Toward the Terra Part 1 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Thursday, July 31, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Centuries after Earth is in ruins, humanity is working in the stars to build a civilization that can go back and properly shepherd it back to health.

What They Say
Earth, no longer able to sustain life due to the rapid development of human civilization, was abandoned. Leaving Terra behind, mankind set out in search of new planetary systems to inhabit. With this cause in mind a new unified government was formed and dubbed the Superior Domination.

Now spread across the cosmos, humanity lives in peace, their lives dictated by Superior Domination's computers. Jomy, a young man fast approaching his fourteenth birthday, stands at the brink of his adult life. On the day of his adulthood exam, his mind races with the remnants of dreams that haunt him in the dead of sleep. Mu, a word unheard amongst the denizens of the human systems, plays upon his lips. Abilities previously unknown soon manifest within, and Jomy's race towards adulthood becomes frenzied fleeing from the powers that be and toward the Terra.

The Review!
Audio:
Toward the Terra unfortunately is a series that didn’t merit a dub by Bandai Entertainment and it’s a shame since the show has such fascinating characters. The Japanese language mix is presented in its original stereo form encoded at 224kbps which has some good directionality and placement overall. The show is mostly dialogue driven throughout but the action scenes and the music in the opening and closings make out rather well with some depth and impact when required. There isn’t anything that stands out too strongly but it’s a solid mix that serves the material here well.

Video:
Originally airing throughout 2007, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The visual presentation of this series is somewhat tricky as they’ve gone with a fairly particular style that doesn’t exactly give it a clean and pretty look. The series, especially at the start, has a good bit of noise to it that’s creating a grainy effect. That causes a lot of it to look more alive than it should at times, but it’s really only problematic when it comes to the gradients that are visible in some of the backgrounds. These areas produce a bit more blocking and movement than they should. The series is one that has a good color palette in general and the noise that is inherent in it works well enough so that it’s not too terribly distracting. Aliasing is pretty minimal throughout the show and cross coloration is virtually non-existent.

Packaging:
The Part One edition of Toward the Terra is part of Bandai’s new experiment to see what might work, especially for titles that may be harder to sell. This release contains the same two discs as the single disc editions but the packaging is different. The two keepcases are wrapped in a simple thin cardboard piece which features a shot of Blue reaching out to Jomy across the planetscape. It’s an alright image and one that certainly highlights what kind of character designs are in it, but it feels more cartoonish than it should, especially in comparison to the keepcases themselves. The back of the slipcover has a fair amount of text with the summary of the shows premise and a run down of the eight episodes with titles and the discs features. Toward the Terra marks something new for Bandai Entertainment as it lists some of the technical specs in a better manner with an actual grid of sorts along the bottom. We now at least know what kind of audio tracks are on it and what kind of aspect ratio and whether it’s anamorphic or not. Hopefully these will continue with other releases and take on important bits that we see from other releasing companies.

The individual keepcases have different artwork from the slipcover which look a good bit better than said slipcover. The first volume has a good pairing of Blue and Jomy together set against the purple and black filled starry sky. It’s a relaxed cover that has a bit of that sense of wonder thing going on. The second volume is a lot better however as it pairs Keith and Shiroe together against the dark and creepy image of the Educational satellite. With the military style uniform and their dark designs, it’s one that’s rather appealing and doesn’t seem quite so youth oriented as the other covers have been. The back of the keepcases mirror what was on the slipcover but broken up to their respective volumes. No inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover to be found.

Menu:
The menu layouts for the series are fairly straightforward pieces in that they’re set against a static background of stars. The right side has the navigation strip going down with basic access (but no top level episode access) while the left side has a display layout through which short clips from the show are playing back. All the menus load nice and quickly and they’re fairly easy to read even with the shadowing that’s playing around the text. Unfortunately, and strangely, the disc didn’t read our players’ language presets and defaulted to Japanese language with no subtitles on each volume.

Extras:
Toward the Terra has a couple of really nice original extras to it which are very appreciated. The clean version of the opening sequence for the first four episodes and the “Type 1” opening is included, with each of them on the first and second disc respectively. Also spread across the two discs is a new original video interview with the manga author in which they talk about the manga’s origins, the characters and her views on breaking into the shonen genre at the time that she did. She’s an interesting one to watch since she’s fairly engaging and doesn’t seem to pause quite so often as many other Japanese creative types tend to do.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Keiko Takemiya, Toward the Terra is a twenty-four episodes science fiction series that certainly feels like it’s from a different time. And that’s meant in a good way. The manga originally ran in the late seventies, though there is a new side story series that’s ongoing, and was adapted into a movie in the early 1980’s. Revived once again in 2007, this series takes its time telling the story of humanity searching for the right way to shepherd itself into a strong future.

