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Monday, May 24, 2010
The Manga Moveable Feast is a monthly, week long online virtual book club where people discuss an agreed upon manga series. This month's selection was To Terra..., a classic sci-fi manga, and, since I'm currently on something of a sci-fi binge, I went and got the series from my public library and decided to take part in the discussion. Hit the jump for my review of the three volume series.
Written by Keiko Takemiya
Art by Keiko Takemiya
Adapted by Dawn T. Laabs
Although To Terra... is a strong series on the whole, it does have problems. Some minor and some that are a little bit bigger but, overall none of the problems are big enough to ruin the series for me. As I've mentioned before, a story's overall narrative is far more important to me than the exact details of the story. Yes, the details the are important, more so in some stories than in others, but the narrative is the substance of the story and, if it's strong enough, can overcome some minor problems with the exact details of the story. That said, To Terra... comes very close at times to having the narrative derailed by some of the problems I'll mention in the next paragraph.
The story also has a tendency to use time skips but either doesn't fill the amount of time skipped or, if it does, the time skipped doesn't exactly match up with the story. The biggest example would between the second and third parts of the first volume, which skip ahead about 40 years, but one of the characters in the second part of the volume is listed as only 23 in the third part despite being in his late teens earlier in the story. That said, it is pretty easy to just ignore the problems with the time skips since time isn't really a core part of the narrative and they are mostly used to move the story forward in a reasonable manner by jumping over unnecessary details.
The final problem is that the two main characters, Jomy Marcus Shin (leader of the Mu) and Keith Anyan (the eventual leader of humanity), both have special roles that are were meant to fill but we don't really get any insight into way they chose to accept those roles. This works to a degree for Keith since human society at this time people are expected to accept their roles in society and not to question it. The problem is that, aside from generally being many degrees smarter than the average person, Keith tends to question various aspects of his society throughout the story so it is kind of odd that he never explicitly questions his role in it. Or, at the very least, even thinks on it for any amount of time. This problem though is counter balanced by the fact the Keith and Jomy generally well developed characters with strongly defined personalities so that, while they never question their respective chosen roles, they do a good of filling them. I will also admit that this is probably something of a nitpick on my part as well since it is not something integral to the story but it still stood out to me none the less.
As I already mentioned though, To Terra's narrative is strong enough to overcome these problems. In part this is because Takemiya does a wonderful job of creating a lot of drama in the story to keep the reader interested also because the story touches on some strong themes like acceptance, nature vs. nurture, and man vs. machine. While Takemiya doesn't particularly go into a great amount of depth with any one of them, they do strengthen the story's overall canvas and help layout some of the main conflicts in the series.
The story is about the conflict between humans and the Mu, which centers around the reclamation of Terra (Earth) and the society and system that humanity created in order to bring that about. The Mu are outcasts in this system and are looking for some kind acceptance or peace with humanity, ruled in part by a computer AIs, which refuses to do so. Overall, the story works well though it includes many stock elements. While the narrative elements are nothing you haven't seen before in some form or another, the drama and brisk pace do carry the story and end up being what make it enjoyable.
The first volume though, serves as set up and introduces Jomy, Keith, the supporting characters and their respective societies. Jomy's section is the weakest because there isn't particularly a lot of conflict in it and the story is just of kind of choppy. Keith's introduction is a lot stronger since Takemiya does a better job of managing the necessary exposition with the drama and conflict to create a compelling narrative. It's also just more interesting in general since it focuses on humanity and their society, which part of the central conflict of the story.
Once the story gets into the second and third volumes, its brisk pace keeps the story from getting bogged down the rather stock plot elements of the story. To Terra... doesn't particularly have a lot of depth, either in the story or with the characters, but the characters and conflict are well defined enough to be able to carry a story. The way Takemiya uses dramatic tension also helps a lot with this. There is always some kind of conflict going on, either between the Mu and humanity or a ideological confrontation between the characters, which keeps things interesting since something is always happening. As I mentioned above, this is where the themes the series touches on come into play as they are the basis for the various conflicts. The characters are also well developed as a group. Again, none of them are particularly deep and do generally conform to one type or another but, like Jomy and Keith, they work very well. Takemiya also has a well developed group dynamic among them which also contributes to the conflicts in the story.
The art is probably the series's strongest point. It is a excellent mix of cartooning and photo-realistic elements. The characters are drawn in a cartooning style with some nice exaggerated flourishes thrown in from time to time. Takemiya does a wonderful job of making the emote though their body language is on the weak side as it's mostly non-existent. The photo-realistic elements are generally everything else in the story, such as the backgrounds and space ships, and it creates a nice contrast with the characters. Done poorly, it could make the characters seems like they don't belong with the rest of the art but Takemiya does make it work and it helps the characters come to life on the page since they standout against the inert, but highly detailed, backgrounds. The photo-realistic elements of the art also bring a great amount of details with it which help to make the various locals of the series feel like real places. Takemiya also makes wonderful use of splash pages. In addition to just being completely striking, they also feel earned in the sense that they don't feel out of place and like they add to the story, instead of the artist just showing off.
Verdict - Buy It. Despite some problems, To Terra's stronger elements carry the story and provide an entertaining tale that any sci-fi fan can enjoy.