In my humble opinion, Viz Signature is to Viz Media what Vertigo is to DC Comics. The Signature line of books is for more adult and mature stories, far different than what is going on in the regular line. That’s not a slight at all against the regular line, just an observation and noticeable difference in the material.
With Viz Signature, there’s something for everyone with the amazing lineup of titles and genres. You want horror? You got it with The Drifting Classroom. You want action? There’s Black Lagoon. You want sci-fi? You got Pluto. Hell, you want historical drama? Ooku: The Inner Chambers would be right up your alley. There’s something for everyone and I honestly haven’t seen a bad title yet. Now from the Signature line comes Terra Formars, a sci-fi action horror tale involving mutant killer bugs. Is this another hit for the Signature line? Is it good?
Terra Formars Vol. 1 (Viz Media)
Written By: Yu Sasuga
Drawn By: Ken-ichi Tachibana
Translated By: John Werry
At the end of the 26th century (2599 AD), an expedition known as BUGS 2 is heading for Mars. It’s comprised of a very special group of astronauts who underwent some sort of dangerous surgery before taking part in this mission, and they’re going to Mars to destroy cockroaches that are living there because of terraforming. You see, back in the 20th/21st century, scientists started figuring that the human race would be running into trouble with resources, population, and all that jazz on Earth. So, they set their sights on Mars and decided to make it inhabitable for the human race, by sending a combination of moss and cockroaches that would absorb sunlight and purify the atmosphere. It’s questionable science, to be sure, but regardless the plan works and Mars now has a working, livable atmosphere.
Before BUGS 2 went to Mars, there was also BUGS 1, a previous expedition team that went to check out the planet to see how things were. However, something happened and the expedition was lost for some mysterious reason. Thus we have our new group, comprised of many different people from across the globe, to see what happened, clear out any remaining cockroaches that are still left, and other important jobs. Of course, this being a science fiction horror story, things don’t go quite as planned. Especially when they run into… these… things…
Their eyes… they’re so blank!! They are staring into my soul!!!
So yeah, hell breaks loose and it becomes a desperate tale of survival, with plenty of surprises and twists along the way. I was a little bit surprised when I first started reading the manga. I did a bit of research first before I started reading to get a better idea what I was stepping into and what to expect. As such, the very first chapter is rather slow and methodical in its approach. It introduced basic premise and setup for the story, with what the characters were going to do, introduces a bunch of the characters with a bit of backstory to a few of them, allowed us time to take in the full scope of the scenario and see why the mission was important, and all that fun stuff. I honestly kind of figured it would be a more slow going series, with horror popping in from time to time.
Boy, was I completely wrong. The manga starts off slow initially, but quickly changes gears and makes one hell of an impression. This is a very fast-paced, in-your-face with lots of blood and gore kind of manga. It’s the kind of story where you can’t be certain who will live or who will die by the end of it. It doesn’t hold back at all in what it’ll do or put the characters through. I heard some comparisons between this series and Gantz, which I never read, so perhaps that’ll mean something to you.
For those of you who are very interested in this type of story, there’s plenty to like and get into. Going back to the setup and the premise of the story, it’s a very intriguing one. The science angle here is very well done and in the context of this fictional world/universe, you can almost buy into how it works. The whole idea of what the team is originally there to do and what ends up happening is a bit familiar in some ways, but still intriguing and surprising enough to keep you going, especially when the twists kick in as the story goes on (though one of them is rather stupid due to a reason why a character did a certain thing).
And you would be completely right! I have no idea what heck I’m talking about.
So what about our cast of characters? What are they like? Well, the main character for this arc (I hear they change things later for some reason) is Shokichi Komachi, a 22 year old from Japan. He came on this voyage for a big pay day for himself, his best friend and his love interest, Nanao Akita. Shokichi is a decent enough protagonist, likeable despite a shady past (which only lends to his likeability to a certain degree honestly), and there are a lot of good and badass moments from him throughout the volume. You really come to root and sympathize for the guy at points, understanding his emotions and personality. Maybe I could have used a bit more backstory outside of his relationship with Nanao, but we can always learn more as the series progresses.
To be honest, there’s not much I can say about the rest of the cast outside of that, mostly because it all ties into heavy spoilers, like twists and who actually survives this mess. I will say there are your usual sci-fi/horror tropes at play here with the cast. The characters who will die quickly, who are the badasses of the group, that sort of thing. Not everyone gets their backstory revealed or has much character development/characterization due to not being as important as others, but that’s fine. The backstories and characterization we do get is genuinely good and would have been nice to explore a little bit more if some of them lived longer than they did. Though oddly, we sometimes get backstory for certain characters after they die or just a page or two before they die. It’s kind of hard to build attachment or care about someone after they die or die only a few seconds later after learning things about them.
