The first volume of the Terra Formars was enjoyable in my opinion. Maybe there wasn’t much complexity to it, but it was a fun, over-top, sci-fi action manga. The thing about it though, was that the first volume wasn’t like a prologue. It was a self-contained story to a certain degree about the BUGS 2 Mission and how it failed in its trip to Mars. Now, with the next two volumes, we get into the meat and potatoes of this series. Let’s see what we got.
Terra Formars Vol. 2-3 (Viz Media)
Written By: Yu Sasuga
Drawn By: Ken-ichi Tachibana
Translated By: John Werry
Twenty years have passed now since the events of the BUGS 2 mission and things have gone on without much of a problem. Recently though, U-NASA has decided to form another crew for a new mission to Mars, though this time it’s for a new reason. A new disease has started plaguing the Earth and the origins are suggested to be from the red planet. A crew needs to go there to collect samples from the air, soil, etc. since they cannot cultivate it here on Earth. However, those cockroach creatures are still there and they are going to need a lot more people this time around.
As such, for the new mission called Annex 1, they are getting a wide range of people, such as the young man named Akari Hizamaru from Thailand, due to the fact that he was a “child born after the procedure”. In fact, there are a couple of people like that as well, all exhibiting some unique powers. Also coming along for the ride is their captain, Shokichi Komachi, one of the two survivors of the BUGS 2 mission. With a crew of 100 people and with all of their own powers, do they stand a chance?
Well, if they can fight bears, they may have a chance!
It’s very interesting reading both of these volumes back to back and seeing how completely different they are from each other. The second volume is all setup from beginning to end (though it does seem to pick up the pace slightly at the end). It introduces us to our new main cast or at least some of the bigger players in the story now, gives us their backstory, and introduces some mystery. It also presents what has happened to the Earth in twenty years, the need to return to Mars, and how the new mission to Mars is supposed to work. As for the tone, it’s heavy at points for sure, but has a bit of lightheartedness and a sense of humor (it even feels corny in a fun way at points). Due to all of this setup and odd change in tone for the most of the volume, in comparison to the previous ones, this volume feels like it drags at points.
By contrast, the third volume is all action based and a lot of shock & exposition. While it is certainly still setting things up and explaining how all of these powers work, this volume returns us back to the style and tone we saw in the first outing. It’s always intense and shocking, never letting the audience have a chance to breathe before pulling out something new and surprising on them. It can certainly feel exhausting at points and kind of make you want the manga to take a moment to relax and just let everything settle in. Regardless, I feel that if you were put off by the lack of action or excitement in the previous volume, this should definitely give you what you want.
The story here overall is fine for the most part, but it is sort of repeating itself a bit. What I mean by this is that both of these volumes are basically retelling the story of the first volume, but they are stretching it out, expanding in certain areas, and using new characters. We still got the opening that introduces the characters and why they are going to Mars, we have them getting attacked and brutally beaten down by the roaches a bit and pushed to the wall, then we got them retaliating back and gaining some ground, and then the roaches push back and change the whole game yet again. There is definitely enough different here to say this isn’t a complete retread of previous ground, but it does feel a bit too familiar and the manga should pull away from that soon.
Are you taking notes on this people? There will be a quiz.
There are a couple of mysteries brewing throughout the book, like Akari’s past and what Russia’s team is up to. Most of them are introduced in these two volumes and while they are not particularly expanded upon, they do have some potential with them to shake up the story and or add some good background to the situation and characters. There are also some interesting ideas and backstory being displayed with how the Earth currently is or how people are forced to get by. Mind you, this is only in the second volume (and I expect we won’t see much of it outside of that), but does help characterize what the world has become and how different it is from our time.
Then we got the characters for the series and they do fare much better than the first volume, in the sense that we actually got to spend time with them and not every single person was immediately killed off not too long after their introduction. There are five main players in this manga with equal amount of spotlight: Shokichi Komachi, Akari Hizamaru, Michelle K. Davis, Marcos Garcia, and Alex Stewart. Marcos and Alex are buddies who grew up together in rather bad conditions and are friends with Sheila, another member of Annex (who is their motivation), and are a rather lively duo at first (that quickly changes in the third volume). They probably have the most interesting backstory of everyone and have the most onscreen character development, making them very easy to sympathize with. Akari is similar to Shokichi in ways: a kid who has had a tough life and was doing his best for the girl that was his best friend and love interest. After she dies, it changes him and his goals as well, though it encourages him to go to Mars instead. While he has one hell of an introduction, Akari doesn’t feel all that special and feels like a lesser Shokichi at this point.
