This is review number four hundred and twenty seven. This anime is part of the Fall 2014 lineup, and it’s called Terraformars. Heh, Terror from Mars, I love it. It’s a thirteen episode anime about a bunch of cockroaches killing a bunch of surgically enhanced humans. It’s a really awesome show, so let’s read on.
It is natural selection at its best as it pits the humans against evolved cockroaches from Mars. The third expedition into the red planet carries a hundred soldiers ready for war, but are they fully prepared for what’s waiting for them? You can bet not all one hundred makes it back to Earth.
Taking the Pants Off
Oh boy, this was certainly an interesting anime. I can tell a lot of people won’t like it. Actually, let me just- *check MAL reviews*, and yeah, this anime kinda didn’t work. The story is really all over the place, and the pacing is really fast. Things don’t really settle and you’re either lacking information about a scene or overwhelmed with it in another. For a weekly viewing experience, Terraformars will be off putting. It always feel like you’re always out of the loop and you have no idea where the anime is going. We have a bloated cast too, so the focus shifts from one group to another. The entire thing looks like a mess, but really, the entire thing is brilliant.
Now, don’t get me wrong. People that hated the anime’s story are also kinda right. Anime has its structure and clichés that we’re all fond of. Terraformars took an entirely different approach. You see, the story is told through the characters. The audience isn’t given exposition ahead of time or any foreshadowing unless the characters know about it too. In its truest sense, Terraformars treats its audience as the 101st member of the Annex 1. You’ve been with the soldiers from their rendezvous on Earth up until their journey to Mars. Character background, exposition and the overall story is told in chunks and pieces as the soldiers’ experiences them as well. The closest I’ve seen this kind of storytelling done is probably Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan. It’s not about a neat story but more about the soldiers stuck in the waters fighting for their lives. It’s truly a high concept form of storytelling, and the anime kinda did a sloppy job of it. The anime is operating on some Christopher Nolan level sh*t though, so it isn’t really outright bad. The anime is just really messy.
The first episode is often the most important episode of an anime, because it sets the tone for the rest of the series. This is where the scope and limitation of the anime is established. This is where the audience gets a small taste of the overall experience. Terraformars opened with our main character fighting a bear, and a lot of things are actually established in its first ten minutes. It opens with an announcer in a dark stage, and then you see flashes of unfamiliar faces, and then you see the stage is shown with a cage in it. You see the main character getting ready for a fight, we are given a backstory as to why he is there, and we are introduced to his enemy: a f*cking bear. The bear won their first exchange, eats some parts of the guy, but the guy somehow stood up and beat the living hell out of the bear. As an audience, your first reaction would be confusion and then a bit of clarity as you realize “oh, the guy is going to fight a bear”. Most of you would probably chalk the entire messy presentation on an anime that doesn’t know what it’s doing. You should realize though that the entire sequence is told in a character’s perspective: the guy that fought the bear. Let’s break this sh*t down.
Imagine it. You’re in a cage, shirtless, ready to fight your opponent and the lights are off. The announcer began to address the crowd that’ll watch your fight and you survey the entire place. These are unfamiliar people but they’re all kinda creepy and excited. The visuals also establish a level of discomfort by shoving the camera insanely close to their faces. The fighter is getting anxious, uncomfortable and a little bit scared as well. As he thinks, he remembers why he is there in the first place. He agreed to a fight because the rich folks that created the event promised that they’ll help your childhood friend to get better. As you remember some more, they promised you a donor if you agree to this fight. The announcer introduced you, and you scream at the audience letting out your excitement and anxiousness. The announcer then introduces your opponent: a f*cking bear. This reveal is something the character just learned, and so the audience also just learns of this as a well. The shirtless guy is now in a panic, but he still fights. He loses, but somehow, it’s revealed he has some super powers and it helped him kill the bear. What is that power? The audience doesn’t get to know that. Why? Because the character was unconscious when he killed the bear and so the guy doesn’t know about it too. The anime withheld that information, because the character doesn’t know about it as well. This is the crazy level of storytelling in this anime, and it is the established normalcy. This is the pace established, the action style presented and this is a small taste of what the anime has in store.