Now, what about the threat our heroes face? Those bugged-eyed monsters you saw an image of above. These creatures are a solid and extremely formidable threat to everyone. They are unusual looking creatures that may be a little creepy, though their expressions make them look like they are bored or unimpressed (except when they smile and then they become nightmarish abominations). Where the danger level comes in with them is the fact that are extremely quick, agile, quick to adapt, very strong, and are rather smart. They don’t screw around and show themselves to be extremely dangerous and deadly, even in their first appearance. The only thing I’m really sketchy on is their abilities. What exactly are their limitations at first? I mean, I get them evolving and adapting (though their evolution and ability to adapt at that rate is questionable), but they seem to fluctuate at points in what they are able to do.
Technically, you are stuffing his face. Big difference.
In general, the writing here is solid with some nitpicks here and there. Besides the rapid pace, the story flows very well and never seems to be going so fast that the audience feels like they are missing something or an important point is glossed over. The dialogue is fine, with one or two cheesy lines. The volume has a sense of self-containment to it. Basically, the entire volume tells nearly a complete story, covering the entire events of the BUGS 2 mission. As such, this could be a good done in one depending on how you look at it. The only bad parts with the writing mechanics are flashback placements at points or some subplots that are just dumped out of nowhere on the audience (I mean you tell me the fifth planet in our solar system was destroyed right out of nowhere and don’t expand on that? Come on! That’s so random and needs an explanation!).
I mentioned at the very beginning of this review that this was a sci-fi action horror story. I’ll get to the action in a little bit, but let’s focus on the other genres for a second. The science fiction angle here is very good like previously discussed, and is explained well enough to where it almost feels like this could work within their universe. Extending into creatures and how the action works, again, you can almost sort of buy into it in its own crazy way. The only time it feels like it is stretching it for the suspension of disbelief is the rate of adaption and some questionable human biology, like towards the beginning where a character’s neck gets snapped or broken in a certain way that they would still be somewhat alive and able to talk after that.
The horror angle works pretty well here. It’s more often of the splatter-rific variety, with how horrifying and disgusting some of the images we see are, which could be a turnoff for people not a fan of that kind of horror. The “scary” also lies with the creatures the crew faces throughout, again due to their threat level and just their appearance. They are relentless, almost unstoppable at points, and just keep on adapting to whatever they do. What’s more terrifying than a foe like that?
I know you are trying to vote me off the island, but it won’t work!
The artwork here is really, really good. Starting from the top, the artist does a great job with designing and drawing the characters. Though some share similar facial structures, everyone is easily identifiable and unique looking from one another, while also carrying a wide range of emotion and expressions on them. The landscape, spaceships, and all the settings are all well-defined and drawn, while the layouts are well done and easy to follow from panel to panel (one or two hiccups though). I also really appreciate the sense of detail and effort put into every page, leading to really good looking images.
Following up on the action part of the story, the artwork really shines here. The action is really well done, with some great layouts and sense of motion in the way the characters move. The amount of detail put into the fight really makes the impact and force put into each punch look really painful and powerful. You really feel like all those blows connected with their targets. Also, I should bring this up again: when I said the comic was in-your-face with all the blood and gore, I honestly mean it. This is one of the goriest mangas I’ve seen in a while and it’s really well detailed and disgusting looking. I mean, the level of violence is a bit on the level of Deadman Wonderland, but it’s more frequent about it. DW will hit you with a particularly nasty scene and step back for a bit, while Terra Formars will just keep hitting you with more and more gore and violence rapidly. This is even more so not a series for people with weak stomachs.
The last thing I should mention with the artwork is the designs of the creatures and the designs of characters when they turn all buggy. It’s generally good stuff, just like with other areas, very well detailed and at points equally disgusting. These designs and creativity with how the characters appear adds more to the action and gives the series is own uniqueness to help it separate itself from other action series out there.
Dude! Stop posing for the camera and look behind you!
Is It Good?
Terra Formars Vol. 1 is a brutal as hell, gore-a-rific, in-your-face violent story and it does it with style. It’s a great start to this new series for the kind of audience who’s really into this kind of tale. It’s got a great lead, is really good at its genres, delivers on some fantastic art and fight scenes, and can leave you on the edge of your seat. It certainly has its problems, but more than makes for it. This is another win for Viz Signature line and a win for all sci-fi action horror fans out there.
Terra Formars Vol. 1 will be available from Viz Media today (July 15), with the second volume scheduled for release on September 16. An OVA (original video animation, think mini-series for those not familiar with the concept) that adapts the first arc, which is this volume, will be released sometime in Japan later this year. A regular series based on what comes next will also be released later this year in Japan as well.