- The Past Presents the Future:Toward the Terra
Ironically, for a genre largely defined by its forward vision, many recent examples of science fiction anime strive to recreate the past in their retro depictions of the future. Toward the Terra, the 2007 televised series, is one example. Based on Takemiya Keiko's manga (1977-1980), Yamazaki Osamu's adaptation is superficially faithful to its source, right down to the occasional bell bottoms and bouffant perm, but, in emulating the grand space operas of the 1970s and '80s, Yamazaki neglects one of Takemiya's most prevalent influences: the "superman" stories of the American science fiction pulps. By doing so, he ultimately renders the series curiously incomplete, laying signposts that lead to frustrating dead ends throughout. Yamazaki's series, however, is not the first adaptation of this manga. Toward the Terra was more successfully brought to the screen as a feature film in 1980. Animated by Tōei Dōga, the studio behind Space Pirate Captain Harlock, and directed by Onchi Hideo, the film remains a highlight of a prodigious period of science fiction anime. So, do the 2007 series' shortcomings reflect poor handling of the original manga, or has Takemiya's vision of the future itself become a thing of the past?
This future follows the depletion of Earth's natural resources when humans have spread from one solar system to the next, erecting vast metropolises of towering skyscrapers. Raised, spiraling roads encircle slender buildings, each topped with convenient landing pads. At street level, citizens travel on moving conveyer belts. A network of supercomputers, each connected to Grandmother, a central hub housed in a cavernous womb deep below Terra's surface, regulates every aspect of human existence. Children are conceived and born artificially, raised by foster parents, and, at age fourteen, subjected to a mental ("adult") examination to determine their suitability for the adult world. A deviant gene, however, threatens Grandmother's authority. "Mu" are born, look, and act like their human peers and neighbors but gradually develop latent psychic abilities. Fearing their powers, the human government systematically persecutes the Mu, eradicating them upon detection. But for all their perceived differences, the Mu and humans share a common goal: to return to Terra.
This scenario recalls countless similar science fiction futures that predate it. Specifically, the idea of a mutant race of advanced human beings has been explored innumerable times before Toward the Terra (and indeed since). In his essay for the journal Science-Fiction Studies, [End Page 309] Brian Attebery explains: "From the late 1930s through the mid-50s, a remarkable number of science-fiction writers took up the notion that humans will give birth to their own superior replacements."1 Under the watchful eye of editor John W. Campbell Jr., these superman stories proliferated in the pages of Astounding Science Fiction, home of the leading science fiction writers of the era, including Isaac Asimov and E. E. "Doc" Smith, author of the Lensman series (itself adapted into an anime feature in 1984). Campbell was especially fond of stories in which the mutants' superiority took the form of psychic abilities, and he repeatedly encouraged his writers to explore this facet of the superman tale.
The original manga of Toward the Terra has specific similarities with A. E. van Vogt's novel Slan, perhaps the most well known of the Campbell-era superman stories.2 Both feature young mutants on the verge of adulthood and facing persecution. Van Vogt's novel opens with Jommy Cross desperately clutching his mother's hand as they are pursued by government assassins. As he is hurriedly led through thronging crowds, Jommy and his mother converse psychically, each intuitively responding to the other. Eventually separated from his mother, Jommy later learns of her execution and begins to plan for a future in which mutants are no longer hunted. In Toward the Terra, Jomy Marcus Shin, the series' similarly named central protagonist, is a boy on the eve of his fourteenth birthday...