We haven’t checked out Terra Formars here at AiPT since right around when the third volume came out back in November. I actually decided to hold off on reviewing the series until there were two volumes out, so that there would be a lot more to discuss. As of this week, the fifth volume has just hit stores, so let’s take a look at both that and the fourth trade. Is it good?
Terra Formars Vols. 4 & 5 (Viz Media)
Written By: Yu Sasuga
Drawn By: Ken-ichi Tachibana
Translated By: John Werry
Last time we left the series, the Annex I squads have been all separated from one another when their ship went down. As of now, they are still fighting for their lives against these absurdly strong, humanoid cockroaches. However, it’s going to be a long and difficult battle, especially now that a bunch of these cockroaches have stolen the powers from the BUGS II squad. It’s going to be a long thirty-nine days until help arrives.
Even on Mars, sometimes you just have to stay out of the water.
One of the main reasons for me not reviewing the last volume alone was because I figured there wouldn’t be much going on with the story, judging from the third volume. Turns out I was pretty much right. Four and five here do not have much in terms of story or plot advancement unfortunately. The characters fight cockroaches, some live, and some die. No real advancement into any of the secrets on Mars (maybe one or two things at the very least), no new revelations, no commentary or slow moments. While I don’t expect much plot or development in an action-based series like this, at least give me and the audience something more to chew on.
The most development these two volumes see are in the characters. Well, technically three characters: Michelle K. Davis, Sylvester Asimov (who’s quickly become my favorite male character), and Adolf Reinhardt. We only get a bit more backstory with Michelle at the beginning of the fourth volume that doesn’t necessarily add a lot, but helps clear a bit more of her history up. With Sylvester, we get to see his motivations for taking part in this mission and they also make him rather sympathetic and likeable. Between the combination of his flashbacks of him with his daughter, the speech he delivers, the fact that he can scare the fearless cockroaches, and with just how powerful he is, he really becomes a character you can root for, and you really want to see come out of this alive.
Adolf is different than the others. Next to Shokichi, he’s probably the saddest character in the series. A person who lost both of his parents in a failed Bugs procedure, shunned in life, the woman he ended up marrying and having a kid with is having an affair, and more. With that backstory and then failing to stop the cockroaches that attacked his team, leading to his probable death, his story is probably the hardest and most tragic part of the series to read. The execution of it feels great and of all the characters who have actually died in the manga so far, this is easily the most effective and well-written death. With the level of skill here, it really makes you wish the other characters were nearly as well-written and interesting as Adolf.
Please cockroach, may I have another?
Speaking of the other characters, there’s not much to say about them. We get to meet a few more individuals in the manga and see their powers in action, but we don’t really get to spend that much time with them or get any development with them. We get some character moments here and there, but not much else besides that. The same even extends to some of the bigger characters from the last volumes. For example, Marcos and Alex, who were really big last time, don’t get much development this time around outside of them fighting. I really hope we get some more growth with this cast, since it would be nice to have some more characters that we could latch onto.
The writing is about the same as it was before. The story structure is still following the same formula: Characters run into roaches, get beaten around a bit, get an advantage and start fighting back, roaches figure out a way around that, and so on. The pacing is usually fast, making all the fighting feel quick and intense, but it can really slow down when the book gets very expositional. Like in the previous volumes, the action will slow to a snail’s pace just to explain everyone’s powers, the animal they are based on, and why they are so super awesome. I don’t mind the powers being explained, but there has to be a better way than slowing down the whole story (not all of the fights are like this, but the majority of them are).
Continuing on, the dialogue and exposition is fine when it isn’t slowing down the story. There are some bits of narration though that borderline on being a bit overdramatic, like when it starts quoting Bible verses of the plagues of Egypt to draw a connection between that and the way Adolf fights when he is angry. It sounds a bit a silly and unneeded, since the imagery alone works just fine. There are some odd bits of humor sprinkled throughout the book, but it’s a bit mixed on how effective it is. On a science-fiction level, it is still pretty interesting and neat with how the animal and insect powers work when a human has them and uses them for fighting. I did like the fact that the writer actually seemed to do research into these bugs and animals, with some bonus pages in the volumes that have extra facts and cited sources. The last thing to note is that this volume did buckle down and wasn’t all kill crazy like the previous volumes, since the shock death thing was wearing off…
HEY! No backseat drivers here!
However, it still annoyingly resorts to shock deaths from time to time and it’s honestly getting tiring. The prime example of this was killing off Isabella on Adolf’s team. The manga made it seem like she was being built up to be this big badass and a force to be reckon with. Plus, she seemed to be ranked pretty high (ranked at 13 out of about 100) and her powers were stated to be pretty good. However, she is killed in one single hit by a regular, muscled up roach that doesn’t even have any special powers. It’s incredibly cheap considering everything and robs the series of the chance to have a more prominent or notable female character. Speaking of which, the series is not necessarily all that fair to women at this point. Outside of Michelle, we don’t really have any prominent female characters, a majority of them have to be defended by a guy, and most of the shocking deaths that motivate people involve the female characters. It is a bit unfortunate.
The artwork remains pretty good though. The characters look decent and the designs of the roaches that have their own Bug powers are unique enough. The musculature on the roaches though still look completely ridiculous and make them feel like they stepped out of an early 90’s Image comic at some points. The layouts are put together pretty well and the action is easy to follow because of that. Speaking of which, the action looks incredibly brutal and intense here like usual, really drawing your eyes and making you feel just how nasty the fighting is in it. For what this series is, the artwork is quite capable of being able to deliver all the vicious and gory action you could want.
Is It Good?
Terra Formars Vols. 4 & 5 are basically what you’ve come expect from this series. A lot of brutal and intense action, with some occasional bits of character. There’s not much going on with the story and if you are not into gory action, there’s nothing really here to offer other than that. It’s a series that is not for everyone, but if it does sound like it would be up your alley, definitely give it a look. I don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.
Terra Formars is available from Viz Media. An OVA and anime (which wrapped up in December) are not currently available in North America. Also not releases stateside is currently a strange spin-off manga called Terra For Police, a slapstick comedy that reimagines Michelle as a cop. A live-action film adaption has been announced and is coming in 2016. Also recently announced is that Viz Media has picked up the merchandise rights for North America and is planning on releasing some cool stuff later this year.