This Style Doesn’t Work
As much as I find this incredibly brilliant, I will agree that the scattered POV style of storytelling isn’t really that good. I personally like it, but most people will have a hard time keeping up. The style is also a bit stupid. I can introduce ten characters and make sh*t up about their backstory as I go along. The unique storytelling feels like the show is just making stuff up on the moment and it feels like there really isn’t any end goal. To make matters worse, the large cast makes it hard to really empathize with any character. Since so much is thrown at you, there is barely any time to really learn to like the characters. The story doesn’t look that presentable as well. The pacing is fast, the action is hard to follow, and the uneven amount of exposition is really hard to take in. Since we’re not following one character and a bunch of minor characters, the story explodes all over the place. There is no moment to breathe, feel dread or just ease up a bit, because you’re always getting shoved in one action piece to another. To be honest, the anime really only got good at around the sixth episode where you kinda have a good grasp at the style of the anime. Before that, it’s just a bunch of soldiers running for their lives trying not to get killed by cockroaches. The storytelling isn’t really that audience friendly. In fact, it demands effort from the viewers to fully appreciate what the show is trying to sell.
This anime also kinda killed itself because I keep comparing it to another anime where humans are being killed by a bunch of monsters we don’t fully understand. We don’t know their origin, we don’t know their intent and we don’t know how to really kill them. In a weird sense, it’s really hard not to imagine Eren running away from a Titan whenever you see the cockroaches appear in your screen. In terms of spirit, both shows are really the same. Humans are trying to survive, they get dispatched in a gory manner, they’re always at a disadvantage and there is a big underlying mystery bubbling over the surface. Both shows really only differ in terms of its style of storytelling. Attack on Titan follows Eren and his fellow soldiers. There is a definite main character and the action is also spread apart nicely. There is room for some slow character building moments to help us care when these characters are killed off. I guess the most important part is the existential dread of Attack on Titan, because the Titans don’t kill humans. They eat the humans, and you often see the bastards wriggle in agony while the Titans feast. AoT works mainly because it’s not just action packed, but it’s also really manipulative. It can draw a reaction out of you after a long, well-built amount of tension is released. You aren’t a soldier in Eren’s journey. Instead, you are the audience behind the fourth wall. You don’t exist in this world, but the manipulative elements of the show keeps pulling you in.
But manipulative isn’t always good though. Attack on Titan loves to draw things out and kill the pacing with its flashbacks and backstories. I still remember the first season and I hated how nothing really happened when the group ventured outside the wall. The story didn’t tell you immediately that Levi and the other guys are drawing out a Titan amongst the soldiers. You were just left aimless and confused. See, manipulative. Terraformars style is to the point. Flashbacks and backstories are only long enough to introduce a character, and the action is always going on. The soldiers stranded on Mars don’t have a wall to protect them, so you’re always on high alert. The story has no time to slow down, because the Titans are always ready to kill them. But, I do agree, I would’ve loved Terraformars adapt the manipulative storytelling of AoT instead. It’s easier for the audience to follow, and it functions as a structure to better enjoy the show. The unique storytelling will be the biggest hurdle of this anime, but I do believe it’s a genius and high concept style that just didn’t work out that well.
The War of Vermins
Ok, so what exactly is this show about? The premise is pretty simple. Humans hate cockroaches and we would always try to kill them. I mean, when one of those suckers fly, it’s often every man for themselves. You see, we kill the cockroaches and we don’t question why. But in Terraformars, when Earth tried to colonize Mars, they sent two organisms there first: some mold and cockroaches. The insects evolved into highly muscular aliens that now think humans are the disgusting insect invading their space. Just like how we don’t question killing this insect, they also don’t care about us. They’ll kill us with their awesome muscles and they basically want humans to keep the f*ck away from Mars. Sadly, the humans need to go to Mars because an incurable disease has spread over Earth. The source came from Mars, humans slowly wither away from it, and the only known cure is on Mars. The only way to keep this disease from spreading is for a bunch of humans to travel to Mars, collect some samples of life there, and return to Earth so the scientists can extract the needed stuff to understand and cure the disease. Now, we see cockroaches as vermin and they see us as vermin as well. These two groups will now prove once and for all who the real vermin is between them. This is the basic premise of the anime but, as you can imagine, the entire exposition isn’t just told by one character while the rest listens. The anime preps the audience up as a soldier first, so you only know what the soldiers know. The only thing these bastards know is that they’ll go to Mars and they have to capture a bunch of roaches. That’s it.
