Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Stranded on Mars with the fearsome and aggressive terraformars, the expedition's only hope is the rescue ship arriving in thirty-eight days. But what if political machinations back on Earth ensured that ship never left? And what if one of the countries involved in the Mars mission was using the expedition to assert their power over the other U-NASA nations? Giant evolved cockroaches may turn out to be the least of the threats the expedition faces...
Spoiler Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers for Volume 7
There's a good possibility that this volume of Terra Formars, which really does up the plot factor to the point where our heroes are no longer just fighting increasingly powerful roachmen but actually dealing with some of the other repercussions of being on Mars, is going to stir up a hornet's nest. Not that this series has ever shied away from it – from the beginning the depiction of the evolved cockroaches has caused some readers to question the series' taste. It has attempted to make up for other choices with its large, multi-national cast decently divided between male and female members, but the revelation of this book that China is the nation behind all of the plotting, most specifically to bring down the US-Japan alliance, is likely to rub some readers the wrong way. With history and some more recent events as background to this choice, it does seem questionable, although the story does make some effort to explain its choice of villain.
The volume divides its narration into two intertwined segments: the people trapped on Mars and the meeting of U-NASA trying to figure out what to do about it. On Mars there is a nervousness blunted by a sense of certainty: if they can just survive long enough, the rescue ship will come. Unfortunately the flashes to Earth tell us a much more worrisome story: the US is forced to admit that due to financial constraints, the rescue ship has not been launched. This sets the stage for China to step in with what at first seems like a saving grace but is quickly revealed to be a greater danger for both those on Mars and the rest of the world: China may have sent a ship, but it sure isn't for rescuing everyone.
There's something very politically real about the machinations in this volume. The way that pretty much all of the U-NASA nations are basically looking out for number one with little to no care for the people stranded on a hostile Planet With dangerous (man-made) monsters. They're more concerned with international power struggles back on Earth, seeming to barely acknowledge the fact that without the success of the Mars mission(s), there won't be enough Earth to go around. Or perhaps they are aware of that fact, and that's why China is so keen to take over – after all, whoever “wins” Mars will have the means of escape from an over-crowed, polluted planet, and that's something that can be used commercially as well as politically. In any case, this political plot is slightly more interesting than the plight of the stranded simply because it's not something we've seen to this degree within the series before. The fact that it truly impacts the people who are unaware of it adds a different kind of tension to the story.
The Mars plot also relies on the revelation of Chinese treachery, as the rest of the nations arrive back at the Annex to find that the people left behind to keep it secure have essentially occupied it. Now the roachmen become almost secondary to the concern of removing the traitors and regaining the Annex, which the teams regard as their only hope of salvation if they are to survive until the rescue ship arrives. Some of the more with-it team members may also be starting to question whether or not the Chinese are acting under orders from Earth, but as of yet no one is mentioning the possibility that rescue will not be coming, probably a good decision from a morale standpoint. And morale is becoming an issue, which we see through Marcos and Alex, who lost Sheila in an earlier book. The two have to convince themselves that they were and are doing the right thing, and it seems fair to guess that this is also an issue for other members of the group.
Kenichi Tachibana's art doesn't always help tell the story as smoothly as it could, using enough grey space to feel almost overwhelming at times. He does deserve credit for not making the bad guys look “evil;” actually the Japanese Prime Minister is drawn to look more like a villain than any of the Chinese characters. He's still not great at drawing bodies, male or female, but a lot of the visual sexualization has stopped, which is nice. Also no longer present are the women's cup sizes in their profiles, and the only overtly sexist line comes from a bad guy, which along with the new plotline helps to make Terra Formars feel more like a decent science fiction adventure rather than pulp schlock. It still retains enough elements of the latter to make it fun, but the toning down of others helps to make the predicaments feel more serious.
Terra Formars isn't always excellent, but this volume feels like it is trying to bring the story back to more interesting, tense ground. The intertwined narration doesn't always work, sometimes feeling abrupt, but the new menace helps to shake the story up enough that if you've been getting weary of it, you should feel your interest renewed. It has some controversial issues that may come back to bite it, but Terra Formars nonetheless feels as if it might be on the right track as its story evolves.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : C
+ Change in enemy helps revive interest, less overtly sexist than previous books. Wide variety of character designs.
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