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?
StoryThis 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.AnimationWith 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.SoundCatchy 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.CharactersWhat 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.OverallToward 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.
StoryI've never been a real sci-fi buff, but I always had the general opinion that technology is cool and that the future is definitely going to be awesome. I say "had", because Toward the Terra - presumably on behalf of a particularly resourceful Luddite lobby - stepped up to shatter my utopian illusions and present a vision of the future so utterly drab that I feel entitled to add "sat through ALL 24 episodes of Toward the Terra" to my CV. To its credit, Toward the Terra's particular brand of boredom doesn't result from a lack of things happening. In fact, it exhibits a veritable surfeit, and it's precisely this that caused my attention to consistently wander to more exciting things, such as the fluff between my toes and the pattern of my wallpaper. As a rule, explosions are great, superpowers are thrilling and deaths are moving, but being force-fed spoonful after overflowing spoonful of all three without respite caused my stomach to rupture with the knock-on effect of bruising my "I care about what's happening" gland (located just above the pancreas, if anyone's curious). Further to this excess, the story saturates itself with subplots, which serve no real purpose other than to keep its myriad characters occupied. These unnecessary subplots then cling parasitically to the main story in a way that does nothing to disguise their superfluousness and redundancy. At times, the anime seems almost as though the creators designed it with the express purpose of causing apathy. The Mu, for example, are the good guys of the series, fighting against those evil humans who don't understand them and instead fear them. Well, that's swell, I can always get behind a good underdog story. However, when the Mu suddenly have the power to stop bullets, fly around in space sans spacesuit, spaceship or any of the other generally accepted necessities, and then destroy stuff simply by crashing into it, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to sympathise with their plight. Worse still, the powers aren't explained or enumerated, so any suspense that might be generated by them getting into some intergalactic scrape or another doesn't survive the realisation that they'll probably just produce some new and unprecedented power in order to sail handsomely over the proverbial hurdle. The series causes further irritation with its moralising bent. Now, I understand that mankind is slowly destroying its planet, and the philosophical line of inquiry about our animalistic tendency towards belligerence and our natural intolerance of differences is an interesting one, but I usually prefer to keep my entertainment and my guilt trips separate. To compound the issue further, the guilt-tripping doesn't even come across as subtle or clever, but rather the animated equivalent of a giant hand pointing at you through the screen while a disembodied voice shouts "You! Yes, you! You have broken your planet and you fear and shun those who do not fit into society!" I appreciate the merits of being challenged to think about important issues, but the clumsy rhetoric simply reeks of preachiness.AnimationToward the Terra's animation can be safely categorised as standard. It's certainly not poor, but at no point does it reach the giddy heights of eye-catching or memorable. Aside from the pleasingly impractical Megiddo cannon which makes an appearance in the latter stages, there are no interesting and futuristic designs, which somewhat defeats the point of science fiction. Standard-issue space ships house Start Trek-esque generic bridges, while the space suits used seem to be relics of the Apollo missions. The character designs don't break any molds, but they are sufficiently varied that it is possible to distinguish between the large number of protagonists. Aside from this, however, there are few pluses in the concept or design. Buildings are uninspiring, uniforms are run-of-the-mill and alien landscapes are dull and do nothing to stretch the imagination.SoundToward the Terra has a solid soundtrack. there are a couple of memorable numbers in there, and it works to raise the drama at crucial points.The OPs and EDs are passable without being great, with the exception of the first ED which - perhaps inevitably, given that it samples Pachelbel's Canon in D - is now a favourite of mine.CharactersIt's hard to talk about Toward The Terra's cast of characters, as the word "cast" doesn't adequately convey the sheer number of people and stories that are crammed into the anime. The show expects you to become emotionally invested in as many as thirty characters, which would present a daunting challenge even if they were all interesting. Perhaps I'm just misanthropic, but I can barely name that many people in real life whose trials and tribulations are of substance to me, and I've been around for a fair bit longer than the length of 24 episodes. As a result, when this endless parade of protagonists step forward to get killed or disappear for half of the series or get killed or become irreversibly brain damaged or get killed, it's all I can do to muster sufficient empathy for a quick "Oh. That's a pity. I quite like his/her seiyuu". Indeed, the crushing weight of this bloated array of characters and their attempts to be in some way consequential almost single-handedly suffocates the anime. Whatever marks the series may have gained from the inclusion of the emotionally complex Keith Anyan or the beguilingly crazy Seiki Rei Shiroe vanish when they are buried under an avalanche of pointless personalities vying for the attention that they have done nothing to merit.OverallToward the Terra is a generic sci-fi with numerous failings and an inability to tell a simple story without waving its arms around to distract the viewer with pointless tangents. It has mastered the art of overkill, both in terms of moralising and in terms of generating tragedy, something it does with both the force and subtlety of a Megiddo cannon. With its lack of innovation, failure to develop characters and complete ineptitude when it comes to maintaining a straightforward and coherent plot, Toward the Terra lends itself to a simple, one-word description: forgettable.
