Tuesday, May 25, 2010

To Terra Volume 1

By Keiko Takemiya. Released in Japan as "Tera he..." by Asahi Sonorama, serialized in the magazine Monthly Manga Shonen. Released in North America by Vertical.

I had purchased Vol. 1 of this series back when it came out, but never got around to reading it. You know how it is, you get a pile of stuff in at the same time, your brain decides it's more interested in magical harems and wacky misunderstandings, and the retro manga from 1977 slips down the pile. So I'm glad that the Manga Roundtable this month gave me a chance to revisit it, as it's riveting stuff.

There is a certain amount of unavoidable nostalgia with reading a title like this. Not for 1980s fandom, although that certainly came into my head. It seems hard to imagine, but the anime fandom of the mid 80s to early 90s was completely invested in titles like this - the anime version, at least. Macross, Megazone 23, Iczer-1... heck, even the style of the Dirty Pair is rooted in this sort of epic hard science fiction sort of thing. Sadly, as fandom moved on - both in Japan and North America - to other things, this sort of story has become far rarer. Viz took a shot on Please Save My Earth, but it was not exactly a huge seller. Same with CMX and the utterly weird Moon Child.

In any case, that was NOT what I was reminded of while reading this. Well, OK, the Dirty Pair a little. No, this took me right back to reading old-school Robert Heinlein books. The ones he wrote for Scribner's childrens line, designed to create a sense of wonder and a love of space exploration. And, inevitably, the aftermath of such exploration, seeing humanity struggle against its baser impulses.

Keiko Takemiya creates a fantastic mood. I kept thinking, throughout the volume, that I was going to be getting to a lull in the volume any time now. It never actually happened. Even when the narrative completely switched from one POV character to the other, the volume never let up. Pacing is one of the book's core strengths. The few action sequences here are short and sharp, not drawn out to 100 pages the way some might try it today. But when it's about DISCOVERY, about learning new things and discovering what the heroes can truly become, the book takes its time, showing us both their wonder and - more importantly - their horror at such a fate. Jomy, in particular, is a very reluctant messiah, which makes his transformation all the more startling and electric.

The plot has two forces battling against each other, and as with most good science fiction, we get the sense that both communities have big flaws. Mother Eliza tends to try to guide her people through a weird sort of brainwashing, and yet also encourages her top student, Keith, to keep doubting everything that he's experiencing. Heck, he even gets a rebellious young rival to help him buck against the system! Meanwhile, Jomy is kidnapped by the Mu, told he's been chosen to be their new leader, and then essentially mentally assaulted with 300 years' worth of memories as they're running short on time. The surprise is that he takes to it so well, as the later pages show him being a capable, if flawed, leader.

The Mu seem to be set up as the 'good guys' in this world, though as with most science fiction of this type such descriptions are deceiving. Jomy is developing a cult of personality around him, especially with the younger Mu, who tend to act more like disciples than followers. Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, the human side of things tend to act more... well, human. The use of Sam Houston as the connection between the two worlds is very well done, especially with the use of memory wipes by BOTH sides. I love juxtaposition like that.

This story is not particularly original, not are the characters all that dazzling. However, the writing itself is amazingly compelling, to the point where I desperately want to find out what happens next. The world building is top-notch as well. As for the art, yes, it's very 1977, but it's not as flowery shoujo as you'd expect coming from a member of the 49ers. In fact, some of the expressions, particularly the comedic ones, reminded me of Takahashi's earlier Urusei Yatsura art.

A terrific change of pace, and a reminder of where manga once was. Grab this series, you won't regret it. I'm definitely going to track down Vol. 2 and 3 now.

No comments:

Post a Comment