This look at Takemiya Keiko’s 1970s shounen manga To Terra… is inspired by the “Manga Moveable Feast,” an ongoing project dedicated to having a variety of manga-passionate minds discuss a specific title. I owe a lot to To Terra…, and have been wanting to talk about it for a long time, and I believe that this is my best opportunity. I’ve included a synopsis of the story to make for easy reading, but this month’s MMF host, Kate Dacey, has written an incredibly informative introduction to To Terra…, and I really do recommend that you read it, whether it’s before, after, or even during my post.
My very first experience with Takemiya Keiko’s To Terra… came in the form of Frederik Schodt’s book, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Animation. Displaying a single page on the margins of that book as an example of science fiction manga, the image of a young boy moving through what appeared to be a futuristic network of clear tunnels was like a visual shock, telling me that there was more to the anime and manga that I loved than the few shows I had seen. “Toward the Terra,” as its title was originally translated, had me not only wishing to someday see this series but also to look more closely at anime and manga as a whole. and it all came from an image.
That was in 2000, and it wasn’t until 2007 that I finally got to see for myself what To Terra… was all about. After the initial shock of actually seeing To Terra… in the bookstore, I picked up the first volume, consumed it, and finished the saga as the rest of the series came out. As I look at the series again, however, I become more and more aware of its influence on future manga artists, and though I cannot trace the exact path from Takemiya to the creators of today, I want to talk about the connecting threads that are visible to me.
To Terra… takes place in a time when man has polluted the Earth (Terra) almost beyond habitability and has moved into space. Their goal is to slowly re-cultivate the planet over many generations, but in order to ensure that humans do not repeat their past mistakes and let their greed and unchecked emotions overwhelm their need to save Earth, humans have turned to computers to regulate their lives. One tragedy that comes from this “Superior Domination” or “S.D. Era” is the fact that the “Mu,” children with ESP who are able to resist some of the programming that all “normal” humans receive, are perceived as a threat and thus eliminated in order to preserve the integrity of the new society. Through all of this, a 14 year old boy named Jomy Marcus Shin becomes the bridge between the humans and the Mu and eventually a revolutionary, discovering the truths and lies behind Superior Domination and Terra itself.
One of the first aspects of To Terra… that throws people off is the fact that To Terra… is indeed a shounen title, even if Takemiya is more well-known for her work in shoujo. To Terra… was written for boys, and it shows in many ways. It is a science fiction epic full of action and intrigue, spanning a long period of time, skipping years between parts. Jomy himself is portrayed as having a lot of power and potential but also as extremely unrefined in those respects, qualities you see even in today’s shounen protagonists such as Uzumaki Naruto and Sumimura Yoshimori (Kekkaishi). But the shoujo influence is still there, and though I cannot say this with 100% accuracy, I truly do feel that Takemiya’s shoujo experience manifests itself in To Terra… in a way which paves the road for many of the shounen titles which have followed it.
While the most obvious sign of Takemiya’s experience in the genre of “girls comics” may be the expressive art style so indicative of 70s manga for girls, the shoujo influence can be felt much more profoundly in the way that To Terra… makes you very aware of the relationships between characters. This is not meant in the romantic sense, though some of the closeness between the mostly male cast could be interpreted as such, but in the way the characters are portrayed relative to each other. As you read To Terra…, you are constantly aware of the differences in philosophy and overall outlook on life that characters possess, the parallels that exist between them in terms of history and personality, and anything that really makes you notice that To Terra… is a personal story about people existing alongside other people, even if it is steeped in a grand narrative.
The heavy emphasis on relationships was rare then for shounen manga, and it is still somewhat rare today, but you can see great number of titles that, even for the briefest of moments, take a play from the book of To Terra… and have you thinking less about battle and competition and more about the interplay between two individuals, from the early banter between Ichigo and Rukia in Bleach, to the works of authors such as Adachi Mitsuru (Touch!, Cross Game) and Takahashi Rumiko (Ranma 1/2, Inuyasha).
Again, I cannot tell you if any of these creators actually looked directly to Takemiya Keiko for inspiration, but I do believe that the example she set in To Terra… nudged shounen manga along the path that would unite it with many of the facets of shoujo manga and vice versa. Though we think of the fusion of genres in manga as being a relatively recent thing, To Terra… shows that it has been a long process, and personally speaking I believe we are the better for it.