Now that I am finally free of the most pressing of my terrible deadlines, I have been doing so much more of what my brain loves the most: reading! Japanese, English, French, I even ventured over to the German and Swedish books on my shelves just to taste the joy of so many words (although my German and Swedish have rotted to seriously embarrassing levels. Especially embarrassing considering the fact that I am German…). I’ve been digging deep into the shelf of unread books, finding things I don’t even remember buying. Like this Japanese bunko book Eien no Tochu, which the bad cover tells me is a “realistic depiction of the uncertain heart of a woman”. Why is this on my shelf?
I also found things I do remember buying, thankfully. Like the first two books of Terra e. And I didn’t find other things I’m certain I bought. Like the third book of Terra e. Where did it go? Did it get lost in my recent move? Do I just think I bought it when I bought the first two, but I actually didn’t? Why is this happening? Whatever the reason, it is happening: I do not have the last book of Keiko Takemiya’s bizarre venture into scifi. So I don’t know how the story ends. I will buy the last book when I am again in Japan, but until then, the story will exist inside me, unfinished but also not really needing to be finished. It is that kind of story.
And so my brain tackles books one and two for your reading pleasure! It’s no secret that my brain and I loooooooved Kaze to Ki no Uta, Takemiya’s epic tale of young lovers destroyed by the world around them, so I was eager to dig into another of her classic works (and this one’s been translated into English by those troopers over at Vertical!). But Terra is a whole different beast from Kaze, if only because they were drawn for two completely different audiences. Kaze was straight up shojo, with all the hearts and flowers that entails, while Terra was published in a shonen magazine and so attempts to hide its author’s shojo roots with varying degrees of success.
As Takemiya herself notes in the afterword of the first book, she had developed a kind of shojo mindset by the time she drew this one, ten years into her career as a manga artist. She does manage to hold back on the flowers circling panels or the overly obvious twinkles in character eyes, but the over-the-top drama/emotion that I so loved in Kaze bursts through the shonen seams over and over. And given the series’ enduring popularity, I’m going to assume that boys are just as into emotional drama as girls as long as it is sugar coated with space ships.
The emotional drama might not be boys despairing over their love for other boys, but there is plenty of despairing. Jomi is just your average almost 14-year-old growing up on a nursery planet after human beings essentially killed the earth after becoming super technologically advanced and colonizing the stars. To save their ailing, beloved home world, humans all leave the earth, except for crews who work to detoxify the planet. A crazy computer-controlled system is implemented to educate and regulate humanity so their hubris can never grow to be enough to destroy beautiful, beautiful Terra ever again. People are no longer born through the usual lady-related methods, but rather in test tubes or what have you, and then sent to nursery planets where they are reared by foster parents. Around the age of fourteen, they undergo the adult assessment, which wipes their memories of childhood, so they can be free to completely devote themselves to becoming a true citizen of Terra, with no bond of loyalty greater than the one they have to the planet itself.
But! The adult assessment has the unfortunate side effect of awakening a new race of humans in processes that are never actually explained! But sometimes, some people undergoing the assessment will develop extrasensory powers, the sign that they belong to this new race of Myu instead of being plain old human beings. Which is, of course, what happens to our protagonist Jomi. Except! He is the most powerful of all the Myu! Marked by the leader of the renegade Myu colony deep below the surface of Jomi’s nursery planet. So Jomi must face his new destiny as a member of the race he was taught to hate! Will he give into that hate or???
Yeah, you kind of know this story. But Takemiya tells it in a good, delightfully dramatic way with her usual wonderful panelling and pacing. I know I’ve said this before, but she really understands the medium she works in and knows how to work all angles to maximum reader manipulation. And I feel like as things progress, she allows more of her shojo self to peek out in these pages, knowing that her audience is secure and she doesn’t have to try so hard to court her shonen audience anymore.
The story itself is a bit inconsistent, however. Which stands to reason, I guess, since it was intended to be a one-off with just the first section about Jomi discovering his destiny. But the readers liked it so much, she and her editor decided to stretch it out, hence the total disconnect of the second section in which we are given a new protagonist and a new part of this dystopian future. It eventually pulls together with Jomi’s story, but until it did, I was wondering if the series was essentially vignettes of different experiences in this future universe she had created. By the end of Book One, you know that the stories are connected, but the cut between sections one and two is so abrupt that it was jarring to me as a reader.
And then there were the random inconsistencies, like how the Myu age. Takemiya establishes early on that the Myu age much slower than humans, which is why Jomi still looks like he is fourteen after ten years. But when she needs people to age quickly, they just do. When the Myu return to natural childbirth, the first woman to give birth is shown as about seven in her first appearance in the story, but is clearly close to thirty in her second appearance as the expectant mother, even though Jomi is still only fourteen-looking.
I did find myself flipping back on more than one occasion to double check that it was not my memory that was creating these inconsistencies, but it’s just such a pleasure to read Takemiya’s work that I honestly wasn’t even annoyed with the fact that some things just don’t make sense. She’s a talented artist who knows how to pull a reader through a story with just the right sense of urgency. So when I actually get a new copy or find the mysteriously disappeared old copy of Book Three, I will enjoy reading it too.