Space Operas are a hard genre to direct properly. Too many characters, too many areas, too many events and interactions. Plus, usually the pay back is a lot smaller than just making a generic low budget moeblob or a stereotypical fighting shounen. But in the cases they do them right, I always place them in the higher areas of my anime list. And this is one of these rare cases; close to my all time favourites Legend of Galactic Heroes and Babylon 5, is this one. Not only they did it right but it also it has a high amount of superpowers that makes it feel like a (yup) fighting shounen to be more appealing to males, and soft shounen ai overtones to be appealing to females. It is thus combining a lot of elements in an attempt to be accessible to a broader audience WITHOUT messing up badly as most multi-genre anime do. Of course, I ended up liking it mostly for the space opera portion but I was at the same time not displeased with all rest, a sign of good directing. The basic story has to do with humanity in the far future turning to a bunch of xenophobes, isolating themselves in a fully automated world and destroying anything that differs. One of the elements that the computers make sure to eliminate is a portion of people who are born with different genes that give them superpowers. Categorized as a different species called Mu, the computer is killing them in secrecy but some manage to be saved in time by other Mu, and they aim to find their own society to live in peace. I have watched lots of sci-fi dystopia scenarios and this sure felt special, despite being based on a story written decades ago. It’s a bit like X-Men, a bit like Logan’s Run, but the overall feeling still feels unique. It is definitely not following any of the running done-to-death stereotypes, which counts as a big plus in my book. Do you guys want originality? Look for retro titles, lol. Anyways, the whole thing is quite interesting in its themes, and doesn’t chicken out to show major characters DYING and STAYING DEAD, as well as depicting mass murders in both parties without taking direct sides. The seemingly victimized Mu sometimes act very brutal themselves, thus not any different than the “evil” humans. I am telling you, there aren’t many anime that go so lethal on their characters, especially when they offered a lot of time fleshing them out. The pacing is also fast (compared to the average anime out there) and even does a few time skips to get over the calm periods between major events. This sacrifices smooth transition when it comes to character development but it otherwise helps to keep you on your toes for what will happen next. Oh well, it definitely feels a lot more detailed than the short older version it had in the 80’s so let’s not be too picky. Artwork and animation are very good, especially when it comes to sceneries. This is quite a surprise coming from a production by rather minor studios. The human society and the alien environments are amazing when it comes to details and colouring; makes the whole thing to look like a dark fairytale. The human designs are not bad either, but definitely look generic and simplistic to the point you forget how they look. In fact, this is a major problem I found with the show; I have a big problem to remember their faces after a few years past by, something that didn’t happen with Legend of Galactic Heroes (I am talking about the major ones only). In a similar fashion, despite the focus on the characters, you only end up remembering the events but not the people experiencing them, as if the story is more important than the people who morph it. Although that can be an interesting form of narration as well, it only makes you feel like the whole anime is presented impersonally. Makes it harder to sympathize with the drama if you do not identify with the characters. It’s not a major problem but most viewers tend to prefer interesting characters rather interesting stories, which is exactly what again makes space operas hard to be appreciated by the masses.And speaking of the characters, most are drawn to be handsome. Which is nothing new to most anime but I know many who didn’t like the show because they characters look so pretty they border gay fan service. And yes, it does aim to do that and even has some very subtle gay scenes. It aims at a Josei demographic too so it was expected. But that is all; it never goes overboard with the whole thing so just show a bit of tolerance here. The main young men in the series are not developed too much but are not mediocre yaoi archetypes either. How can you tell this? Simple, they are part of an interesting story. Gaycrap never have a good story. The music part is mostly made up of jpop pieces, which is a big disappointment if you try to view it as a space opera. I was spoiled by Logh to expect classic music and chorus and I got these nicely done but eventually forgettable songs. Oh well, it is also shounen and josei so I can’t have it all. Not bad but not amazing. Voice acting is otherwise fine for the roles everybody had, but because you tend to NOT remember the characters it’s as if any talents in the roster went a bit to waste. Nothing bad here either. I give this anime a rather mediocre score for value and enjoyment. It is definitely memorable for its themes and aesthetics, but on the other hand you will most likely not care to remember any of the characters and the story is not that complicating to deserve a second watch. It would be a lot better if they had managed to make me care about them more. And I don’t mean stronger gay vibes. Other than that, it is a very good blend of multiple genres that can please, even partially, most kinds of viewers.
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