Toward the Terra was instantly likeable in its layout and setup as it reminded me incredibly of Fantastic Children. While that’s a given with the kind of character designs used and the overall layout of the series, though set in space obviously, it’s also quite familiar with the storytelling method used. The core storyline isn’t revealed quickly or easily, and after the first five episodes or so it shifts to telling a very different story, one that will intersect in interesting ways with the original storyline we were watching. In one of the interviews, Takemiya references Robert Heinlein for the kind of stories she wanted to tell and it’s very apparent here that she’s telling a large scale fascinating story but through very small and human characters.

Taking place several hundred years after humanity has fled to the stars after ruining the Earth, life has taken on a curious feeling. Children aren’t born of their parents anymore and are instead born through science and then given to an approved set of parents to be raised by. When they reach age fourteen, they are then put through the Adult Examination in which they are checked out for everything pertaining to how they will live their adult lives. The interesting side is that the memories of parents are wiped out as are most other memories. The idea behind it is that you want them to feel part of the larger and not so much tied to a particular family line. We’re all in this together is a very basic sense you get from the way people are being raised.

The Adult Examination also has a lesser known meaning to it in that it’s used to determine if someone is a Mu. The Mu are essentially humans who have innate psychic abilities and tend to be more problems than they’re worth, both socially and in the larger sense. When a Mu is discovered, they’re killed off pretty quickly for the sake of humanity at large. Some have escaped however, and they’re being led by a man known only as Soldier Blue, the original Mu discovery. Having been alive for several hundred years now, he’s built up a resistance force of sorts that stays hidden, infiltrates the city to rescue other Mu potentials and discoveries, and work towards their end goal of returning to Earth in order to find a way for all sides to live together peacefully. It’s all very grand and poetically nice, but the world doesn’t always work as they want and therein lies the problems.

The flip side to this story is what takes up most of the second volume as we see the progress of others who don’t fail the Adult Examination. The lead for this arc is a dark and serious young man named Keith who is exceptionally gifted but without a trace of… humanity for the most part. He’s always calm and collected and is able to assess situations well, but he lacks the social component to allow him to really get along with others. What helps him for the first few years he’s at the Education Satellite is that during his first period there, he was involved in a daring rescue with another new arrival named Sam. The pair saved quite a few lives on the station and that earned them some serious recognition, though that only gets them so far. Keith’s star continues to rise, but Sam’s falls off a bit since he doesn’t have the same capacity and understanding of things that Keith does.

Keith’s storyline is fascinating to watch in companion to Jomy’s storyline that started as each of them has a very similar starting point in time. Keith’s story goes forward four years though and elements and events from when Jomy left start to play into things as it progresses. In this way it was quite reminiscent of Fantastic Children because of how it’s layered and that you can see the threads slowly coming together already for the larger plot ahead. Keith is also quite a bit more intriguing to watch in comparison to Jomy simply because he’s self assured and not reliant on emotions and lashing out. With the storyline that’s being presented, his approach is one that feels more like a classic science fiction novel character in many ways.

When it comes to the series visuals, it’s easy to see that some people will get caught up in the character designs and won’t budge from there. They do have a classic feel to them as they’re modeled off the original character designs, but like so many other shows that have come out in recent years, I find that they really come across beautifully in this current style. They’re very different from most other shows airing and they have a certain simplicity and beauty to them that with the modern animation styles feels richer and more vibrant. With the science fiction setting, it feels even better and slicker looking so that it has a very natural and human feel to it, reminiscent of the way I felt a lot of animation looked before the digital age but with a lot more vibrancy to all of it. It’s the closest you can get to “old school” anime now without actually getting it.

In Summary:
Toward the Terra had me pretty early on and managed to keep me the entire ride. The series has plenty of solid roots in classic science fiction, something with which the original manga author talks about in the extras. With a large plot line looming and brought out already, interesting characters, good settings and a really appealing series of character designs, it’s engaging from almost the first frame as you try to adjust to what this world is like. Toward the Terra has so many of the things that I like about anime – and got into anime for – that it’s little surprise that I’m enjoying it as much as I am. This is good stuff, stuff that really should appeal wider but doesn’t with the current majority audience out there these days.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening (Episode 1-4),Clean Opening (Type 1),Interview with Creator Keiko Takemiya (Parts 1 and 2)

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: C+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 34.98
Running time: 200
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Toward the Terra