Reviewby Theron Martin,
Toward the Terra
Sub.DVD 3-4 - Part 2
Seki Ray Shiroe has seen things that he shouldn't, and even his awakening power as a Mu and Keith's efforts to first help him, and later stop him, cannot prevent a tragic end. Confused by that and other irregularities, Keith seeks solace in the arms of Eliza. Meanwhile, Jomy Marcus Shin and the Mu have been run ragged by the harrying human attacks, so when an opportunity to at least temporarily rest on an abandoned planet presents itself, Jomy seizes it. In building a new life on the planet dubbed Naska, the young Mu explore natural procreation and childbirth as a means of renewing themselves and establishing a new future, but over time that also causes a rift to grow between the younger Mu, who want to abandon the search for Terra and make Naska their permanent home, and the older Mu, who still are dedicated to finding Terra. As the bridge between the two groups, Jomy finds himself caught in the middle.
But Fate has a way of forcing the issue. Years later, Keith Anyon, now one of the Members Elite, comes to Naska to investigate some strange accidents in that vicinity, including the crippling of a friend. Though captured by the Mu, Keith's presence brings danger upon the Mu from unexpected sources, as well as stirring up some long-buried mysteries.
In its first two volumes Toward the Terra showed signs of straying far away from typical old-school shonen designs and more in the direction of a full-blown (albeit shonen-friendly) space drama. That transition becomes complete with this pair of volumes, which have only a sprinkling of true action scenes over the course of eight episodes. Instead, they produce a story powered by a compelling narrative and a regularly satisfying level of dramatic tension, one which both entertains and tells somewhat of a cautionary tale without being preachy. Here you can find moments sublime, allegorical, and scary, along with a few major plot twists and an unpleasant direction in the development of one key character.
And that character is Keith Anyon, who alternates with Jomy as the series' main character. The last volume introduced him as an efficient, top-rate, and yet also emotionally stunted student who seemed to be struggling to discover the emotions he was seeing in others but not experiencing himself. That impression lasts through the first couple of episodes as the Seki story is resolved, but when he returns later in this block of episodes after a pair of time jumps totaling more than a decade, any trace of the developing humanity he showed earlier is gone. He is harder and more capable and ruthlessly efficient than ever, with the intimidating sort of charisma which can both attract and drive fear into people at the same time. The callousness of his actions in the post-time jump era mark him as a villain, one scarier than most of the super-powered foes likely to be encountered in modern shonen titles. In real life, some people just naturally give off a dangerous vibe, and the late-20s version of Keith is an anime equivalent.
By comparison, Jomy remains little more than a child in maturity despite the passing of years. He gives off the distinct impression of being in over his head despite having both the power and respect to decide things; for all his actual might, he is the house cat to Keith's tiger in temperament and force of character, and a Japanese vocal performance which sounds wimpy and high-strung does not help. That makes the return of Blue in the volume's later stages, and the confident competence he radiates, a welcome relief. Although earlier staple characters continue to pop up, the only other ones who get much development are the blind seer Physis and, to an extent, the young Mu Carina, who plays a pivotal role in events in the Mu arcs in these volumes.
As before, the writing subsumes more extensive character development in favor of its storytelling as it spins a grand epic of a people seeking their place in the universe and dealing with difficult decisions over where their priorities lie – continuing to seek Terra, or abandon it in favor of a viable planet they have already found – while trying to hide from forces that would eliminate them. (If you have watched the recent Battlestar Galactica series on Sci Fi Network in the States, the parallels here are inescapable.) The writing is at its best when dealing with the generational conflicts that arise within the Mu, the issues concerning what to do with the captured Keith, and especially the impact that telepathy can have on ordinary activities like childbirth. The pacing of the series, and its ability to generate dramatic tension, are other ongoing strengths, faltering only when they overplay a Peter Pan allegory in the first episode of this span, although the sinister nature of what is going on with the children in this span's later episodes also has questionable merit. The thing with Physis and Keith also strains credibility, feeling more like a pure plot device than a sensible character development.
Tokyo Kids' artistry is at its best in the impressive way it suitably ages its characters over the span of time, especially Keith's fully adult look. Its greatest weakness also lies in its character designs, especially the oddly caricatured look of one Mu bridge officer and the unconvincing toddler designs. The series generally eschews typical current sensibilities in art design in favor of a more classic look that has been refined for more advanced production methods and CG infusions, creating a series that would look older than it actually is were it not for the obvious touches of modern digital artistry. Animation is acceptable but unexciting.
The musical score fares better, especially in key dramatic scenes. Some of its themes smack of a sci fi computer game sound, but they still work. A new opener which begins with episode 14 is a minor improvement over the first one, but the new closer simply cannot compare to the classically-adapted theme “Love Is,” which runs through episode 13. Aside from aforementioned comments, the Japanese-only dub proves adequate to the task, with the notable deepening of Keith's voice as he ages being a nice touch.
For Extras, volume 3 includes a textless closer and Part 3 of the interview with creator Keiko Takemiya, while volume 4 includes series trailers and Part 4 of the interview. Both can be purchased separately or in a combo pack which includes both DVDs in a slip cover. The choice of cover art for these volumes is an odd one, give that the cover picture for volume 3 is more appropriate to volume 4's content.
Toward the Terra is not a top-rate series, but it tells a good enough and engrossing enough, and acceptable enough, story to be worth a look. It never much more than toys with the serious underlying issues it touches upon, and has definite flaws elsewhere, but through this span of episodes it is still less shallow than most typical shonen series.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Engrossing storytelling, satisfying level of tension, adult version of Keith Anyon.
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