This series is a lot like dynamite - it's not much to look at at first, but stick a fire under it and it packs a whole lot of punch! Although brilliantly plotted overall, Toward the Terra makes the single mistake of taking too long to build up, risking losing a lot of potential fans and probably making it 2007's most un-talked about phenomenon. Anyone considering this anime should persevere until at least the seventh episode in order to get a feel for the series' real potential. The wait is more than worth it since the show veers so much from its initial middle-of-the-road promise to deliver a truly ingenious product.
It can be viewed as an argument between two sides; one is purely rational in a utilitarian sense, claiming that because humans destroyed their environment, they should not be allowed to run themselves ever again. The other is about what is right - no, what feels right - and questions whether suppressing all our potential just for the sake of eliminating our weaknesses can really result in a good life. Shockingly, the humans adopt the rational argument while the alien Mu stir things up with messy concepts like justice and emotions.
Springing from an award-winning 70s manga, this powerful tale comes with an added classic flavour. It employs traditional sci-fi elements to great effect and makes psychic powers and the like believable, as well as using an almost Star Trek level of geeky terminology (Mu, psion shield, Ataraxia etc). It does so by anchoring extravagant ideas with grave plot elements. Not to mention the many symbolic references made to non-Japanese literature and mythology such as Peter Pan, Moby Dick, and Shangri La, in order to enrich and maybe universalise its message.
However, the real achievement of this show is that, despite the out of this world setting, there is always a concrete sense of peril. Moments of joy are often punctured by horrendous tragedies. Indeed, the Mu are powerful individuals, but it doesn't change the fact that they're outnumbered and face an amoral enemy who looks no further for validation of an action than what gets the most effective results. These tragic events are so moving because the individuals we come to know and love are suffering for nothing more controversial than the basic right to live. Our intuition tells us the Mu's suffering is unfair but weirdly enough our intellect also comes to understand the other side of the argument. Thus, the series initiates a conflict within the viewer as well. The story essentially taps into historical events like the Holocaust, presenting us not just with the extinction of a people, but the extinction of the very meaning for living.
With detailed backgrounds and pleasant-looking character designs without bizarre features or expressions, Toward the Terra is a very good-looking anime. Although movement is not as smooth as it could be, it is fully realistic; and the unrealistic Mu powers, often presented in the form of coloured auras and beams of light, are as fun to watch as fireworks. In essence, Toward the Terra is colourful without being garish and imaginative without being whimsical.
Catchy and emotional, both of the excellent opening themes (UVERworld's Endscape and Hitomi Takahashi's Jet Boy Jet Girl) set the epic tone well whilst the end themes match the sad mood of most of the episodes. In between, you have some spine-tingling instrumental and choral pieces; my favourite is the choral track used for all the battle sequences as well as the previews. Overall, the entire soundtrack is worth the several pounds I will most certainly pay for it.
As for the voice actors, they are all suitable and perform very well; however, Keith's stands head and shoulders above the rest as he draws sympathy from the viewer despite having a dispassionate tone.
What is admirable about Toward the Terra is that despite being a plot-driven epic, it never loses sight of the significant number of characters it has on offer and uses every opportunity to explore them in more depth. Furthermore, because the series spans generations, there is a real sense of dynamism as different characters take salience at different points in the plot; each one gets their turn to be seen in their element.
Toward the Terra's biggest asset by far has to be its central antagonist, Keith Anyan; in fact, he is so important to the story that it doesn't actually kick in until he makes his entrance. While most anime focus disproportionately on their protagonists, Keith Anyan gets the lion's share of Toward the Terra's screen time, and the depth to which he develops makes for a more emotionally engaging perspective on the conflict. For one, sympathising with Keith is easy as he possesses an impressive combination of qualities; he is courageous, strong, a great leader, intelligent, charismatic, and physically attractive. Ironically, however, his perfection is out of sync with the humans he is supposed to lead, and this disconnection means that he churns inside with very human confusion.
On the other hand, Jomy Marquis Shin, the protagonist, is an unassuming hero with an unenviable task. Toward the Terra's initial weakness is largely due to the fact that Jomy starts off rather mediocre; small-minded, whiny, and wholly uninteresting, his part seemingly leads nowhere. Ten episodes later and he has transformed into a completely different person with a new mature quality to his voice and a deeper wisdom; Jomy becomes an impressive leader who burdens himself before others and unselfishly tries to consider what is best for both sides. He ends up not just shouldering the needs of his people but also their hearts.
As well as the main characters, the Mu are an interesting race to observe; although powerful, their naivety means they sometimes express themselves in petty ways. The conflict between the old generation Mu who cannot escape the shadow of the genocide they survived, and the new generation Mu who don't believe finding this mythical Terra is all it's cracked up to be, is a poignant addition to the myriad of relationships on offer. Amongst the Mu, their former leader, Soldier Blue, proves to be the most fascinating; his part is not just heroic in a classic sense, but also touchingly dignified.
Toward the Terra is simply about elegant, exciting storytelling - even the few forgettable episodes at the beginning, in retrospect, serve the important purpose of effectively setting the scene. Still, it is during the middle section that Toward the Terra begins to set itself apart as an epic journey full of emotional twists and turns. Most importantly, the conclusions found here are of the kind which I find myself mulling over long after the series has finished.
Centuries ago, humanity carelessly ravaged the Earth’s environment, forcing them to leave and form a colony elsewhere. To prevent the same mistakes from happening again, they allow a supercomputer to run their lives. Children are genetically engineered and at the age of fourteen take ‘adulthood exams’, a process whereby the supercomputer ensures they are suitable for membership in this perfect society. Those who pass have their memories erased and are guided into the next stage of their life; those who fail are immediately destroyed. Jomy is a boy about to take his adulthood exams, but things go terribly wrong when a man wreathed in light interrupts the process. He is a Mu -- an aberration, a new generation of human with extraordinary powers usually detected and eliminated by the supercomputer. This man tells Jomy he too is a Mu and introduces him to the Mu society. They are a rebel group in hiding from the oppressive human regime, who live in the hope that they will find a life of peace on Earth some day. Can Jomy leave behind all that he has known, come to terms with his awakening powers, and help the Mu return to their beloved Terra?
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