Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To Terra, vol. 1

The story: In the future, Earth's environment has been destroyed by the industry of man. Hoping to make the planet once again hospitable, the planet's leaders decide to usher in an era of Superior Domination where computers raise children instead of people in space colonies elsewhere in the galaxy. Raised in a socially controlled environment, Superior Domination creates logically superior humans who can better steward the planet. Unfortunately, this engineering of the human race has also led to a genetic mutation, where people develop extra sensory perception, or ESP. The Mu, as these physically disabled mutants are known, have extra sensory perception and, because of this, are exiled from the rest of the human race. When the normal and healthy Jomy Marcus Shin fails to pass his adulthood exam, he transforms into the most powerful Mu in space and helps his people return to Terra.

Reaction: This combines some of my favorite themes from science fiction literature -- a dystopian future, genetic mutation a la the X-Men and an all-knowing "Big Brother" (or, in this case, a mother). There's action in spades and a subversive attitude that automatically endeared the Mu to me, despite their initial arrogance towards ordinary humans. Jomy is the central character here, but Keith Anyan plays his human counterpart -- superior in nearly every way with an increasingly interesting background. While it almost seems that Keith is a villain, he seemed like more of an anti-hero to me, paralleling Jomy's journey of self-discovery.

Deep thoughts: The era of Superior Domination is positively Orwellian and echoes the novel 1984. While it's not a totalitarian party watching and controlling things, there are so many similarities between George Orwell's vision of the future and this series by Keiko Takemiya. From the sterile surroundings to Eliza, there is a controlling and eerie tone to this manga that starkly realizes the loss of personal freedoms.

Artwork: As a product of the late 1970s, To Terra carries many of the visual hallmarks of that era. I saw a lot of similarities between this series and Swan, another manga from the time frame. While To Terra is set in the future, the settings and costumes reflect that, but the layout of panels, hairstyles and basic character designs are similar to its shojo counterpar. Oddly enough, the costumes do carry other hallmarks of the disco era, like wide, butterfly collars. Otherwise, Takemiya builds an industrialized, sterile and computer-filled world with a varied assortment of easily identifiable characters.

The verdict: Highly recommended. This is a fascinating series that combines exile of a fictional race with a controlled police state, to good effect. It makes for a strong commentary on modern life and the importance of protecting the environment, in addition to the dangers of genetic engineering and mutation. To Terra is available in the U.S. from Vertical.

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