The characters that do shine the most of the main cast are Shokichi and Michelle. Shokichi is easily the most developed (though it was off-screen due to the time skip) and still remains a very likeable individual. He still is shown to be very caring and capable, but he’s also strict and firm in his new position as a leader. The manga does, unfortunately, retread a defining and shocking moment for him from the first volume when it was really unneeded (it was effective and had some power to it, but really not needed) and didn’t really add anything to his character. Then there is Michelle, probably my favorite character of the series. She starts off as being a secondary character, someone there in the backstory with a strong presence and air of mystery to her. She’s very strict, intelligent, and has a no-nonsense attitude to her and leaves an impression on everyone she meets. However, as the story goes on and we learn more about her, we start to see what makes her tick and how much a beast she is. It adds another layer to her as a character and helps explain her behavior during all of the Annex 1 briefings.
Man, she’s mastered the art of the “evil look”.
As for the supporting cast, there’s not much else to say about them at this point. Some of them are likeable, some of them are just cannon fodder, some of them are just built up to be bigger and then immediately killed, and some don’t get to do much at all during these volumes (they may make an impression like Sylvester Asimov. On one hand, there isn’t anyone’s backstory being revealed after their death and when certain people do die, it does leave an impact. On the other hand, the effect of people being shockingly killed off is starting to wear off and the manga really needs to spend more time on developing its secondary cast.
The writing on these books is good but has some problems. The pacing is varied between the two books; very slow and methodical in one and then very quick and intense in the next. The transition between the two modes is fine and most of the time the pacing is fine, but the fast pace in the third volume is constantly being interrupted and slowed down due to the exposition. Exposition is handled very oddly and causes some trouble in areas. When the characters are just talking to each other or in a briefing, explaining the situation to one another, the exposition is perfectly fine and makes sense considering the story is still in setup mode. However, when there is exposition and info dumping during the fight scenes to explain how the powers work or other things like that, it really messes up the pace and story flow a lot. It bring the story to a crawl at points and takes the excitement out of everything when a cool action bit is interrupted by narration dumping a lot of textbook information on the reader.
Then there is the dialogue and it’s handled just fine in comparison. There is definitely a certain amount of cheesiness and corniness to it in some of the lines about friendship and bonding between people (what is this, Naruto or something?), but it’s not frequent and most of the interactions between the characters feel genuine. The science fiction angle is still handled very well with all of the nifty ideas and concepts it uses, with some rare exceptions that feel like it’s being stretched a bit too far (like is a person’s spine strong enough to behead someone? Does manga follow Mortal Kombat rules?) The story structure feels much better, with less random and out of place scenes like in the first volume and the story flows much better because of it. The only other weakness in the writing comes with the fact that a lot of the characters’ motivation often stems from the same place: trying to protect a girl, doing this mission because they failed to protect a girl, etc. It’s a bit weak.
Shelia used to point out random stars in the sky and call dibs on them.
Then finally there is the artwork for the series and it still remains looking fairly good. The characters still look solid and still have some decent unique designs to them (though there some similar looking faces here and there). The layouts are good, easy to follow and flow very well. The action still looks impressive and intense; incredibly brutal and over the top in a way that is still nasty as heck. There is a lot of good detail in put the characters and the world, helping bring it to life somewhat. The only weaknesses in the artwork is that there is often a lack of a background in areas, leaving just a white void in its wake. The other is that anatomies are highly questionable at points. Sure, I expect the people to look completely different and unusual when they bug out, but the musculature sometimes just doesn’t look right or downright ridiculous.
Terra Formars Vol. 2 & 3 are enjoyable volumes, kicking off the next part of the series. There are definitely problems that plague these volumes in numerous ways, including the fact that the stories are feeling a bit too similar to the first volume. However, the writing and setup here isn’t bad at all and there is still fun to be had if you are looking for a violent action manga. Still worth a look, but only if you enjoyed what you saw in the first volume.
Terra Formars Vol. 2 and Vol. 3 are currently available on Amazon. An OVA (original video animation, think mini-series for those not familiar with the concept) that adapts the first volume has been released. An anime adaption of the rest of the series, including these two volumes, is currently airing in Japan right now (hopefully without any more of those strange censors). Also currently going on is this strange spin-off manga called Terra For Police, a slapstick comedy that reimagines Michelle as a cop, that has yet to be released stateside.