published by Vertical
by Ed Sizemore
**Warning, This Essay Contains Spoilers**
To Terra… invites comparison to a number of works. Takemiya’s description of how humans have depleted Earth’s resources, forcing most of the population to leave while clean-up crews try to fix the mess, will remind readers of the opening of Wall*E. There’s even a panel showing machines creating giant pillars of garbage. The way humans fear mutants (called Mu) and want to exterminate them echoes themes found in the X-Men comics and movies. Takemiya even speaks of mutants as a superior race of beings that will replace normal humans eventually. While I think these comparisons are helpful in exploring some of the themes inherent in Takemiya’s writing, they are only skimming the surface of a much more profound work.
To Terra… was serialized from 1977-1980. At that time, Japan had completed its shift to a manufacturing economy and was becoming a consumer culture, just like the US. Takemiya was writing in reaction to Japan’s industrialization. Unlike Hayao Miyazaki, Takemiya doesn’t postulate some idyllic past (such as in Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro) to critique the environmentally dangerous direction Japan is heading in. Instead, she looks forward and takes our consumer culture to its logical conclusion. While ecological concerns are part of To Terra…, Takemiya penetrates deeper to confront the foundational mindset behind industrialization.
Takemiya’s real concern is the same as the ancient Greek playwrights. She is writing to combat hubris, or extreme arrogance. It’s a belief there are no limits to one’s actions and a failure to recognize there are boundaries to life, which if violated will result in one’s destruction. In the old Greek tragedies, hubris was the downfall of the protagonist. The gods swiftly punished those that dared violated divine law or dared to imagine themselves as equal to the gods. Takemiya isn’t worried about divine law, but natural law. She is writing to warn us against the belief that we can become masters of nature and ourselves.
We see hubris in the way humanity has treated Terra. First, they consume all its resources without regard for the other life forms on the planet, not even showing regard for the life of Terra herself. Next, they scour the universe looking for more resources. In essence, they are depleting more planets to fuel their desires and in an attempt to correct the damage done to Earth. Here, the true failure of humanity is a failure to properly understand the nature of Terra.
Terra is not a machine, but a living organism. Earth isn’t a car that you swap out parts and make like new again. A planet’s ecosystem is like the human body, a complex network of interacting beings. When that network is corrupted, then you have to find ways of restoring both depleted resources and broken interconnectivity. You also have to let a living organism use its own system of healing. Like a wise doctor, you have to know when to quit tinkering, sit back, and let the patience’s immune system do its job. The humans in To Terra… never awaken to this insight about Earth.
The ultimate act of hubris is the enactment of the Superior Domination (SD) program. We are told it’s “a social order for the complete regulation of life.” Takemiya is engaging in a bit of sardonic wit with the program’s name, but we can’t appreciate the joke until we finish the series and understand her foundational message. Oscar Wilde certainly is having a good chuckle from the great beyond.
At its core, SD is an attempt to engineer human nature through genetic manipulation and social conditioning. What humans hope to achieve is a race of people who will live ecologically responsibly on Terra. Toward this goal, they have stopped natural procreation and a central computer (called Mother) now creates embryos from artificially created sperms and ovum. Mother then chooses the parents for the child. Children are taught to confide in Mother about all things and to obey all ‘she’ tells them to do. Humanity has surrendered all important decisions to this central computer.
Part of the SD program is the elimination of all Mu. The general population is taught to fear and hate them. Once a Mu is detected, they are either killed or captured and used for experimentation. Some Mu have escaped and formed an alternate society hidden underground on one of the space colonies. We discover that normal humans who have prolonged exposure to the Mu begin to develop psychic powers themselves. Furthermore, we learn in the third volume that humanity was increasingly becoming Mu before SD began. Politicians hoped to use genetic manipulation to eliminate Mus completely.
The Mu born under the SD program all have some physical weakness as an offset to their psychic abilities. Jomy, the Mu leader, decides that the Mu should procreate naturally. The first children under this new yet old-fashioned way are born on a planet apart from the central computer and a corrupted ecosystem. These children have both strong healthy bodies and full psychic abilities. In fact, they are born with almost unlimited psychic powers. The next wave of natural children is born on space ships and are Mus with healthy bodies but not the same psychic power. Takemiya is subtly showing how technology corrupts human evolution, and only when we return to our normative state of being in harmony with nature do we find our true potential realized.
In the third volume, when Jomy confronts the human leader, Keith Anyan, Jomy makes explicit Takemiya’s criticisms of a society ruled by computers. Technology and science can’t save them from the basic realities of the universe and human nature. When humans have divorced themselves so thoroughly from the natural order, they become impotent in body, mind, and spirit. They are doomed for extinction. Life can’t be neatly contained; evolution and the natural order will find a way to prevail against the best-laid plans of humans. Keith, seeing how the Mu have survived and prospered on their own apart from Mother, realizes the truth of Jomy’s words and shuts down all the computers to return humanity back to its proper path.
Takemiya isn’t anti-science. She is opposed to science with a mechanistic worldview. Further, she is opposed to the belief that as humans we have the ability to step outside of the natural world and control it. To Terra… is meant to show us what happens when we take that thinking to its logical end. Takemiya is reminding us that we are a part of the natural world just like any other animal. We can no more step outside nature than we can step outside our physical bodies. True science understands our place in the universe and sees the universe as a living organism. Instead of trying to control the natural world, we seek to partner with it and develop a way of living that is beneficial for all living things. We don’t place humanity or our needs above any other living being.
Takemiya is asking us to create a new model of science that thinks of the universe as another living being and makes decisions in the light of that understanding. Jewish theologian Martin Buber wrote a book called I and Thou advocating a similar line of thought. He desired that we treat all life with the same regard we would treat a loved one, to never think of anything as an ‘it’ but always as a ‘you’. If we did this with regard to the Earth, then we would never knowingly make decisions that would harm her, but always seek her wellbeing as well as our own in all we do.