In memoriam: Manga Week, Pt. 2

Holy crap, earthquake. That’s the first time I’ve felt one in the comfort of my own home. Usually I get to enjoy them from the comfort of the office where, eight stories in the air in a building designed to dissipate kinetic energy slowly, it’s a bit like riding a Six Flags ride made of half a block of concrete, steel and glass. Or on the train, where it feels like the brakes have suddenly ceased to exist. This time, I just sort of felt the apartment shear sideways and groan a bit with stress. I can’t decide which sensation is the most nauseating.

Anyway! Time for more reviewery. Oh, but first, go download and listen to the new Retronauts. It’s boss.

To Terra, Vol. 1
Keiko Takemiya | Infinity | fourteen bucks

Man, I sure do love me some old manga! Drifting Classroom 4 wasn’t the only venerable book released last week; also on sale (and of much greater interest) was the first volume of To Terra, which rolls ’70s-style shoujo comics and ’70s-style sci-fi comics into one nuggety ball of happiness. Happiness for me, I mean. The characters are more about the Angst, of course.

The story is nothing spectacular, your typical ’70s fare. There’s a dire warning about mankind failing to love mother earth, the requisite cold-hearted government that treats its citizens like assembly line products for some nebulous “greater good,” and lots of hand-wringing about persecuted minorities. In this case, the minority group is the Mu, a mutant splinter of humanity gifted with telepathy (a gift which is all too frequently offset by various crippling handicaps). You can pencil in the name of any minority group you want here, really: Jewish, black, female, gay, Rush fan, whatever. Unsurprisingly, humanity hates and fears the Mu, who are systematically murdered when their latent skills awaken. Usually at puberty. This is much to Senator Kelly’s delight, no doubt.

Much like the Hulk, Mu just want to be left alone, so they band together deep underground in a buried starship called Zion and shield themselves telepathically from humanity’s scanners. Their leader is a man named Soldier Blue, who wants to lead the Mu back to the source of human life, Terra. You know, Earth. Apparently the planet that humanity’s government calls Terra isn’t actually the real Earth, and Soldier Blue figures the best place for Mu to find some peace and quiet is to go back to the real Terra, now deserted.

I guess. The story isn’t really clear on this point, and honestly it doesn’t matter, because the story is the least remarkable element of To Terra. Far more compelling is the artwork, a beautiful and delicate pastiche of the Osamu Tezuka/Ribbon Knight template with a flavor uniquely its own. Takemiya’s work alternates between concretely narrative and enigmatically abstract. Standard storytelling sequences frequently branch into swirling full-page explorations of space, time, darkness and the subconscious mind, with fairly minimal use of screentone; instead, Takemiya creates fluid, organic greys with crosshatching and other pen techniques largely abandoned by modern manga.

Of course, it’s a shoujo book, so everyone is impossibly beautiful, bordering on androgynous, with large eyes and lush lashes and lanky frames. But even so, the art takes bold visual risks, pushing beyond the limits of genre to be its own thing. As a result, the book has a distinctly ’70s look but avoids feeling dated; unlike The Drifting Classroom, the art is never stiff, never cramped. Just as with the original Star Wars, the visuals elevate a fairly standard period sci-fi tale — one that would feel perfectly at home in a yellowed paperback with a worn cover and “25¢” penciled in at the top of the title page — into something far more enjoyable. It’s a few dollars more expensive than the usual $10 going rate for manga, but offers a larger format and a higher page count to justify the price. So I guess what I’m saying is buy this now.

12 thoughts on “In memoriam: Manga Week, Pt. 2

  1. Me too. It makes me happy that other people enjoy this stuff. I was afraid all the aisle kids would take over and all we’d get were dog-eared copies of Naruto, Fruits Basket, and Bleach, One Piece if we were lucky.

  2. This caught my eye in Barnes & Noble a couple of days ago, it seemed pretty awesome.

  3. How is the San Francisco Public Library system’s manga collection? You should hit that up!

  4. That was a depressing podcast. No-one seemed to have a good word to say about mascots.

    Still, mad props for mentioning Terranigma (one of my all-time favourites) in Virtual Selection, even though that’s too awesome to ever actually happen.

  5. As you might know, there’s a movie version of “To Terra”. A lot of it’s pretty decent, and it certainly captures the rare shoujou/schi-fi feeling, but man does it drag in the middle. It’d be pretty great with about a half hour chopped out of it.

    Another pretty great manga that just came out is volume 1 of Mushishi. It may not have the old-school pedigree (being originally published in 2000), but it has quite a bit of old-school feel with its relaxing but sometimes unsettling stories of a slightly supernatural world.

  6. Wait. You mention that the story is pretty bleh, but the manga is worth paying a few extra bucks for because it’s so pretty?

    Funny, I never pegged you as a graphics whore.

  7. Like most things in life, I probably cribbed it from a time when it was actually funny.

    It still felt a little out of place for what I usually notice in your reviews and general content, though.

  8. Isn’t the greek letter ‘mu’ used to denote friction in physics?
    Wait a second… Underground buried starship? You mean like on Transformers? OHMIGOD ROBOTS IN DISGUISE! WHERE’S HARRISON FORD?! ROBOTS ARE AFTER ME! I’M GOING CRAZY

  9. Mu is also the name of a mythical continent that’s supposed to be located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. It actually gets quite a bit of use in Japanese fiction, as do the super-powered “survivors” of its lost civilization.

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