23 August 2016 | BrianDanaCamp
Epic sci-fi anime series based on classic manga
"Toward the Terra" (2007) is a 24-episode anime series that chronicles an ongoing, years-long conflict between humans and a group of exiled mutant outcasts called the Mu in a future society of space colonies connected by a massive computer network. The humans want to wipe out the Mu, who only want to return to Terra (Earth), the homeland of all of them, which is now a devastated landscape in need of purification and renewal. It's a complicated story with multiple protagonists and warp drive trips to various planets and solar systems. There's a lot to keep track of, but it's quite rewarding and boasts a powerful final episode. It's based on a groundbreaking manga series by Keiko Takemiya, "To Terra," the first science fiction manga by a female artist. The first story in the series was published in 1977 and the series was first adapted to animation as a feature film, TOWARD THE TERRA, in 1980. The manga was translated into English and published in the U.S. in 2007, coinciding with the debut of this TV adaptation, which was released on DVD in the U.S. in 2008.
The main protagonist is Jomy Marcus Shin, whom we first meet on the eve of his 14th birthday and the onset of his "Adult Examination" which will determine his future path, separate him from his parents and friends, and erase his childhood memories. Jomy is secretly a Mu who has been psychically tracked by the leader of the Mu, Soldier Blue. When Jomy's adult examination goes awry because of his hidden psychic faculties, the computer targets him for elimination and Jomy is saved only by the intervention of Soldier Blue and a mute Mu pilot named Leo. Jomy has difficulty adjusting to his new situation but gradually comes to recognize the enormity of his hidden powers and is groomed by an ailing Soldier Blue to become his successor. Eventually, in the midst of their long and futile journey in search of Terra, they stop at a planet with an abandoned space colony on it and, despite the protests of the elders, decide to stay there, revive the colony, and replenish their numbers via the old-fashioned method of human reproduction, something they'd forgotten how to do in the rigidly controlled society run by computer. They find peace and happiness in their time on the planet, which they've renamed Naska, and raise a group of children whose psychic powers far surpass those of their parents. The first to be born is named Tony and he becomes the natural leader of the next generation of Mu.
Meanwhile, Jomy's school friends, Sam and Suena, have passed their adult examinations and become students in an academy established for the elites and those who'll take positions in leadership and the military, situated on a space station called the Education Station. There they meet the enigmatic Keith Anyan, a favorite of the station's computer ruler, "Mother Eliza," and one who is clearly fast-tracked for success. Curiously, Keith has no memories of childhood or his adult examination or anything that happened before his arrival at the station. A young fellow student, Seki Ray Shiroe, who is secretly a Mu, takes it upon himself to enter the station's computer banks and find out Keith's origin. When Shiroe was ten, Jomy had appeared to him and tried to get him to leave his family and join the Mu, but Shiroe had rejected his appeals. Shiroe's investigation leads to some shocking truths, with tragic results. Despite all this, Keith continues to rise up in the ranks and eventually leads a massive assault on Naska, threatening the very existence of the Mu, who take the fight back to the space colonies and eventually to Terra and an upending of everyone's assumptions about humanity, mutants, space colonies and Earth itself.
One of the major themes, particularly in the early episodes, is the loss of childhood memories as one becomes an adult and how difficult it is to keep a connection to what one loves and holds dear. Seki Ray Shiroe is enamored with his copy of "Peter Pan" and even manages to hold on to the book after he's entered the academy. Shiroe even thinks Jomy is Peter Pan when Jomy first appears to him. Sam, Jomy's schoolmate, against all odds, remembers Jomy through thick and thin. When his encounter with the Mu leaves him psychically damaged, he reverts to a child-like state, remembering only what the Adult Examination was supposed to have erased, forgetting everything that happened afterwards. Keith Anyan is considered by the computer rulers to be the "perfect human" because he has no childhood memories and refuses to allow emotion to hinder his decisions. One of the key questions is whether he has a human heart under his controlled exterior.
The original manga is much more streamlined than the TV series, which adds plot tangents and additional characters to the framework Takemiya provided in order to keep the story interesting and compelling over 24 episodes. For instance, Seki Ray Shiroe has a much more detailed backstory in the TV series than in the manga. His childhood scenes and his attachment to "Peter Pan" were created expressly for the TV adaptation and give us a much greater emotional investment in his character. Jomy's childhood schoolmates, Sam and Suena, have much more expanded roles in the TV series, providing a frequent reminder of Jomy's past and the people he once loved. The 1980 movie, a work of extraordinarily beautiful animation, is a much closer adaptation of the manga, although it omits a lot in order to keep its length to 112 minutes. I happen to like the manga best out of all three versions, but I've watched the movie and the entire TV series multiple times and I greatly enjoy them as well. The American DVD edition of this TV series includes a series of interviews with author Keiko Takemiya which are quite illuminating and highly recommended.