Title: Terra Formars Vol. 1
Story by: Yu Sasuga
Art by: Ken-ichi Tachibana
Original Publisher: Shueisha
English Publisher: Viz
Synopsis: In the 26th century, mankind has made efforts to make Mars a habitable planet. A team dubbed as BUGS 2 is sent to Mars to exterminate the cockroaches who were originally sent to aid the terraforming. Unfortunately for our heroes, their targets have evolved into humanoid cockroaches who possess the violent desire to crush all humans .
It’s easy to dismiss Terra Formars as something that’s just pulpy sci-fi action. It’s silly, weird and sometimes pretty stupid. However, what it lacks in plausibility it makes up for with its ability to stir the reader’s most primal emotions. Yes, Terra Formars is a crazy, bloody and adrenaline pumped action series, but it also deliberately reflects on human nature and the struggle for survival.
Our ‘main characters’ (if you can really call them that) are a downtrodden bunch. These are people too poor to pay off their debts and have resorted to selling their bodies for experimentation. Each one has gone through the ‘bugs procedure’, an operation with a 30% success rate that endows a person with insect-like abilities.
I don’t need fifty pages of lengthy flashbacks and bloated exposition to realize that life wasn’t very kind to the Bugs 2 crew. Yu Sasuga isn’t very nice towards them either. Terra Formars relishes in its cruelty. The writer lovingly lavishes the prominent members of its cast all sorts of misfortune and that’s before they went to Mars. The sum of all their misfortunes is all I really need to feel any semblance of sympathy towards this cast.
On the other side, we have the cockroaches. They don’t speak much and they don’t really have to. They’re a destructive force dedicated to the sole purpose of destroying each and every human that has set foot on Mars. Artist Ken-ichi Tachibana does a remarkable drawing them. Their vacant stares and expressionless faces lend so much to the disturbing nature of these creatures. His attention to detail can be seen in the meticulous way he uses screentones to express the sheen on their sculpted bodies. It’s all very impressive when you think about how much time was spent on drawing each one.
Since I’m already at it, I might as well address the elephant in the room. A lot has been said about the ‘racist’ inclinations of Terra Formars, accusations that are difficult to confirm or deny. Western sensibilities and Japanese sensibilities often don’t match up. I think it’s careless to make uninformed accusations especially when you’re talking about a manga that operates with B-movie logic. No. Really. You’re reading a manga about humanoid cockroaches, I don’t think you should be reading so much into this.
After taking a couple of pages to set up the premise, the manga wastes no time in getting to the good stuff. So much happens in the span of 200 or so pages: Blood! Gore! Plot Twists! Superpower Explanations! Tragic Backstories! Political Machinations! It’s all just too much to take in at breakneck speed.
This volume feels incredibly dense and it can be a slog to read through when things get a bit to wordy. These are minor quips though, small bumps in what is generally a fun and exhilarating page turner. The first volume sets up an engrossing conflict and an appetizing preview of things to come. I’m so ready to revisit our unsettling cockroach adversaries soon.