I think the scenes after the bear fight is really the biggest weakness of the anime. When the main character is introduced to the rest of the soldiers that are about to undergo some kind of surgery, the anime kinda did a time skip. Instead of learning about the important individuals that’ll affect the story, we suddenly see them board the Annex 1 immediately. We don’t know who the characters, what their surgery is and what kind of training they got. We were introduced to five characters, but we really only know the main character, Akari, up to this point. We then ride the Annex 1 with them, and we see the characters just talking among themselves during their journey. As you can see, the pacing is fast, the exposition is lacking and the entire feel of the anime just feels tilted. You aren’t really sure what it’s trying to accomplish, and you just feel lost. You do know they’ll be fighting roaches, and there is actually a choking tension during the ride. I knew how AoT went down, and I know it’ll be very messy for this show as well. The journey towards Mars feels like a calm before the storm, and the storm actually hits us earlier than expected.
Commencing Plan Delta
The show really kicks off when the Annex 1 lands on Mars, but the group is divided into six smaller groups. We also started with one hundred soldiers and the number is whittled down into a handful. Plan Delta is a backup plan forced to be used by the captain, because their original plan has gone to sh*t. Also, we are introduced to the gore. A lot of people are beheaded, dismembered and there was a cool one where a guy got his head and spine ripped off his body and then the entire thing is used as a sword. The Titans have commenced their attack, and it’s really fascinating how big the gap is between the humans and the roaches. Humans are soft and easy to kill while the roaches are hard bodied and insanely muscular. Armed with clubs, they act like cavemen, primitive creatures that only know they need to crush the insects. As you witness the soldiers dispatched one after the other in horrific manner, well, you are reminded of the bear and the cage fight. Remember that it established the normalcy of the anime. The bear overwhelmingly won the fight, but Akira still ends up killing the bear. While you are thrown into the misery of being the 101st soldier of Annex 1, you soon realize the humans aren’t really at a disadvantage.
When the six groups landed on Mars, we are soon introduced to Bugs 2. I think this is one of the most confusing aspects of the anime, because we are introduced to a backstory that reveals how the soldiers can fight back. This backstory is huge though, involving a small story about the previous expedition on Mars. This is actually the first few chapters of the manga condensed into a confusing flashback. Now, as much as I freely talk about the story until now, I do think the retaliation of the soldiers is the best part of the anime and I want to keep it spoiler free. Basically though, the Bugs 2 expedition from Mars twenty years before Annex 1 heavily impacts the story from this point on. They achieved something in that expedition that now evolved for Annex 1. Let’s just say if the roaches gained the ability to become human-like with awesome muscles and a bipedal body, the humans have a trick up their sleeve as well. With the advancement of technology, Annex 1 soldiers will now f*ck up a lot of roaches in a fight to prove who the true vermin is.
An Introductory Season
While I mentioned the action started when the group landed on Mars, it never really eases up. Since you’re following six groups, the fights are constantly on. The roaches always attack on mass and the soldiers all do their best to fight back. The most interesting about the first season is that every episode introduces a character, an important part of the story or the impending mystery that’ll pour into the second season. The entire first season just lays the groundwork for the rest of the series, including the important characters, the important subplots, and everything else the second season will need. In a sense, you are the 101st soldier slowly being guided back behind the fourth wall to fully understand the scope of the story as an audience now. From the first episode until the last, you’re always being fed information that’ll affect the story. While big things do happen, it still lies within the established normalcy. The feelings you had when that bear was eating Akari and the reaction you had when the bear was killed was still the level of emotion and engagement the other episodes possess. I think the main goal of the first season is to really establish the status quo of the entire story. Since every soldier is just a body count from the start, the important ones are established and the status quo is slowly realized. I just realized the anime didn’t need to have a unique style of storytelling to achieve all this, so the entire first season really felt a bit overcomplicated. But the unique storytelling really had one important purpose, and I think it can only be effectively established in this manner. I’m talking about empathy. This anime needed a lot of it.
