Anime: Terra e / Toward the Terra
Studio: Tokyo Kids, Minami Machi Bugyousho
Original Run: Apr 7, 2007 to Sep 22, 2007
Genres: Action, Science Fiction, Drama
Leaving behind their mother planet that has been rendered uninhabitable by environmental abuse, humanity has settled on a number of other colonies with the hope of one day returning to their cherished Earth. The new human society is controlled by a system of intelligent computers. Birth is no longer an act of natural biology but genetic engineering, and the humans live blissfully oblivious lives that are controlled down to the smallest aspects.
The existence of the Mu, a species that has evolved from humanity and possesses psychic powers, is considered a threat to the highly regulated way of life maintained by the computers. Jomy Marquis Shin, a fifteen year old boy who discovers on the day of his adult examination that he’s a Mu of unusual strength, might be the key to the peaceful co-existence of the two races.
I watched Toward the Terra some years ago on TV. I liked it but never got to finish it. That’s why I picked it back up. Watching it again, I couldn’t immediately figure out why I found the show so charming in the past but I stuck with it anyway and the end result turned out to be better than what I anticipated.
It takes a few episodes to become invested in the characters but Terra’s plot is reasonably engaging from the get go. While the basic ideas are familiar ones, the anime’s crafting of a world with human colonies controlled by sentient computers and an outcast race who are mercilessly hunted is interesting all the same. The main character – and most of the characters in general – are initially generic or outright annoying but as the story progresses, they all start changing and adapting. There’s a fair amount of character development in this show and it usually feels natural. For instance, Jomy’s struggle to accept that he’s no longer humans and the consequent lashing out at the Mu come across as irritating but believable. Similarly, the Mu’s hesitance to accept a hostile new boy as the one replacing their veteran leader is also quite genuine. None of them overcomes these issues instantly but in due time, they work past them.
Speaking of time, this anime spans around twenty years even without counting the epilogue which is apparently set centuries later. That means there are timeskips along the way, ranging from three to twelve years. But these are masterfully placed. The behaviors of the characters after each gap feels like the natural result of the experiences they underwent prior to it.
Terra also becomes increasingly gripping as it nears its end. The stakes are increased, for both the humans and the Mu, all leading up to a highly emotional finale where the power of one’s will and personal bonds are highlighted as aspects that no mechanical entity can control. Though the story begins with humans as the bad guys and Mu as the innocent victims, the lines are blurred soon thereafter and by the end, they disappear altogether, leaving behind only a bunch of people struggling for the right to exist.
That said, not everything about this show is good. It can be very frustrating at times, mostly owing to the sheer stupidity some of the characters exhibit. There’s also the highly conspicuous flaw of an important city’s name changing halfway through the anime. The epilogue, a brief sequence after the final episode’s ending theme, features a spiritual twist that is heartwarming but jarring considering how nothing in the previous episodes as much as hinted as the possibility of reincarnation.
There are a large number of characters in Toward the Terra but while a lot of them are important to the plot, only a few stand out. The rest just fade into the collective group of humans or Mu. Even so, the variety of them is impressive even among the more notable ones.
Harley, Physis, Keith, Matsuka
Jomy Marquis Shin is the main character and like many other main characters, he starts out as a little shit. Granted, not many would react well to being essentially kidnapped on an important day of their life and being told that they’re not even human. But the particular circumstances of Jomy being taken by the Mu mean that he has no reasons to trust humans either. Instead of thinking things through, the hot-blooded Jomy blames the Mu for his own mutation and is generally unpleasant to watch for a while. But the story is hardly kind to him and Jomy is practically forced to accept his new life through a series of harrowing events. As I said before, Jomy undergoes a considerable amount of development. He matures, not instantly but at a more realistic pace as his childish naiveté is chipped away by the responsibilities on his shoulder. By the end, he’s a well-rounded character and good leader who works hard for the sake of his beliefs.
Another character of import who is charming from the get-go is Blue, the original leader of the Mu. He doesn’t get a lot of screentime as he’s in a coma for the majority of the anime but what he does accomplish is remarkable and his presence is felt throughout the show because of how heavily Jomy is influenced by him. Over 300 years old, Blue is not as young as he looks and possesses all the wisdom that comes with that age. He takes up the role of a mentor to Jomy before eventually succumbing to the fate mentors are often subjected to. Wise, compassionate and efficient, Blue is the kind of person who’s almost instantly likeable.
Sam, Tony, Suena, Shiroe
Then there’s Keith Anyan, a human who’s set up as Jomy’s foil. At the beginning, he’s a little cold but ultimately kind-hearted. However, circumstances push him into putting aide his innate nature to develop a more ‘ideal’ persona and the end result is an antagonist who’s just as interesting as the protagonist. Other notable characters include Keith’s Mu aide Matsuka who’s got a complicated relationship with him, the mysterious blind seer Physis, Jomy’s humans friends Sam and Suena as well as Shiroe, an absolute brat who rejects the system and is in turn rejected by it.
Art and Music:
This is an anime from 2007 and it sometimes shows in the animation which is far from spectacular. The aircrafts and explosions in particular stand out like a sore thumb. But none of it’s bad enough to disrupt the viewing experience. The character and clothing designs have a distinctive flair to them.
Both of the opening themes – Endscape by UVERworld and Jet Boy Jet Girl by Hitomi Takahashi – are pretty alright. The first ED is unremarkable, the second less so.
I never get tired of utopia-with-dystopian-elements narratives and Toward the Terra delivers one that’s inconsistently engaging. The story really picks up towards the end.