bad state now, not even remembering how to write the more difficult kanji (hence, the "S" for "S-zawa", and "8月" (month 8) for Oikawa's first name, "Hazuki"), much less wanting to change their current situation. At this point, two more girls show up, but they'd rather hide in the shadows on the surface and bide their time than get involved.
(Pluto tries to kill S-zawa.)
They are the black-dressed French maid Pluto, and her companion, Charon, accompanied by little black moons wearing maid frill headdresses. Pluto figures that Earth would be better off without humans, and attempts to kill S-zawa. The volume ends with Earth changing the local atmosphere around the dome to save S-zawa and Oikawa, and then Pluto leaves with Charon, vowing to come back later to see what changes they've made. S-zawa still wants out, claiming to only be 24 years old and not wanting to deal with all this. Oikawa is stunned to find that she's actually older than this decrepit-looking guy. And, the physical planet Jupiter is looming bigger and bigger in the sky.
(Mercury asks what spiders look like.)
Summary: There's a lot of political commentary in this volume, and a condemnation of Japan as a whole. But, there's also a decent amount of science, humor, near-naked planet girls, and a homicidal French maid. What more could you ask for? Highly recommended.