Parked immediately to the right of my monitor is an artifact from a previous home video era: a catalog of all LaserDisc titles released in Japan from the format’s inception until 1991. It’s the last edition published with pictures of each title’s jacket art. In idle moments I open it to a random page and wonder what many of these titles are. Some might well be classics. I suspect I will never see most of them.
Toward the Terra is in that catalog, at the bottom right of page 288. I’d known about it since reading the excellent manga it was adapted from, and I wondered if it was one of those slumbering classics. Then RightStuf picked it up for an English-language release, and I wondered no more. It was made in 1980 and so has dated, but only in the most superficial stylistic ways. The parts that matter the most — the story and the characters — are still tremendously strong and affecting.
Jomy Marcus Shin, unwitting telepath, is welcomed into the company of the Mu
and assumes the mantle of leadership from the dying Soldier Blue.
Terra takes place some hundreds of years in the future, long after war and despoliation have made Earth uninhabitable. Mankind has moved out into the stars in an attempt to allow Earth to heal itself, and adopted a centrally-planned, computerized system of government, the “SD System”. On the surface all is prosperous; all breeding and rearing is now done by cloning and algorithmically-selected parentage. Those who exhibit telepathic tendencies — the “Mu” — are exterminated before they can pose a threat to the artificially-sustained order.
One day a new Mu emerges: Jomy Marcus Shin. Unlike the other Mu, he is sound of body and mind; unlike the other humans, he has the Mu’s telepathy and other psychic powers. The other Mu — who live elsewhere in space and have been watching humankind from afar — steal him away for themselves. Jomy is horrified that he has anything in common with the Mu at all, but their leader “Soldier Blue” ( a reference to the Ralph Nelson movie?) sees tremendous power and potential in the young man — not just raw psychic energy, but compassion and spirit as well.
Jomy's self-appointed mission: to unite human and Mu without the interference
of the machine intelligence that has managed human life for centuries.
Slowly, over the course of years and decades, Jomy grows to accept his position as the appointed future leader of the Mu. He fathers a child, and inspires the other Mu to embrace a return to the natural order of things. The human race at large wants them dead, but Jomy doesn’t see humanity as the real enemy — rather, it’s humanity’s nanny-state machines that have come between both of them. Humanity’s own leader is a former friend of Jomy’s as well: Keith Anyan, an experimental android created by the SD System for the sake of more efficiently governing humanity.
The key word is “experimental”, and as Keith and Jomy tentatively reach out to each other across both time and space they realize all of them — human, machine, and Mu alike — have been playing out a drama scripted long before any of them were ever born. That drama escalates the tension between the two sides into all-out war — one that claims the life of Jomy’s wife and drives him into isolation, while others step up to fight in his stead. But eventually he will have to emerge and reclaim the leadership of the Mu, and risk everything to bring humankind and Mu back together.
The movie's retro look and old-school character designs don't interfere with its
massively ambitious storytelling or its more lush and lovely moments.
There isn’t a shot or a frame in Toward the Terra that isn’t packed with ambition and vision. I mentioned that some of it is dated, and there’s no denying that: the music, in particular, is the sort of flabby pop jazz that plagued any number of Japanese productions through the Seventies and Eighties. The character designs are also old-school, but not in a bad way; they’re refreshingly simple and direct after so much of the hyper-stylized character work I’ve seen lately. And there are moments in the animation with the kind of fluidity and attention to human detail that even the more expensive present-day productions don’t have. I’m tempted to go back and scour that catalog again, and see what else I might be missing.