by Keiko Takemiya
published by Vertical; $13.95 US
As part of the May Manga Moveable Feast, I reviewed To Terra… Book 1 yesterday. Now that the premise and characters have been (sometimes ham-handedly) established, what is the author going to do with them?
A Review Response
But before I tackle that, I wanted to address some comments by Rob McMonigal from his review of the first book. He’s right about the world-building details sometimes overwhelming other aspects of the story, such as establishing the characters. Personally, I found it helpful — with such remove from the culture in time, I was glad elements of the story and setting were clearly stated, so I could be sure I was accurately comprehending the background and conflict.
He’s also right that not many people are likable, and we have very little sense of Jomy beyond his role as savior. That’s a good insight, that we don’t know much about how he feels, beyond a couple of scenery-chewing show-offy tantrums that don’t do much to endear him. He always feels to me like a self-indulgent kid, not the leader we’re supposed to believe he is. I saw him simply as Standard Young Manga Hero, so I didn’t expect much more, but someone with a less analytical bent will find less to hang onto. I went into this project as though it were a history lesson (homework assigned by my colleagues), so I didn’t expect to like the book the same way I do a modern read — and I don’t. But I do appreciate being reminded of the ideas that once fascinated society.
What Happens Here
The Mu have set up on the planet Naska, and any official ships that get too close have their pilots mind-wiped. Keith, now a respected elite pilot, has been called in to investigate, while Mu leader Jomy is struggling to bring his people to Terra and reunite the two tribes. I’m suddenly thinking a lot about Moses.
That’s not the only connection — the Mu have lost sight of their mission and are willing to settle for temporary comfort. Physis becomes a kind of narrator, telling everyone what Jomy thinks and what he needs. I found it a bit boring, ready for something concrete to happen, action instead of introspection, since it’s predictable that there will be a more significant final confrontation. He’s really more of a symbol than a realized character. Even when he goes against the Elders’ wishes, he’s just thinking hard to make something happen.
Keith’s storyline, on the other hand, provides plenty of action, with spy missions, attempted assassinations, and class warfare, all taking place on spaceplanes and planetary outposts. It’s a shame that Takemiya has set up the Mu as being physically weak (to balance their mental powers), because it makes for unbalanced storytelling. (That may be why she begins introducing new characters without those weaknesses later on.) Thankfully, we get a showdown about a third of the way through the book, and after that it picks up, with a kidnapping, attempted murder, an escape, a kid in danger, hostages, missile attacks, space rescues, and finally, preparation for war. This section also results in my nomination for best line reminding us how old this book is: “The monster… the coward! Using a woman as a shield!”
The art remains dense, requiring the reader to pay close attention, due to its unfamiliarity of style. I think Takemiya is attempting more ambitious staging at this point, but there are sometimes pages where I could read the panels in almost any order and get almost as much out of it. For instance, on an early example, I don’t know if it was because I found it pretentious, with statements like, “He’s full of inexplicable sadness,” or because I already knew through the art the message I needed to take away from the page. There isn’t a panel flow so much as a montage of related images.
Signs of the 70s
Of greater prominence in this volume is the importance of natural childbirth. The Mu have become experimenting this way, allowing a few couples to have children, although they’re still raised in groups away from their parents. As Jomy tells Keith,
We’re not going back to the dark old ways. We plan to procreate this way… the natural way!
I suspect someone today might quibble over just which was the “dark old way”, but this attitude fits in with the rise of Lamaze classes. Personally, I think how the child is raised — with parents or in more impersonal groups — is just as important. Keith has a different argument: “It’s inefficient.” In other words, they won’t be able to reproduce fast enough to keep their numbers up.
Also here, the struggle between Mu and Terrans has become framed in the language of civil rights. Jomy tells Keith,
“We don’t wish to fight Terra. We just want our existence and basic rights to be recognized. … If our existence bothers you, just leave us alone!”
Later, other Mu ask, “What did we ever do to them? Our only crime was to be born. We’re all equal!” The question is raised of who is superior — Jomy and his people have mental powers, but Keith, a synthetic human, lacks the “dangerous impurities” other people have. In a way, To Terra… is like reading the X-Men and sympathizing with the normal folks, because those characters (in this case, Keith, although he’s not all that normal) are the most vibrant and attractive. By the end of this book, the Mu have embraced their renegade status, with a new, more destructive goal, but it takes a long while to get there.
Still to Come
Stay tuned for my thoughts on the third book. Also, Ed will be contributing an essay on the themes of the series to the site. By the way, my thanks to my local library, who had all three volumes available. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to participate in this fun event.