To Terra… Vol. 1
By Keiko Takemiya
Written for the May editon of the Manga Movable Feast, hosted this month by www.mangacritic.com
Perception: In the future, humanity, having fled to the stars after wrecking the ecology of Terra (Earth), have created a new social order on other worlds. There, children are born via artificial insemination and placed with foster parents until the Awakening Day, where they will tested by the local colony’s master computer and allowed to rejoin their brothers and sisters on Terra and work for a better society.
Reality: The worlds on which these children live are nothing more than testing grounds to find cogs that will work within the framework of the Master Computer’s (Mother) plan. If, at any point during a child’s Awakening, children are found to have extra-sensory perceptions they are defined as the Mu, an offshoot of humanity whose bodies are deformed in some way but have amazing psychic abilities, and are eliminated by Mother. Those children who escape Mother’s machinations, go on the run with the rest of the Mu, led by Soldier Blue as they search for a way to return to Terra and escape the persecution of Mother and her re-imagined humanity. One such child is Jomy Marcus Shin. If you survive Mother’s tender mercies, you’re put on the track of all gifted children: to lead Terra according to Mother’s plans. One such child is Keith Anyan.
At times social commentary, part sci-fi adventure and all times gripping drama, To Terra… is a title that I had heard about but paid little attention to it. For whose who are not in the know, To Terra…was written by Takemiya in the 70’s at a time when women manga-ka were coming into their own as creators, creating stories both for girls AND boys. Takemiya was part of a group of manga creators called the Year 24 Flower group or sometimes, the Forty-Niners referencing the fact that all the people in the groups were all born in 1949 (despite the fact that Takemiya was born in 1950!). These creators and the stories they tackled broke new ground in terms of content and scope. For the first time, authors took on stories about homosexuality, homophobia and other subjects that were considered too hot to handle by most traditional publishers. Takemiya had already made a name for herself with the publication of In the Sunroom. While writing To Terra… she also overlapped it with Kaze to Ki no Uta (her other great work, originally conceived over nine years before and stalled from publication because the author refused to edit out the more sexual elements in it). This lady knows how her stories should be, make no mistake about it. I know on our site I said we review everything but for some reason I’ve never tried to tackle anything even coming close to To Terra…before. More’s the pity as this is a fantastic read.
The thrust of the story, for me, is about the nature of control. Jomy is a happy child who doesn’t understand that his perfect life will be destroyed by Mother when he goes through his Awakening (though in reality they’re called Maturity Checks). He has no control over this happening. When he is rescued by the Mu, he doesn’t feel in control anymore. The people on the Mu’s ship telepathically gossip behind his back. He feels disconnected from his peer group. If the world he lived in hadn’t been based on a lie, then he should be mixing with kids his own age and with the same abilities as he had. But put into a alien environment, Jomy struggles to understand his place in it. George Lucas explored this kind of dilemma in THX 1138, with Robert Duvall’s THX character has been a good, productive member of the underground society he lives in until he stops taking his medication and his eyes open to the world around him. In the film, once you learn that you’ve been deceived, it is impossible to unlearn it and once learned, would you really want to go back to ignorance? Unfortunately, as in THX’s case, Jomy’s discovery of the “real” world makes him an enemy of the state. The problem for him is that since Mother has done such a good job painting the Mu as terrorists, the humans who are at work within the system don’t give a second thought to trying to kill Jomy. They (at least in this volume) don’t know of the real story of the Mu and as such can only define their reality as being the height of their horizon. If there’s nothing visible above my horizon, then it doesn’t exist. Similar themes were explored in the classic Star Trek episode “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” where questioning the lie is punishable with pain and discovery of the lie is punishable with death. Keith is a good example of the flipside in control: the instrument of the system. If Mother has displayed herself in images around E-1077, the educational space station that Keith is studying on, I’d say we have ourselves a true cult of personality going here but here, rather than Orwell’s 1984 and its all powerful Big Brother, Mother is seen as benevolent and protecting of society from the Mu. Yet, Keith does, deep down, wonder why people born differently to him or that think differently to him have it so bad. He, in this volume, is beginning to suspect that the system is not what he grew up believing it to be but still fights for the system as, to him, it’s the only kind of system that works. The Mu, themselves are all about control. But in their case, it’s the lack of control that consumes them. All they want is to return to Terra and be left alone. But because Mother has declared them enemies of the state, they wander aimlessly searching for a place to call home. At the end of the first volume they set down on a world called Nazca and already they start talking about settling here rather than going on to Terra. They obviously have forgotten the lessons that Native Americans learned after encountering the Old World settlers: once you give an inch, they come back looking for more. Finally, we have Mother and the SD (Superior Domination) system. Herein, we see control in total action. The trick with micro-managing a population (as the Nazis and the Soviets discovered) is that while on the surface people are happy that a lot of life’s uncertainties have been taken off the hands (work, social disorder etc.), it usually comes at a cost to them and it is usually at the expense of another group of people.
I have to applaud Takemiya-sempai as she has created a story that can be viewed multiple ways. I’m sure if you pick this story up, you’ll see themes of racial tension, brotherhood, eugenics, war, state vs. individual and so on. Point is, I read it and came up with the above. I might be wrong about the nature of the story but the author has engaged me as a reader and has successfully made me question the structure and motives of the book in an attempt to understand what she’s trying to say with it. Now I want to know what happens next. And that can’t be a bad thing, surely?
Takemiya’s artwork is lovely and graceful without being austere. There are some moments of levity and they help break up the pace of the book so that we have enough time to come back up for air. Looking at the structure of the story I can understand why the Forty-Niners were such a system shock to Japanese readers in the 1970’s. And now that their work is, finally, starting to become available in the English-speaking market, we are in for one too.
For more information about Keiko Takemiya or the Year 24 group check the wikipedia article about them. For Takemiya’s other English published work Andromeda Stories, check out the Vertical (publisher of both titles) site And for an awesome inside look at the beginnings of the group, check out About.com manga guide, Deb Aoki’s interview with Keiko Takemiya and Matt Horne’s blog and his interview with fellow Forty-Niner, Moto Hagio.