AKA: Terra E…, To Terra…, Toward the Terra (1980)
Year Released: 1980
Distributor: Nozomi Entertainment
Running Time: 115 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: Toward the Terra (2007 TV remake)
For Fans Of: Mobile Suit Gundam, Star Wars, Macross, Galaxy Express 999, Battle for Terra, Now and Then Here and There, Battlestar Galactica, Megazone 23, Gattaca
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Soldier Blue, there’s a song that has your name in the title by the late Canadian First Nations singer Edward Gamblin.
-Toward the Terra was based on a manga series by Keiko Takemiya. She’s also written works such as Andromeda Stories, The Door Into Summer, and The Wind and the Trees. Also, she was on the Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize committee which involved giving the highest prizes in Japan for manga and she has a Medal of Honor from the Japanese government in her name for her work in the manga field.
-Masaru Sato scored this movie and he was a regular contributor to Akira Kurosawa’s movies such as Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Throne of Blood, and The Lower Depths for example.
-The adult version of Tony is voiced by Toryu Furuya. Yes, the same guy you know as Amuro Ray, Tuxedo Mask, and even Dr. Okita from Paprika plays the main character Jomy’s son after the time skip.
-Language Bonus: Ataraxia is Greek for Tranquility. This becomes quite ironic once Jomy discovers how the system really works in that community.
It’s been a long time since I reviewed something from the 80s. Come to think of it, this was a good decade for anime sci-fi. You have multiple old-school Gundam series, Macross, Akira, GoLion/Voltron, GoShogun, Urusei Yatsura, and so much more that went on during that time period. I can see why older anime fans who grew up during that decade had such fondness for that genre. There’s one name that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle when it comes to 80s anime sci-fi, and I think it might be one of the most underrated ones made.
It’s obvious what I’m talking about so let’s jump into Toei’s adaptation of this 70s manga animated at the turn of the new decade.
Toward the Terra takes place over a thousand years in the future. The earth has become a polluted wasteland, so humanity escaped to the stars with various artificial stations. One particular station is called Ataraxia which is dominated by supercomputers. They have a cybernetic dictatorial control over the society by assigning children to be with per-determined families (all babies are born in vitro, by the way), indoctrinate the masses, and to mindwipe children once they turn fourteen to turn into responsible adults to function in this society. One teenage boy named Jomy Marcus Shin turns fourteen and straight up bombs the adulthood test which causes him to be a pariah for his failures. To make matters even more hazardous, he finds out that he’s not a regular human, but carries genes from the Mu race (not to be confused with a similarly named alien race that would be in Rahxephon). The aforementioned Mu race are aliens who look human except they have weaker bodies. In exchange, they have psionic powers to make up for it, but the Mu are victims of an ongoing genocide by the humans lead by the supercomputers Mother and Grandmother respectively. Jomy decides to join the Mu by finding all the others in that ethnic group while finding the planet Terra which was the original home planet for all of them.
I came into this anime blind, but I was pleasantly surprised with how much depth there was to this movie. Jomy was a likable character even if he was a typical teenage brat at first. He slowly develops into a sympathetic figure who eventually becomes able to lead the Mu to safety and to help rescue his people while being unaware of his past. I really wanted to root for him whenever he had to defend his people from the superior dominance system and when he built a community in Naska where they had some peace. Tony was also a standout role when he grows up as a character. He eventually becomes a commanding officer who’s able to take the place of his dad (spoilers avoided), but he becomes quite militant in destroying any oppressing forces. He also has a sense of uniqueness in his life because he was the first person born under natural means in centuries as opposed to the test tube babies that occurred on Ataraxia and other colonies. The main antagonist Keith Anyan was also more complex than I thought. I believed he was going to be a calm, yet brutal genocidal maniac during the first act, but he had some other things that changed that perception. Keith is by the book to a T, but he eventually finds out that his childhood was a lie and starts questioning his existence and his superiors in the superior dominance system even when he kills people.
A major aspect that I really enjoyed in Toward the Terra was the realistic portrayal of oppressed groups with the Mu. They have a natural disadvantage by having weaker bodies and were a peaceful people. It’s revealed that they never did anything to the regular humans, but they are hunted down for very superficial reasons that involves the supercomputers and most human’s inferiority complexes which I wont’ get into too much detail about. I was able to relate to their plight when they were just trying to survive. There was some fridge brilliance in multiple junctures in this film. The community building of Naska before it was razed by the SD forces reminded me of Black Wall Street even if it was unintentional. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then Google that event or read my Hate Crimes In the Heartland review. Another aspect was the comment made in passing by one of the humans where they say “What did the Mu do to us?” which plays off of the Mu’s unfairly victimized nature by the dominant society. One final aspect that was well played involved Tony’s flaw of oppressing the oppressors. He’s told that the humans aren’t the real enemies, but rather the SD system itself. I interpreted that as attacking systemic racism instead of attacking everyone who benefited from it which was a brilliant message and it was fascinating how it played out in the end despite some tragedy happening to some of the characters.
While Toward the Terra has some great writing and characterization, I couldn’t ignore some noticeable shortcomings. For starters, this was made in the 80s and those aspects really show. The animation has aged, the character designs look old-school, and the theme songs were full of 80s cheese in the music and lyrics. Speaking of character designs, the creator was influenced by Shotaro Ishinomori and it really showed with Soldier Blue, Jomy’s mentor when he joins the Mu. He seriously looks like Joe Shimamura/009 from Cyborg 009 with a blue hair dye job and you can’t un-see it. Tony’s adult form almost looks like an Utena character with his silly hairstyle. I did like the character’s personality, but it got distracting at times. I also thought there were some plot holes with the aspects of the Mu. They are humans with ESP powers, but their origin could’ve been explained a bit more. The ending does have interesting writing, but there are some sad parts involved with it which I’ll warn you about.
Toward the Terra was a hidden gem to watch and I’m glad I took a chance by watching this movie. There was so much brilliance whether intentional and unintentional in the plot and worldbuilding with this anime. The depiction of oppression was surprisingly realistic even in a futuristic context and I know those from marginalized groups will definitely understand a lot of those elements. Yes, it is an older film with some elements that didn’t age well like parts of the animation and the character designs so that could turn off newer fans of anime. If you want to see some amazing writing, creative plotting, and storytelling with so much depth despite all of that, then I would certainly recommend giving it a watch.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like intelligent sci-fi stories.
Subtract 1-3 points if you’re not a fan of older animation.
-Brilliant writing and storytelling
-Respectful metaphors about oppressed groups with the Mu
-Aged animation and music
-Some plot holes
-Soldier Blue looking eerily like 009
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: Toward the Terra would be best for teens and up even though some parts push that 13+ rating from Nozomi. There is a huge body count for both the heroes and villains. It doesn’t help that the Mu experience genocide both offscreen and onscreen. One victim of the violence involves a three year old Tony getting stabbed by Keith which is very hard to watch. There’s some brief nudity in a couple of parts of this film. Some disturbing imagery is shown like animals and humans in test tubes or having an arctic wasteland filled with dead bodies.
All photos used under US “Fair Use” laws. Toward the Terra is property of Toei and Nozomi Entertainment. The DVD cover is from Nozomi Entertainment and is property of Nozomi Entertainment and Right Stuf.