Sometime in the distant future, human beings, having conquered their enemies (natural and otherwise) have destroyed their environment beyond repair. Despite the development of warp-speed travel, humankind’s attachment to their home planet is so strong, even the establishment of a strict totalitarian society is preferable to leaving their beloved Terra. Thus the “Superior Domination” (“S.D.”) era is born–a social order intended to slowly bring the planet back to life.
The S.D. method for rejuvenation of its environment involves the development of a society made up of perfectly mature (read: obedient) adults–a circumstance it strives to create by removing biologically created families from the planet altogether. Under a new system mandating test-tube birth, the S.D. young are placed with government-chosen foster parents who provide ideal upbringing on Ataraxia, a planet used only for child-rearing. Once a child reaches the age of 14, he or she must undergo a psychically-administered “maturity test” to determine his or her suitability for adult life on Terra. Passing students will have their memories erased before being transferred to computer-run educational stations, where mental and psychological progress will determine their future employment and social standing as adults on Terra. Failures are unceremoniously eliminated.
The story’s primary characters are Jomy, a human who discovers he is actually “Mu,” a mutated species possessing strong psychic abilities whose members have been driven into hiding, and Keith Anyan, a model student from the S.D. educational system whose role as a Terran elite is to hunt down and destroy the Mu. Over the course of the series’ first two volumes, these characters will plot, scheme, and fight, but though the narrative is compelling, it’s hardly the point.
Two things make To Terra… special. The first is its beauty. Created by Magnificent 49er Keiko Takemiya, the series is filled with lush backgrounds, inspired panel designs, and an expressive sensibility unusual for shonen manga. Interestingly, when compared with the artwork and narrative style of fellow 49er Moto Hagio’s short science fiction series, They Were Eleven (which ran in Shojo Comic in 1975) it’s To Terra… that comes out feeling more typically shojo, with its heart-wrenching internal monologues, bishonen heroes, and boys’ love undercurrents.
Secondly, the series is distinguished by its author’s ambition. Having established her elaborate universe in meticulous, hard sci-fi detail, Takemiya tackles environmentalism, genetic engineering, fascism, ethnic persecution, and even the very nature of human identity, all in three oversized volumes. From a narrative standpoint, this seems doomed to failure. From emotional and visual perspectives, it’s absolutely stunning to behold.
Takemiya’s universe is fraught with emotion–intense psychological pain, brutal terror, soothing comfort, intense loyalty, and a longing for home so deep that it is able to control the fate of societies on two sides of a war. The story’s primary rivals (Jomy and Keith) are both relatable and heroic, each hindered by the biases of his people but special enough to envision something outside what he’s been taught.
Yet for all her characters’ deep thought and sympathetic tendencies, Takemiya keeps her readers at arm’s length. By refusing to choose a clear hero (at least over the course of the first two volumes), Takemiya keeps the door closed to personalization or self-insertion, safely encasing her beautiful, fiery universe within smooth plates of glass.
This is not a bad thing by any means. On the contrary, it’s this impersonal sheen that prevents the story’s melodrama from overwhelming its craft, which is so masterful on an aesthetic level, it would be a tragedy to miss. Though this lack of intimacy feels a bit jarring in the midst of such shojo-flavored visuals, it is the key component in saving the series from collapsing under its own weight.
Can To Terra… succeed in its quest to pinpoint the source of humanity’s fatal flaw or define the nature of identity? Most likely not. Does it matter? Not in the slightest. From its opening pages, To Terra… is an intricate, sci-fi beauty, not to be missed.
Review written as part of the Manga Moveable Feast.