Terra e (Books 1/2): Keiko Takemiya

 

Terra e

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. 

Adult test

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???

jomi

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. 

soldier blue

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.  

space

Space!

 

4 thoughts on “Terra e (Books 1/2): Keiko Takemiya

  1. I was wondering when you’ll write about To Terra after reading your first post about Kaze to ki no uta (I didn’t dare to read the other articles since I haven’t read this long series)🙂 . I hope you’ll find book 3 of To Terra very soon!

    I bought the English version of To Terra. I heard of this manga years ago, when I was a bit disappointed by the French market of manga, which was full of fan service series (very “well executed” art but lacking some personality) or full of high school romance shôjo (shôjo was kind of selling good those years and all publishers wanted THEIR love story…). I was disappointed because there were almost no fantasy/adventures shôjo no more, Ima Ichiko’s Hyakki Yakoushou was going to stop at volume 6, Tamura Yumi’s 7 SEEDS was selling very poorly (and it was stopped at volume 10 as well), and Shimizu Reiko’s Kaguya Hime was very long to be published (it’s been 10 years now and there are still 10 volumes to translate xD). Plus, I was pretty angry not to see anything from Yoshida Akimi being in project. By the time, I wasn’t very curious about old shôjo manga, even though I enjoyed reading Ikeda Ryoko’s Versailles No Bara.

    I watched the anime series from Natsumi Itsuki’s Jyu-Oh-Sei and I really enjoyed it. Then I found out Tokyopop translated it into English (and there was no chance to see this in French). I loved it. I liked pictures of To Terra’s anime series that a friend showed me. Reading reviews about Jyu-Oh-Sei, people often sad that the atmosphere was pretty close to Takemiya’s To Terra. I finally bought Vertical’s translation of To Terra. It took me years to finish it. Really. I enjoyed the first book with Jomi discovering his Myu nature, but in middle of Book 2, there were those new Myu characters that I didn’t really enjoyed. I loved Takemiya’s art and some panels (that you show in your article😀 ) but I was struggling with the story itsel. I read Book 3 very hardly at the time. I wasn’t really into it. I would like to read it again, but I have to wait for my friend to give them back to me. He’s struggling as well, for the second part of the story xD. I hope so because Book 3 is signed by Takemiya (I got this opportunity when she was invited in Centre Pompidou ^^ yeah!! And she is not very famous here since there is STILL no translation of her works).

    Then, I became a huge fan of Moto Hagio’s works. It was by the same time, I discovered her works when she (too) was invited at Pompidou. I loved the art and finally, I bought some of her works in English and in Chinese. Star Red was written at the same time as To Terra, and the two series share some common thema. There is this fear of ESP people from people who don’t. It really did make me think of To Terra. I would like to read these two works again one day. The birth controlled was also there in Star Red, although people really were born from a female-male relation, marriage and so on. But birth were sort of regulated too on Mars, girls had to be controlled each month after there first periods. It’s really something we can find in SF manga written by women, this birth thema. In Star Red, it made me feel that women were, even here now in France very “controlled” on their sexuality. They have to go to the gynecologist, but men don’t have this type of “medicalized sexuality care”.

    As I loved Takemiya’s art in To Terra (space….), I also bought Andromeda Stories which was also released by Vertical. This time, the story is written by Mitsuse Ryu and the art was executed by Takemiya. I didn’t really enjoyed it there were, I found, lot of flaws in the story telling, it was sometimes too slow to start, and too fast for other scenes. But I loved the art. Mitsuse seems to be liked by Takemiya and Hagio. Hagio also worked with Mitsuse, drawing the adaptation of Mitsuse’s famous novel One Thousand Billion Nights and One Hundred Billion Days. I read the Chinese version of Moto Hagio’s manga and I didn’t really understand the story xD .

    I’m wondering if Takemiya’s works will be translated into French in the future. The market is very “new series” oriented, following Japan’s trends. It’s hard to get vintage manga when it’s not Tezuka’s works (Sanpei Shirato and Ishinomori Shotaro didn’t sell well). Last year, Glénat translated an anthology including several famous Hagio’s short stories. It also didn’t sell well and the publisher said there were not going to translate vintage shôjo again😦 . If there is almost no chance for Hagio I think there is none for Takemiya too. And not thinking of Yamagishi Ryoko who’s drawing is very peculiar and “unshôjoish” to quote Matt Thorn (and I pretty agree with him espescially for the art of Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi that I’m reading). I don’t know about the American market of manga. Vertical didn’t continue exploring Takemiya and there has been no Hagio works since The Heart Of Thomas.

    Waiting for your next article about Book 3!!!

    • I just got Book Three in the post today (my original copy appears to be lost forever) so hopefully I’ll get a chance to read it and post my thoughts soon! But I agree with your thoughts on the new Myu characters and things in Book Two. I feel like the story isn’t as together as it could have been, but I mostly chalk that up to the fact that this was supposed to be just a one-shot with the first story of Jomi learning of his Myu self. So clumsy things like the extra Myu characters feel like a way of padding out the story for serialization. But wow! Even if you don’t love the story, get that book back from your friend! I can’t believe you got the chance to get a book signed by Takemiya!

      I think the ESP/different ability theme is pretty common in SF because it’s an easy way to explore actual differences between groups of people and how they handle them. I liked the set up in To Terra since the Myu as they are actually *need* the humans to make more Myu; they don’t give birth to children until Jomi comes along and changes all that. I’ll have to read Star Red, it sounds like a nice companion to To Terra. Controlling women and their sexuality is sadly still too topical, in France and over here in North America. Women having ownership of their own bodies and agency of their own threatens a power structure where straight, white men lord over everyone else, so I don’t think people who benefit from that power structure will stop trying to control women any time soon.

      I think it’s harder and harder, though, to get older series like this published in translation. Unless the publisher is guaranteed to make their investment back (like with Tezuka titles), they’re not going to risk it because older series are also a lot more work to put out if only because there are no digital files and working with the original pages can be quite a challenge. I really wish that more readers were open to older stuff, but the manga market is a young one and younger readers tend to prefer stuff that looks familiar, more in line with other manga they’ve read. Drawn & Quarterly seem to be having success with their Mizuki and Tatsumi titles, but I think part of that is the way they are very deliberately positioning their work as adult and not on the same shelf as the kind of manga that tends to get published in North America. But shojo is a super hard sell, and vintage shojo is an even harder sell. Which totally sucks, of course.

  2. And… Oh, you’re German!!! Unfortunately, my German is very bad😦 . You can read swedish too!! OMG: French, English, Japanese, German, Swedish. I’m impressed! No latine language as Italian or Spanish? I’ve never learnt Italian but I did buy a set of Okano Reiko’s The Calling only because I love the art, and also because it’s still easier for me than Japanese (thank you alphabet xD thank you!!!). It wasn’t hard to understand ^^ so it’s true that Italian and French are close!

    • I am German, but don’t worry! My German is also very bad. I’ve neglected it for my Japanese. But no Latin languages like Italian. I always think about studying one, but I don’t really have any connection with one (friends, living in a country where the language is spoken, etc.) and I usually learn languages when I have that kind of motivation and know that I can actually use it.

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