Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Centuries after mankind has abandoned a ruined Earth, human life is tightly regulated under a special governmental system called Superior Domination, which includes growing babies in test tubes and assigning them to adoptive parents until they undergo an “adult examination” at age 14. Aberrations are not tolerated, so when some humans started manifesting powerful psychic abilities during their adult examinations, they were ruthlessly eliminated. Those that have escaped, called Mu, gather together on a massive ship, from which they seek to rescue/recruit newly-emerging Mu and find a way to return to Terra (i.e. Earth). Jomy Marcus Shin proves to be an especially powerful Mu during his examination, and so is sought by the Mu's dying leader Blue Soldier to be his successor and take up his quest to lead the Mu to Terra. Though resistant to this new fate at first, Jomy eventually answers the call of destiny.
Later, on a space station dedicated to higher education, Keith Anyon is a mostly emotionless genius student who seems destined to become one of humanity's elite. Chance encounters with various individuals from Jomy's storyline start to make him realize that perhaps one crucial part of the human experience has been escaping him.
Although classified as a remake of the 1980 anime movie of the same name, Toward the Terra might more accurately be described as a more faithful series-length adaptation of the original 1977-1980 manga To Terra by pioneering shojo manga-ka Keiko Takemiya, who is otherwise probably best-known for the key role she played in influencing the creation of the yaoi subgenre in the mid-'70s. To Terra was her first shonen effort, and indeed the TV series version carries a distinct, albeit more old-fashioned, shonen feel in its focus on young male characters learning to do extraordinary and heroic things and, in one case, discovering immense power within himself. What the series' first two volumes do not have is the loud, boisterous spirit so common in today's leading shonen series, and the series is certainly better for it.
Despite a significant concentration of action in some episodes, Toward the Terra actually plays out more as a grand sci fi drama infused with action, something more in the spirit of Crest of the Stars than a more dedicated action piece like Outlaw Star. The first five episodes concentrate on Jomy's steps towards realizing his power and place as a Mu, but with episode 6 the story leaves Jomy behind as it transitions to a focus on Keith in an entirely different setting and from an entirely different perspective. Various characters and elements from Jomy's storyline keep popping up over the next three episodes, though, and that combined with one key scene late in episode eight strongly suggests that the stories of Jomy and Keith are on convergent paths. The end of the second volume also leaves some big questions unanswered about Keith and, to a lesser extent, one major supporting character, too.
The greatest strengths of the series so far lie in its pacing and balance. Although character development weakens considerably beyond Jomy in the first arc and Keith and one other in the second arc, the story still creates a comfortable mix of action, character development, plot development, and drama, one which features all four without overly concentrating on any. The pacing keeps events gradually but steadily moving on (save for the annoyingly long recaps at the beginning of most episodes) and regularly punctuates mild content with more dramatic events, assuring that the story remains consistently involving. This may not be the finest anime writing ever, but it works.
The whole business with the “adult examination” and the administrative structure of humanity gives off a certain sinister vibe which may strongly remind some viewers of the secrets of Tiphares from the manga Battle Angel Alita, enough so that one may wonder if Yukito Kushiro's work was influenced by Keiko Takemiya's much earlier creation. Other story elements which could be interpreted as highly derivative of other anime works also may instead be representations of the seminal inspiration, although the whole “persecution of those with special abilities” angle does predate even To Terra (see Marvel Comics' X-Men). The downside to all these neat ideas is that the writing concentrates so much on them that it fails to develop the overall structure of the setting as much as it should, which rests the series' core premises on some shaky foundations. Although the execution of the adult examination is quite cool, the lack of solid justification for its existence is a particularly glaring weakness; why do its key component at all? If it serves a functional purpose beyond being a plot device, it has not been satisfyingly established by the end of episode 8.
The animation production comes courtesy of Tokyo Kids, a studio whose previous primary animation production efforts include Magikano, Angel Tales, and Gakuen Heaven. Designs for main characters have a finely-rendered classical look to them and do an excellent job of aging certain characters over the course of these episodes, although the mutton-chopped Sam Houston generally looks much older than his supposed age; in scenes where he should be 13 he could pass for a short college student. Designs for less important characters tend to be a bit rougher, but the artistry never make them look too generic. Supporting non-CG visuals look sharp, rich, and detailed, but the CG artistry does not rank amongst the better recent efforts except for the depiction of Terra's Number Five. The animation, while slightly above average by TV series standards, likewise does not particularly impress. Overall this is a good-looking series, just not a spectacular one.
The same assessment applies to the musical score, which works effectively with the haunting melodies and subdued electronica numbers used to subtly generate tension but impresses much less in backing action scenes and never achieves the full grandiosity of sound that a proper sci fi epic should have. A respectable rock number opens each episode, but the true audio treasure is the lovely closer “Love Is. . .” by Miliyah Kato, which sets Japanese lyrics to a variation of Pachalbel's “Canon in D Major.” The Japanese dub also does a respectable but not especially noteworthy job.
Bandai Entertainment released the first two volumes both separately and as part of a volume 1 and 2 combo pack, with both individually-cased volumes merely stuck in a cardboard sleeve with additional cover art. Both volumes are subtitled only and contain both a clean opener and one part of an interview with Ms. Takemiya as Extras.
These days the content of Toward the Terra does not have quite the freshness to it that it would have had 30 years ago, as most of the ideas presented here have, in some form or another, appeared in other sci fi media over the past couple of decades. Despite that and some other flaws, it still tells a moderately compelling story that should be of interest to anyone who wants a little more from their sci fi than just a bunch of slam-bang action.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Pacing and balance, looks good.
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