Review: TERRA FORMARS by Yu Sasuga and Keni-ichi Tachibana

It’s been a while since I read an honest-to-goodness seinen manga. This weekend was a quick comics refresher – I was at a conference all week, and when I wasn’t learning, going to meetings, or eating at Waffle House, I was reading comics. On the stack was the first volume of TERRA FORMARS from Viz Media, and it certainly is a doozy. Please note that doozy status is not necessarily a good thing.

In relative future, Earth is overpopulated and no relief is in sight. Scientists start to look towards Mars as a second home – provided they can melt the frozen CO2 in the soil of the Red Planet to recreate its atmosphere and warm it so that life can be supported. In order to accomplish this, a hardy moss and one of the most resilient insects, the cockroach, is sent to populate the planet. Now in the far-flung future of 500 years later, humans are sent to be exterminators for the population of roaches on the planet – only to find that in 500 years, cockroaches have evolved into bipedal, 6’ tall monsters who are lightning quick and extremely resilient. To fight these creatures, humanity sends humans who have undergone the “BUGS procedure” to gain special bug-themed strengths to fight the humanoid roaches.

This is not the strangest seinen plot I’ve ever seen. Most seinen action comics require quite a bit of belief-suspending. Still, Sasuga stretches the theory of evolution and almost all of the laws of physics well past their breaking point. Sasuga also pushes most of his characters past their breaking points in the sense that of the 15 characters we start the book with, we end up with only two survivors. It turns out that the cockroaches on Mars are exceptionally violent. I’m reminded of GANTZ in a lot of ways – the group of relative strangers, the abnormal battle scenes, and the unique weaponry are set pieces to a relatively dull murderfest.

The art of TERRA FORMARS is remarkable for a few reasons; detailed and sharp, with plenty of computer aided body slices to spice things up. TERRA FORMARS takes no prisoners with its action scenes. Bug-themed humans sting, slice, and inject cockroach-based humanoids in wave after wave, only to end up splattered like a bug in turn.

The other remarkable feature of TERRA FORMARS is its hideously racist caricatures of black people. A quick look at the cockroach humanoids recalls images from the Jim-Crow era South – those wide-mouthed, blank-eyed stares are sharply reminiscent of images of Aunt Jemima and the Savage African that were so prevalent at that time. It is confusing to me that Viz would bring over this title given its racist imagery.

It is important to remember that things can be hurtful without being malicious, and I can see how TERRA FORMARS could be a case in point. Viz has a track record of bringing great comics to the United States. Regardless, I think TERRA FORMARS as a whole is alienating and for me personally, not worth supporting.  

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TERRA FORMARS is published by Shueisha in Japan in the manga anthology Weekly Young Jump, and has published it since 2011. The series is being adapted into an anime and will be released this Fall. You can find more comics from Viz manga here

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