There was something chilling about reading To Terra… from Vertical for the first time this weekend. I couldn’t really put my finger on it until I started thinking about how I wanted to write up the series for this month’s MMF. It reminded me of the Holocaust in different skin.
The obvious comparison, is the on-going oppression of the Mu. The Mu are killed when found before or after the Maturity Checks (think eugenics) and any Mu hiding in human society is likely to be killed on the spot as well. There’s no death camps or labor camps for Mu, but they are discriminated against for their telepathic abilities and weaker bodies despite the fact that they are still human. While the Jews didn’t exactly have telepathy, there were plenty of other “qualities” that the Jews “possessed” that made them so reviled by other Europeans.
On top of that, human society uses the Mu as lab rats, much like the infamous Josef Mengele. Much like the Jews, the Mu go into hiding and must use the most desperate measures in order to stay hidden, moving from place to place and hoping they are safe there. My grandmother did the same thing after Kristallnacht, moving from Austria to Hungary and then into the Hungarian countryside when the Nazis came for the Jewish men and took my grandfather away. (He later was freed from Auschwitz-Birkenau by American troops while waiting in line for the gas chambers.) That intense journey to find a safe place to call home reminds me of the Mu in so many ways. Much like the Jews, the Mu have their own resistance and there are even a few humans who are against the Super Domination regime like Seki Ray Shiroe.
Even the human side of things reminds me very much of Nazi Germany and the anti-Semetic attitude of the rest of Europe at the time. All the humans listen blindly to the super computer, Mother, while she dictates every detail of their lives, from the level of the education to whether they get to marry or not. That may not be totally Hitler-like, but it certainly matches certain aspects of the Nazi regime. Educational Station E-1077 isn’t that far from the Hitler Youth, weeding out the elites of society from the inferior chaff, preparing new leaders and also new soldiers. Keith Anyan is the perfect example of this. He’s breed right down to the very last gene to be Mother’s perfect child. The foster parent system on Ataraxia and other planets in To Terra are similar to Nazi eugenics that attempted to promote Aryan dominance through careful marriage choices and create the perfect genetic and mental environment. There are even some hints that Mother is not what she seems or promotes, much like Hitler’s supposed Jewish ancestry.
Of course, the comparison isn’t perfect. There’s no real equivalent to Jomy Marcus Shin, Physis or Soldier Blue as the Jewish resistance was scattered at best and the Jews in hiding certainly did not have one leader. However, if I were to make a comparison on a smaller scale, you could equate them to being like the rabbi of a shtetl, many of whom kept their communities together after being taken to concentration camps. Such people were pillars of their communities no matter what happened to the people and Jomy and Solider Blue are similarly exalted by the Mu.
A quick edit: I forgot to add that the Mu’s spirit and drive to return to Terra is never extinguished, much like the Jewish spirit was never truly trampled no matter what indignities they faced.
Don’t get me wrong, To Terra isn’t about the Nazi regime or the Holocaust, but the similarities struck me so hard when I realized it that I can’t help but wonder if Keiko Takemiya researched the time period as an example for her totalitarian society and it’s victims. All of this is making me so eager to read the third volume and see if this similarity continues.
As for the the quality of the story and the art, both are amazing. Like I said before, I’m kicking myself for not finding volume three a little sooner before the MMF started. Takemiya’s writing kind of smooth in that way that I keep reading without noticing how far I’ve gotten or really noticing the craftsmanship of it. I think that’s the best kind of writing, where you just sit down, finish and go WOAH because you’re suddenly hit with awesome. The art is just what I want out of a scifi story. A lot of scifi manga decide to do something I like to call “detail porn” where every little technical aspect of a device is drawn. I’ve always thought that kind of art was overdone. Instead, Takemiya uses her shojo stylings and some of the aspects of the story to make the background art not just about the machines behind the people, which is great because this manga is very much about the people. Another thing I noticed was the way she differentiated between the soft, ethereal Mu and the somewhat harsher humans. The Mu all have light hair, clear eyes and slightly pointy but delicate features whereas the humans are either sharper or fleshier. I like how the Mu are sort of fairy-like while the humans are very real and kind of pudgy or something.
As for the editorial side, the translation is excellent and I noticed only a few mistakes like not erasing the Japanese text behind the English text. The biggest recurring problem I saw was with word flow that occasionally split out into the art. I kind of come from the school where art is top priority in manga and we’d best not interfere with it.
Overall? I’d recommend it. It’s a masterpiece of a different kind and it’s wonderful to see different kinds of classics released in English.
If you’d like to check out other Manga Moveable Feast entries on To Terra…, please check out Kate Dacey’s roundups at The Manga Critic.