There are very few shows that I find unexpectedly captivating. I had no real expectation for Earthian when I popped it in my DVD player, since I'd seen so little press on it. What I found was a thoroughly different anime, one with developed characters and a unique backdrop that completely enthralled me. At the same time, it was infuriating in its assumptions that the viewer knew the basic story from the manga series, skipping around with a reckless disregard for continuity between episodes and throwing in side characters with nary a second glance. Despite some glaring problems, I found Earthian to be a thoughtful, intelligent, tragic show that I enjoyed much more than I expected.

Earthian revolves around two beings from the planet Eden. Chihaya and Kagetsuya are angels--not the heavenly beings we think of in Christendom, but alien creatures that nevertheless share many of the same features as those emblazoned on stained-glass windows. At the beginning of the series, they are essentially observers, number crunchers who are analyzing humans (whom they call Earthians) to see if they are really good or evil. Chihaya is very sensitive and wants desperately for the humans to survive their analysis, whereas Kagetsuya is extremely non-committal and thinks Chihaya is a bit misguided. Chihaya also has a unique predicament: he has black wings. The only other angels who have black wings are Lucifers--not necessarily evil beings, but angels who have a cancer that turns their wings black and eventually kills them. Chihaya is desperate to find out whether or not he too will eventually become a Lucifer. As the first two episodes progress, Chihaya gets into various predicaments as he gets involved with human affairs and tries to come to terms with his unique identity. There is a major setting change between the second and third episodes. We learn that between the two episodes, the angels declared humanity unworthy and attempted to destroy Earth without success. As the second half starts, the twosome try to avert catastrophe when a genetically engineered angel named Messiah capable of destroying Earth is loosed by a crazed scientist.

Earthian's first episode was created in 1989, and the second episode followed the next year; the third and fourth episodes were released in 1996. Because of this gap, there is a significant difference between the two sections of the show, and it's almost best to talk about them separately. The first two episodes are consistently entertaining and by far the better part of the series. Though the animation of the first episode has not aged well (and the first episode on the Region 1 DVD has ghosting problems I've never seen on a disc before), the second episode looks just fine. Both do a good job of setting up individually contained stories while moving along the overall storyline, and they introduce even secondary characters well. Although the show certainly overplays its hand at times--in particular, the subplot involving an evil record producer is just plain stupid--to its credit, it is so sincere that it's hard to dislike these characters. What's also refreshing is that Chihaya is not a hero, though he'd like to be. Every time he tries to help somebody out or gets in a fight, he winds up on the losing end, and almost inevitably has to rely on Kagetsuya to get him out of a jam. Chihaya is caring, sensitive, and utterly devoted to humanity, however, and his heart is miles wide. It's his personality that saves the show in its problematic moments. I liked the first two episodes a great deal, as a matter of fact.

I wish I could say that the second half was just as good, but that's sadly not the case. Although the first two episodes are tragic, they still have a smooth feel. The second set of episodes is much darker in several ways, and they don't resolve things nearly as well. This is where we get more unexplained secondary characters popping out of the figurative woodwork. These episodes also aren't nearly as engaging, and it's likely because the first two episodes have such personal stories that these feel a little flat. There is also such a leap in the main plotline that the viewer feels left behind--what caused the angels to finally judge Earth? Why did Chihaya decide to throw in his lot with the Earthians? Are there consequences to those actions? None of these questions are answered, and so I got quite frustrated. The final two episodes are still agreeable and are beautifully animated, but just don't feel quite right alongside the first two episodes, and by themselves would be pretty worthless.

There's also the matter of the relationship between the two angels. The Earthian manga series was written by a woman and was definitely a shoujo (women's) comic. It also belongs to a shoujo subset known as shonen ai, or "boy's love". Although the relationships in shonen ai comics are not always physically sexual in nature, there tend to be a lot of attractions and innuendo between the male characters. In Earthian, we do eventually find out that, indeed, Chihaya and Kagetsuya are intimate. Part of the surprise of this is that the true nature of the relationship isn't even divulged until the third episode; during the first two episodes, there's no reason to suspect they are a couple. However, the third episode leaves no doubt: even though there is only a short, incomplete scene of a few seconds between the two, there is no question that they are (and have been) lovers. That angle will be disturbing to some just due to its nature; those who actually take the show's concepts at face value and don't differentiate between this alternate universe and the Christian religion's view of angels may be extremely offended. Because I'd read a little about the show beforehand, I wasn't surprised, but honestly, the relationship comes out of nowhere in the anime. It once again goes back to the incomplete and frustrating nature of the second set of episodes. If the relationship had been developed over the course of the entire show, it would have been understandable; as it stands, it's just a shock to an uninformed audience.

Although I didn't think much of the third and fourth episodes, I was astounded to see an incredibly low D+ review for the disc from Chris Beveridge of Anime on DVD. When I started really researching, though, I found a number of reviewers really did not like this show at all. Thus, I do have to pad my review that you may simply not agree with me--the subject matter here is so unusual and in places controversial for American audiences that it might be disconcerting. Others have simply found it boring--a tack with which I strongly disagree. Earthian, when it's working right, takes the time to explore its characters and provides a rich background, and it still supplies quite a bit of action. It's during the third and fourth episodes that things start to feel forced, and it's there that there's more action than any place else in the series.

To put it bluntly, I am not the target audience for this show. In fact, as a straight, evangelical Christian male, I am in the group most likely to be offended by Earthian. If you can set aside the fact that the show has nothing to do with spirituality whatsoever and that it is simply a story using a few religious concepts as a starting point, though, it isn't a great stretch. I wish that the show had a better ending, and I can't help but be disappointed that the show's finale didn't live up to its potential. Nevertheless, Earthian still compels me somehow--the first half was strangely refreshing and different--and it's worth at least a rental.

Earthian -- violence, mild language, brief homoerotic content -- B