In a far-flung future, Earth has become a scorched, near uninhabitable body in space due to mankind’s innate tendency toward violence. And from the ashes of this apocalyptic scenario, those remaining develop and implement the SD protocol (Superior Dominance), which is a system that requires humanity to expand out into the farthest reaches of space, and with its invitro-borne young to be emotionally, mentally maintained via an all-omnipotent computer designed to weed out any notions it deems undesirable towards an improved, utopian future. And yet amidst this clinically monitored civilization, a race of humanoid psyonics has arisen, known as the Mu. Instantly deemed a danger to the system, the powerful, and yet physically fragile Mu have long been attempting to return home to the world they call Terra.
Led by the ailing, yet potent psychic, Soldier Blue, the Mu have at long last found the individual whom they could pit their greatest hopes on. A seemingly average boy named Jomy Marcus Shin, who’s required education is near an end. On the day he is set to be graduated to adulthood, and separated by his appointed mother and father, he is soon questioned for discussing a series of bizarre dreams. Declared a latent enemy of society, he is soon rescued and taken in by the Mu who claim him to be a most powerful member of their kind. In denial of this revelation, it isn’t long before Jomy is plunged deep into the conflict, as the future of Earth’s inheritance hangs in the balance.
After the previous natsukashii gush-fests I’ve been occasionally littering upon these pages, it felt justifiable to dip back into the time well to perhaps dig up some views on another noted title from days long past. And perhaps it is best to be up front by stating that even after years of having this film in my collection since the VHS era, the 1980 adaptation of Keiko Takemiya‘s science fantasy epic is much less a successful adaptation, and more a Cliff’s Notes trip caught in afternoon gridlock. A project headed by live action television veteran, Hideo Onchi, the film ultimately succumbs to the classic problem of continuously biting off more than it can possibly chew, leaving viewers in a space better reserved for clips shows -which is only made worse by inconsistent pacing, and clearly on-the-fly, wooden scripting.
The first of the film’s many problems comes right at the offset, when it attempts to compress what is clearly a huge character arc within the opening thirty minutes. By the manner in which the story unfolds, the movie seems to believe that Jomy’s life must be narrated to us rather backhandedly than told in any comprehesibly visual manner.
To illustrate: The story opens with Jomy Marcus Shin as something of a coddled member of what is SD’s ideal society, a system that has worked so well up until the moment we join in. And he is portrayed as something of a flighty, insensitive brat who not only openly shares about a series of strange dreams, only to be deemed a subversive by the planet’s main computer, and trailed by an army of Esper Interrogators(agents tasked with the specific duty of sniffing out and terminating Mu upon detection.), but often pushes people around willy-nilly, and starts fistfights with friends over virtually nothing. In half the time it took me to type this, we are told that this is the case rather than treated as witness to it. The revelation that Jomy is experiencing an awakening of latent Mu genes is virtually glossed over in the most rushed fashion imaginable, and therefore offers little in the way of drama, let alone economical storytelling.
Peculiar since animation is specifically geared toward illustrating action, and granting the viewer a means to explore worlds our characters reside in. And given the very idea of attempting to create a film version of such a rich, layered world featuring several generations of characters, the very idea that we are to accept the Jomy character’s journey from spoiled child of controlled world, Ataraxia to the Mu’s heir to leadership. There’s simply no means for us to even clock the story’s central character, and this is a trend that continues throughout the film, going from introducing a story beat, only to conclude it within five minutes of establishing it. Sometimes, even a few seconds. Upon the moment Jomy decides to shoulder the mantle of Soldier Blue, as he attempts to lead the Mu toward the home planet they had long been exiled from, nothing is earned, and everything feels perfunctory. For this main character to go from jerky ne’er do well to destined savior within merely thirty minutes is not only slapdash, but jarring.
And this continues for the remainder of the running time as we are introduced to a bevy of characters meant to create a tapestry exposing how complex Terra e’s central conflict is. From Jomy’s introduction, to near non-existent courtship with the powerful empath, Carina, to the story’s counter lead in test-tube humanoid, Keith Anyan’s quest to understand the system’s inability to weed out the Mu gene at the source comes at far too rapid-fire a pace for anything to have any significant impact. It’s the movie equivalent of an outline for making a movie.
We are merely told what is happening, rather than experience it. And this methodology only serves to undercut the original manga’s star-spanning, epic quality, making it something of a failed blueprint of a better film. Even as it attempts to fill in the gaps by making it clear how not black and white the conflict truly is, the pacing is often all over the map. And for a story that is on the scale level of Frank Herbert’s Dune, or even The Lord Of The Rings, there is never a single audience identification figure to be had to help the viewer ground themselves. While not all films should rely on this narrative crutch (even I agree it can be one), this is one story that could truly use one. Even as Jomy’s role takes on more mythic levels with the birth and subsequent rise of his aggressively charged son, Tony, things never really engage on any kind of emotional level. Stuff just happens, and that’s a serious problem.
Toward The Terra’s reputation amongst the world manga & anime has remained something of a timeless favorite by many, and even this film has been regarded by many to be something of an understated classic. However, this film can only truly be seen as something of a curio piece of a most interesting period in theatrical anime productions. Being that this was initially released in 1980, this is dead center of a most transitional time in the medium, as Tomino’s Gundam had helped rewrite the books in regards to animated science fiction storytelling, and yet was still a few years from a burgeoning era of anime children-turned-creators. Released amidst the real heyday of feature films based on the works of Leiji Matsumoto, Terra e had all the potential to at the very least compose a dreamlike encapsulation of the Japanese equivalent of SLAN, with an ambitious production backing it. But alas, the film seems to be a victim of incessant corner-cutting, and can only serve as another reminder of the once ambitious scope of a medium, often obsessed with reaching far beyond the confines of the familiar, with a sensitivity toward the simple and relatable. Conversely, a TV update of the series aired in 2007. And while I’ll admit to not having seen it, I still believe there’s a means to someday tell this tale with the breadth, and sensitivity it deserves. And for now, Vertical has released the original 3 volume manga for those looking to rediscover this tale that could very well give X-Men a run for its money. There is a wealth of relevance and emotion within these pages, something the film rarely has the momentum to generate.
Long and short, with Takemiya’s reputation as being perhaps the most instrumental name in the evolution of manga into worlds of shoujo, and BL, her work deserves a much grander stage.
(Oh. And is it just me? Or does the SD insignia make a dead ringer for Scooby-Doo’s collar tag?)