From Soldiers to Humans
Going back to the established normalcy, we are introduced to Akari through a flashback with her childhood friend. Without it, he was really just a shirtless dude fighting a bear. The sudden flashback was to inject emotion and give the character more dimensions. Since the Akari in the flashback is a bit of recluse befriended by a girl, this injects some personality to the shirtless dude. To what lengths will the guy in the flashback go to save his childhood friend? These moments of vulnerability really creates a compelling character without halting the story. The action can still go on, but a nameless soldier will soon become a compelling character throughout the exchange. It’s seriously a high form of storytelling, and I don’t really think I’ve seen it done this effectively before. This was a great way to really introduce the large cast without stopping the action. The funny part is that a lot of the characters introduced were literally background character in the journey in Annex 1. If you re-watch it, I think its episode 3, then you’ll see some of the characters introduced later are really just part of the background. Injected with a backstory, they now become an integral part of the story. As the action is told through their POV, you also get to understand the characters more deeply. This is really the strength of the unique storytelling. While it looks messy, the characters are utilized effectively in a short amount of time. Some of them are introduced in just one episode, but their presence is now a big part of the show.
Some of the backstories are a bit hit and miss though. Sheila’s introduction is probably the worst one, because I couldn’t really care for her character. While her backstory is also related to two other characters, her presence is really something I could’ve lived without. She could die, and I really won’t care about her. Another notable miss is the captain’s backstory. He has the same one as Akari’s, but it was a lot more rushed. It felt ham fisted since the backstory happened at the later parts of the show. This is also part of Bugs 2, so maybe it’ll be explored more in the second season. For now, it just really felt out of place.
Despite some of the introductions not landing properly, some of them are really effective though. I am in love with Episode 11 as we are introduced to a “plain character”. He loves running, because he always stops to gaze at his favorite view in the world. When he joined Annex 1, the feeling was very heavy. When he fought the roach that challenged him, I was fully invested because of how beautifully told his backstory is. It’s one episode of just effective POV storytelling from a character that had zero presence up until this point. Gawd, I still get chills remembering it. I guess the best use of the POV storytelling would be in Adolf’s backstory. This German guy is such an a**hole in the beginning, and then he just completely shed that when the story shifts to his perspective. His backstory is insane, his character arc is touching and it’s a shame he never said anything in German. It would’ve been cool to just see him be nuts like that. Adolf is completely one dimensional at the start of the anime, but then you hear a baby cry and you just can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Let’s be real, AoT drags a story to develop a character. Terraformars does it in just one episode without halting its fast pace. It’s pretty masterful, especially since I’ve seen so many original anime waste its episodes on garbage. Meanwhile, here is Terraformars developing tons of characters in just thirteen episodes.
The backstories didn’t just flesh out the characters, but I think it also gave us an idea of the world the characters live in. I love the ambitious world building of this anime, because it’s so expansive. Since the characters are a collection of different nationalities, we get an insight into various walks of life. The stories often share two things: the virus and people in need on money. Throughout the story, we learn that a lot of soldiers are fighting to find the cure because a lot of important people in their lives need it. These are always tragic, but every soldier that has this backstory kinda reacts to their predicament in a different manner, giving you a good idea of how interesting of a character they are. Some of the backstories often involve a war torn country though, or a bunch of people that needs money. There was one story where his parents sold him to the scientists that’ll experiment of him. It’s subtle, because the episode was told from the POV of a drugged up soldier, but it gives you an idea of the world the characters came from. It’s pretty intense how the global climate of this anime changed after a few years of advancing technology.
Aside from soldiers in Mars, the anime also established a subplot in the first season. Sprinkled all over the episodes are conversation between a guy from U-NASA and a bartender. They help give some exposition about Bugs 2, the other previous expeditions, the surgeries and other fun stuff. More importantly, their true role also ties to the bubbling mystery that is setup at the end of the first season. I think a lot of hidden details are in this subplot that helps with the world building. We learn about the individual countries and their agenda going to Mars, and we also learn that it’s not just a war of vermins going down right now. Since the bartender played an important part in previous expeditions, the guy from U-NASA is slowly trying to tell him that something shady is going on and they need to stop it. Something urgent is happening on Earth while Annex 1 is busy on Mars, and all this will be revealed in the next season.
Action Shounen Manga
I mentioned Attack on Titan as being similar to this anime, but I think they just have the same premise. In spirit, both shows are the same. In terms of the actual content though, I think the anime is more like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. It’s more action oriented featuring characters with special moves and cool powers. There is also a lot of gore, so there’s that. Considering the manga currently runs on Shounen Jump, then you can understand what the target demographic wants. It wants a lot of carnage and a lot of awesome stuff to happen.
I did check the manga, and I was a bit surprised the first chapter actually focused on Bugs 2’s expedition. The anime’s story started a few chapters afterwards. The original source is more straightforward as it sets up its established normalcy. Bugs 2 really didn’t know the roaches exist, and they tried to fight with pesticide and heat first expecting they’d be meeting just basic cockroaches. Yeah, they didn’t and the first kill is a gawd damn full panel of a girl’s neck being bent by a roach. The world building is more pronounced here as well as it clearly points out the soldiers of Bugs 2 are expendable people that no one would miss. It’s really weird, but the anime had a lot of stuff that just references the first few chapters of the manga. I think it is structured just like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure where a new character is featured per arc. The manga is currently on its third arc after Annex 1 ends its mission. The manga’s story goes from 15 individuals going to Mars to a full scale war and then a gawd damn invasion afterwards. It’s freaking intense.
Hiroshi Hamasaki and Liden Films
Liden Films used to work on just short anime with less than fifteen minutes of run time. They helped create Miss Monochrome and Wooser’s Hand to Mouth Life. I think their first solo venture is Aiura, and it was an impressive first impression. For them to suddenly feature a Shounen Jump title, it is blowing my mind. Not a lot of studios can get a Shounen Jump title, because Production IG would often toss a bid in. For a small time studio like this to bag it, I’d say that’s one hell of a feat. This anime also had a lot of prominent producers, including Warner Bros, so I guess they really wanted this anime to succeed. Given Liden Films filmography after Terraformars, I think they did succeed. They went from doing anime shorts to producing four or more regular anime in a year. That’s an insane leap from where they started from, and I can only guess they have a strong backer. KyoAni started out like this, since I think they secured a sweet deal adapting the Key VNs. I’d love to know how Liden Films went from a small time studio to an upper mid card talent. I can’t wait to see how they fare after their big leap.
Despite skipping a few chapters, the director was really faithful to the manga. The POV storytelling is intact here, and every abrupt flashback and backstory is actually part of the manga as well. He really did not change anything, and he even went as far as to capture full panels in celebration of the manga. In fact, the entire thing is verbatim from every dialogue to ever panel and angle featured in the manga. Hiroshi Hamasaki co-directed Steins;Gate, so that really tells a lot. He also did a lot of episode directing and animation directing, so the guy really had the experience to bring this action packed and gory manga to life. He has remarkable experience and it shows in this anime. Really, the presentation is flawless and he really brought the original source to life.
Sights and Sound
Since we’re on the topic of the manga, the original source is downright disturbing. It employs horror through the page turn, and you’re often caught off guard at what you’ll see. The scariest part is that the manga has a lighter tone, so the gory bits have more detail in it. Kenichi Tachibana is a very detailed artist, and he puts them in every nook and cranny. The roaches have amazing detail and the outline of their muscles kinda add to the horror since a lot of the panels are full page close ups. The roaches are downright looking at the readers as well, and it is really uncomfortable. Character design is outstanding though. It’s not pointed out as much in the anime, but the show has a lot of nationalities in it. We have Europeans, Asians and Americans all working together. Kenichi Tachibana really went out of his way to capture a European’s facial feature and build to really establish the wide diversity. The same goes for Asians and Americans, and the mix of highly detailed gore with the right kind of racial features really makes his style masterful. Add in the wide age range of the characters and the varying body types, and you have a collection of vastly different characters appearing in one manga. It gets even crazier when the characters fight, since it’s not just the racial features but there’s an added feature to that as well. You can tell Kenichi Tachibana is an ambitious illustrator, and he’s really doing his best to push the limits of his style. The roaches have features of something African though, since they have black curly hair and dark skin, so what the hell Tachibana?
Animation is incredible. I think the gawd damn bear fight is proof of that, but it gets a lot more impressive down the line. As I said before, this is a faithful adaptation, so the spirit of the manga is really featured here prominently. It doesn’t have the page turn, but every small detail Kenichi Tachibana is proud of is captured by the anime. They also made sure the character designs are as close as the manga, so the diverse cast and the amazing added features are really alive and roaring. The action scenes are amazingly presented, and they have the right kind of pacing. Since every panel is adapted, you really get a good idea at how intense Kenichi Tachibana wanted the Annex 1 war to go down. The anime is a lot darker though, so the gory details aren’t as pronounced. Sasuga kept the torso of the Chinese girl in the shower for four panels, but the anime only showed it once. I think that’s the only detail the anime really go in depth, since it’ll look awful if the show is heavily censored. The animation of the roaches is incredible, and I personally love the beheadings. Sasuga would feature a full page for certain kills, and the anime would match that by slowing down the moment and letting the kill sink in. I have my mouth open for a lot of them, and I guess it kinda captures the beauty of the manga page turn. If you don’t know, Junjo Ito employed the page turn in his works as well often making full spread visuals of the monsters giving no option for the reader to hide from the Love Craftian horror. Sasuga does this as well, and the anime tried its best to capture the impact.
I love the soundtrack of this anime. I usually don’t notice it, but they really went all out in this one. The music would really move with a scene. Intense scenes would have an ensemble pumping up the tension while shocking scenes are often devoid of sound. The anime really knows when to intensify a moment and when to let the scene sink in. You can tell this was a monster production, and Liden Films really stepped up for the challenge. Anyways, the anime’s OP is “AMAZING BREAK” by TERRASPEX. It’s a really cool song, and it does feel like an AoT song to me, especially the first few lines of the lyrics. The entire song feels like a mantra for the soldiers as it tells of leaving despair behind and facing the trouble head on. It’s really cool, especially when combined with the OP sequence featuring all the important characters in a cool montage. I love the small touches that reflect the events of the show, and it does get you hyped for the episode itself.
The anime’s ED is “Lightning” by TERRASPEX. This one feels just like the OP as it talks about fighting with no regret. It also has the same style as the OP song, really, but maybe because it’s played by the same band or something. I kinda love how much dread is in the song despite telling you to fight your battles. The ED sequence features a giant CG wasp and the camera just zooming all over its body. The sequence ends with a wide shot showing more wasps as it references how the soldiers are likened to a group of wasps ready to fight the world.
8/10 “It’s a close adaptation of an incredible manga. The presentation might be messy, but the action is unrelenting and the characters are extremely engaging.”
The anime is a bit hard to watch at first, but it does give an incredible pay off if you’re patient with it. While the final episode sets up another season, there is enough action and character development to really keep you busy. There are some obvious flaws, but the show is enjoyable from start to finish. It’s one hell of a ride if you’re willing to go for it. With its high quality animation, amazing character arcs and overly muscular roaches, the anime won’t really disappoint. I highly recommend it.