Flat Earth Exchange Volume 1 by Toshimi Nigoshi
Many years in the future, the human race is all but wiped out. Humans have mostly been replaced by “people”, humanoid androids. Androids have a problem with their construction. They lose all memories of their existence after 22 years, so they are constantly being reborn as a new, amnesiac person. With the decline in human population, the androids now are free to believe a myth that they are the originators who created the human race as an experiment.
A schoolboy named Kotaro was involuntarily placed in suspended animation and woke up years into the future. He was the only one in his group to emerge from his sleeping pod. Kotaro supports himself by pretending to be an emissary of an elder in an area called Sanctuary, running a con on androids who seek out humans for advice. He meets Ree and the boy Ath. They greet him as the wise emissary. Ree is suspicious of Kotaro. Kotaro is so desperate for contact with other people that he threatens Ath’s life in return for an invitation to dinner.
An observer lurks on the hillside. It is Wil, the sixth in line to the throne and a fugitive. He shoots Kotaro in the shoulder and kidnaps him, needing the information a recently woken sleeper may posess. Kotaro passes out and wakes up in Wil’s dilapidated headquarters. Kotaro is so thankful to have contact with another human, he doesn’t particularly mind being shot and kidnapped. Will and Kotaro begin a tentative friendship. Elsewhere Ree goes along with his daily life. He’s unsettled because Kotaro reminded him of someone from his past, a memory he is on the verge of losing. Ree isn’t adjusting well to his incipient memory loss.
Although Kotaro, Ree, and Wil are the core of the story, the first volume of Flat Earth Exchange introduces a dizzying array of supporting cast and subplots. There’s a police force called Special Section 6 patrolling the villages, Wil’s murderous tendencies, Ree and his companions’ work with orphans, and general civic unrest. Kotaro starts to explore Wil’s headquarters, locating an ancient computer that he secretly uses for his own research. I had a little bit of difficulty getting into the first volume. Sometimes I don’t have much time to read and I end up reading a volume of manga in 5-10 minute segments here and there. That really doesn’t work for Flat Earth Exchange because I had a difficult time remembering who some of the characters were. I enjoyed it much more when I decided to start from the beginning again and read the volume from start to finish.
Flat Earth Exchange Volume 2 by Toshimi Nigoshi
Ree and Kotaro are reunited but Kotaro decides to stay with Wil. The tension between them grows, and things get ugly when Wil discovers that Kotaro has been gathering information from his ancient computer. The backstory of some of the supporting cast is explored, and we learn more about the Special Section 6 officer Bridget who has a crush on Wil. Kotaro encounters a nomadic group of sleeping humans and gets to know the androids better when he visits Ree’s compound.
Flat Earth Exchange is a dense read, packed with world building and exposition. The art will look a little dated to people mostly used to reading modern manga, but it didn’t bother me. There’s a lot of dark tone used in some of the panels, and I think something was off in the reproduction or original art for the manga because the dark panels seemed a little muddy or smudged. I enjoyed the complex storyline even if at times I thought I would need both a flowchart and timeline to keep track of the supporting characters and subplots.
I think that Flat Earth Exchange would appeal to anyone who likes science fiction with a strong emphasis on human relationships. Anyone who enjoyed Planetes, Jyu-Oh-Sei, or To Terra may want to give Flat Earth Exchange a try. While I might quibble a bit with the pacing and rapid character introductions in the first two volumes, I’m very interested to read the final two volumes of this story to see how it evolved after the author went back and concluded the manga ten years after it was originally published.