Terra Formars is an action, horror sci-fi piece. The manga began in 2011, written by Sasuga Yuu and drawn by Tachibana Kenichi. In 2014 we got a two episode OVA and a full thirteen episode series, both of which were handled by Liden Films. A studio that’s done nothing I’ve seen, although I know their names because they’re also working on the Berserk sequel that’s scheduled to start airing in July. I’m not sure what to expect so let’s just take a look at Terra Formars, both the prequel OVA & the TV series.
In the OVA, we see the ill-fated Bugs-2 mission to Mars where a group of people with insect-based powers, which they turn on via injections, fight against a swarm of humanoid cockroaches. Why they don’t just use one of the many pesticides that’s proven efficacious against cockroaches instead of mucking about with their DNA, I haven’t the foggiest. In either case, the longer series opens with a young man fighting in cage matches. After fighting a bear, he’s approached by a familiar gent in a suit and a young woman. The two recruit him to join them in a trip to Mars, giving him a variation of the surgery that the Bugs-2 crew had. He survives the procedure and is taken to Mars on a mission to retrieve samples to concoct a vaccine for a disease that’s spread to Earth from there, along with a large number of people from varied countries. They’re under the command of Captain Komachi, one of the only survivors of the OVA. That’s when things go badly. The cockroaches somehow get aboard their spaceship and those members of the crew who survive the attack are forced to separate into six groups, all heading in different directions. Can they survive long enough to reach one another and complete their mission?
As is my usual habit, let’s discuss the problems with the narrative first. The biggest one is that it features a lot of situations where the solution or the problem itself, comes out of nowhere with no valid explanation. Take the opening event. How did these mutant cockroaches break into a sealed spaceship without getting noticed? You’d think they’d have to rupture the hull, creating explosive decompression, or something. The very last fight sequence also has a character use powers that they’ve never displayed before and that there was no indication of them having. Just when they really needed them to get out of a bad situation too, how fortuitous. No, wait, contrived. There’s also a pretty significant issue with exposition. Basically, there are segments, usually during action sequences, where the narrator jumps in to talk about flora or fauna and how the powers of these various people work based on that. It not only disrupts the action sequence but roughly drags you out of any investment you may have had in the scene. The science in this is just terrible too. The worst part is that it doesn’t even work within the series’ own universe. To use an example, there’s a character with the powers of Camponotus Saundersi aka the blast ant. The narration talks about the ant’s ability to self destruct using autothysis and yet, somehow, that translates to this character being able to blow the cockroaches she hits up. These things blow themselves up by rupturing a gland they have for that express purpose how the hell does that translate to being able to blow these cockroaches, which don’t even have that gland, up?
About the only positives that I can give the narrative are that the premise has potential, the idea of people using abilities of insects and other flora and fauna to fight a common threat could have been really interesting, and that it tries to be more than just a mindless action series. I’ll give it credit for that, it clearly is trying. It doesn’t succeed, but there is an effort there.
The characters are a big part of the problem. They try to make the cast compelling and sympathetic but the execution is woefully shallow. Most of the characters we learn anything about have some bland, trite back story where they have a sick loved one or they grew up poor or some such thing. None of which tells us anything about them as a person. About the closest we get to a fleshed out character is Adolf and they spend close to an entire episode showing us flashbacks of his life. We do get flashbacks of a very small number of the other characters, but none that are on that level and most are a lot more shallow than what we get with him. The biggest problem with the characters being so egregiously boring is that there’s no investment in them or what happens to them. We see a lot of characters die after they’ve gotten roughly five minutes of screen time and two lines, if that much. Even the characters who die after we’ve spent a bit more time with them are largely just too bland to care about.
Then we have our villains. I’m not going to talk about how their motivations are weak, even though the only explanation the series gives for them killing humans is that they think we’re vermin. No, the problem here is a lot worse than that. These things aren’t intimidating in the least and a lot of the “tension” in the series revolves around them being this overwhelming, terrifying force. Yet, they look ridiculous, a good fighter in the main crew can slaughter huge numbers of them with ease and they don’t feel fear or pain, which is a huge evolutionary disadvantage. The child friendly version of the brood were more frightening and they got dealt with in an episode. Even the Spaceballs were more intimidating than these guys at least they had a transforming maid robot.
(Actually somewhat intimidating)
The goofy villain design aside, I do generally like the art in this. The characters have interesting looks, at least when you factor in their mutated forms. The backgrounds have some nice detailing. The fight scenes are very gruesome but also are impressive, when the flow isn’t disrupted by the narrator giving us information, some of which is outright wrong. The series also does largely refrain from pointless fan-service scenes. About the closest they come are some scenes where some of the guys in the team will try to peep at one of the women or their eyes will wander, which, in all fairness, is a realistic situation.
The vocal performances in this are passable. They are a bit emotionless and dull but they aren’t bad and they’re about what you’d expect from the writing. Murai Shusei’s music is pretty good.
There really isn’t any. We get a few stated het crushes and some characters who we’re told are married but, aside from that, the relationships really aren’t developed enough for them to get homo-erotic.
So that’s Terra Formars, a mindless action series with delusions of grandeur. While I do give it credit for trying to do something more, in this situation, it might actually hurt it since the execution is shallow and the end result is that the action sequences are interrupted and weakened by narration. It isn’t a bad anime, but it is weak. My final rating for the series and OVA together is going to be a 4/10. Next week it’s Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata.