First Impressions: Terra Formars


The bugs whacked us, Johnny!

Let's get the obvious thing out of the way first: Terra Formars is not very good "Mars" fiction. The concept of Martian colonization and its myriad possibilities is just about the furthest thing from this show's mind, even three episodes in. But that's hardly a problem, because tough badasses have insect powers and use them to beat up cockroach versions of the Hulk.

Which is good enough for me.

Speaking of living on Mars, if you want a real cool story that goes much further than Terra Formars, try reading The Martian by Andy Weir. 

Spoiler alert: There are no sentient hyper-evolved cockroach men in The Martian, but there are quite a few harrowing moments that also happen, often involving sudden decompression. 

But enough about (very good) books, let's get to the show we're watching, which is pretty much Attack on Titan.

From the rah-rah "kill 'em all" opening theme to the very slight scowl-and-wink sense of humor, Terra Formars is about the closest anyone's come to making a spiritual sibling to Attack on Titan. Even Knights of Sidonia doesn't come as close, it being a more hopeful show by far than either of its two contemporaries.

Their differences are mainly stylistic. Where Attack on Titan went for a more epic military adventure, Terra Formars is a hyper-masculine fight show gone dark, both figuratively and literally dark (the color palette is practically monochrome). Every character has a unique set of bug-based superpowers activated by a special medicine in combat, such as Captain Komachi's wasp-based powers. 

And where Attack on Titan relied on budget-breaching sequences of high-octane animation, Terra Formars' visual vocabulary is the jump cut, with a minor course in slow-motion. Everywhere there's action, Terra Formars uses sudden, jarring cuts of brief motion followed by the (usually gory) results of combat. It works great at reinforcing the idea that these utter badasses (and many of them are, particularly the authority figures) are completely outmatched by the cockroaches. They may kill a few here and there, but it's simply impossible to believe at this point that there's any chance of the humans winning their war on Mars.

There is, though, an unfortunate side effect of the show's expertise at jump cuts, and it's a tendency to kill off characters like an expert photobomber trying to ruin people's selfies. Virtually anyone besides the three characters in the title card can be killed, seemingly just to make a point about the cockroaches being tough customers.

Speaking of a gory aftermath, there's actually very little of it to see, because Terra Formars uses some of the most awkward, ineffective censorship I've ever seen employed in a broadcast anime. If I didn't know better, I'd say the studio were having a laugh at Japan's antiquated censorship laws. I mean, just look at the screenshot. It hides practically nothing!

But no censor bar can hide the elephant in Terra Formars' room, and that's the inescapable fact that the cockroaches - those horrible, unknowable savage beasts seemingly bent on murdering all the decent people with bug superpowers who just want to find a cure for some weird alien virus - look like super, super racist caricatures of Africans.

It doesn't help that the Terraformars are often shown with the sophistication of (monstrous) cavemen, nor do there seem to be any humans with even remotely the same skin tone (every region BUT Africa seems to get plenty of representation on the Annex 1 mission).

For viewers of a certain cultural background, that kind of portrayal will be impossible to simply ignore, and to be perfectly frank, I don't think it should be ignored, especially not if, as the show goes on, it comes to light that Terra Formars' politics are as repellent as its choice of antagonist. But for now, it seems to simply be a case of boneheaded ignorance rather than malice, so I'm willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt, or at least hope it goes no further than this one sin.

[Terra Formars is streaming on Crunchyroll]

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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures



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