Shojo manga’s a growing market right now, and one of the nice side effects of that boom is how we’re starting to see comics that might otherwise never have shown up domestically. I’m still waiting for a domestic edition of one of the most influential shojo stories of them all, Shinji Wada’s Sukeban Deka manga (which spawned a live-action TV series, a slew of movies, and an animated OAV)—but in the meantime there’s Vertical’s publication of Keiko Takemiya’s To Terra…, a title I’d only known about in passing and glimpsed when it was out of translation. Based on what’s in the first volume, it deserves an audience above and beyond just the shojo market, the way Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha deserves an audience outside of existing manga readers.
Much of the story in the first volume is divided between two plotlines. The first is the story of Jomy, growing up on Ataraxia, one of Earth’s far-future colonies, where society is rigidly controlled by computers as a way to suppress problems before they begin. When children come of age, they’re tested via a process called the "Maturity Check" to ensure that they will not pose difficulties to society at large—for instance, by showing signs of having telepathic ability. (Those who pass the Maturity Check are welcomed into society; but those who fail run the risk of becoming social rejects—a plot element probably echoed directly from the fears of a great many young Japanese trying desperately to pass their entrance exams and not be seen as failures!)
Jomy is tested and found to be a threat, and immediately taken into custody by the “Mu,” the telepathic sub-branch of humanity who want to return home to Earth without shame. Jomy is aghast by all this—the last thing he wants is to be “special”— but among the Mu he comes to realize he has a place there. His new mission in life: to lead the Mu back home as “Soldier Blue,” their new commander, and to make contact with any latent telepaths there.
The other half of the story takes place around Earth, on a space station populated by thousands of students who have passed their Maturity Checks. There, we meet Keith Anyan, emotionlessly precise, with no memories of his family; and Shiroe, an erratic genius and a rival who may be a latent telepath. The shojo elements of the story are a lot clearer here—e.g., the boyish rivalry between Keith and Shiroe—but Takemiya re-harnesses all of that back into the story’s larger, more cosmic concerns. This is not so much the story of these people as it is the story of the societies they live in.
In the press release for the comic, Vertical marketing director Anne Ishii described it as a story “about establishment and an anti-establishment.” In her eyes (and in mine as well), the Mu and the computer-controlled human society they’re rebelling against are both two ends of the same continuum. The real answer for the questions both of them pose probably lies somewhere in the middle of their respective extremes. It’s something any thoughtful manga lover, shojo reader or not, can get into, and I know I’m already hooked.
Art: Takemiya uses a lot of the basic shojo visual tropes—flowing body lines, feminine features on the boys’ faces, etc.—but again, they’re always somehow piped back into the story, which is told in a way that’s every bit as fluid and graceful. She also has a great eye for the space-scapes and machinery that span many of the backgrounds of panels and pages. A lot of the design of things are very 70s—the computer consoles have curved TV screens—but that somehow only adds to the charm of the whole thing; it’s a peek at the way people used to imagine the future.
Translation: Vertical has typically been very good about their translation jobs; and To Terra. . . is no exception. It’s undistracting, readable, and the panels have not been subjected to heavy retouching. They’ve left sound effects as-is, without any English-translation, and preserved the right-to-left formatting of the book, although their more mass-market manga titles (like Buddha) were offered in “flopped” format.
Bottom Line: To Terra. . .is the sort of thing people refer to when they talk about a “breakout” or “crossover” title—something that has great appeal for the people in its own niche; but also has the kind of ambition that it deserves to be discovered by others. Go discover it.
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