As a collector of all things weird, in my forty-nine years of experience, most of the strangest concepts I’ve bumped up against seem to come straight out of Asia, and most of them I’ve seen in anime. I have to give it to the Japanese; they do think way, way, way outside the box. This anime I’m reviewing is certainly up there in the stranger-than-strange category; in fact it might be the oddest one I’ve ever seen. And I don’t mean odd as a turn-off, no, no, the married concepts of humanoid cockroaches living on Mars and the super-soldiers sent to fight them are a total win-win for me. Attack On Titan was the newest anime that I thought pushed the “originally weird” envelope, but this one here surpasses it!
Okay, first the “normal” of the anime. By the way the series takes place in the 26th century, and like a lot of anime it’s based on a manga (aka Japanese graphic novel/comic book). Sometime in the 21st century mankind decided to terraform Mars as a precursor to colonizing it, they sent specialized algae and cockroaches. It’s never explained, in the anime, anyway, how the cockroaches were supposed help in terraforming, but 500 years later future mankind decided to finally get up close and personal with the red planet. Again, no explanation in the anime why we waited 500 years before seeing how everything was going. This mission was called BUGS-1 . . . and now for the “strange,” when the crew reached Mars they discovered those cockroaches had evolved into a humanoid species that didn’t take kindly to the human’s presence and killed them, or most of them. From the current timeline, which is starting out in the year 2619, that first mission was 42 years ago. Again, no explanation, but despite the crew being killed, somehow back on earth we learned of the existence of these evolved cockroaches, and they were dubbed, ‘terraformars,’ not ‘terraforMERS,’ but ‘terraforMARS.’
Clever naming. I like that.
A mere 20 years ago a second mission dubbed, BUGS-2, was launched with the intent of wiping the species out. Okay, that sounds relatively “normal,” but now we veer again into the “delightfully strange,” to combat these oversized and almost unkillable creatures any humans sent would have to have some kind of “advantage,” and what we came up with was to splice certain insect and spider DNA into the chosen, so they could “physically manifest” certain of these insect and spider attributes into their human form thus making them faster, stronger and able to combat these terraformars. Apparently that still wasn’t good enough, and Bugs-2 never returned either.
Now, we’re all caught up to the present, and the onset of another mission about to be launched. But I almost left out the crucial reason why we’re going back this time. Somehow an alien virus from Mars came back from that first mission. Not sure how, since I was under the impression BUGS-1 never came back, at any rate this virus we’ve called the Alien Engine (A.E. for short) is ravaging mankind. It picked up stream 20-years ago (hmmm, that’s right around the time of BUGS-2), and it’s a death sentence if you contract it, since we don’t have a cure yet. More bad news . . . a cure can’t be cultivated here on earth. We need to get specimens directly from Mars and this is the basis of this third mission, Annex-1.
The beginning few eps are where the anime gets the goriest. In fact the whole series kicks off in the first episode with one of our main characters battling a human flesh eating bear in a cage match setup by the super rich for their sick entertainment. It’s bloody demise at the hands of Akari Hizamaru pretty much tells signals this ain’t gonna be a walk in the Disney park.
What make these “super-soldiers” different than the ones from BUGS-1 and 2 is that now we can not only splice insect and spider DNA into them, but DNA from any living lifeform, and the 100 member team has a few “animalistic” warriors among them this time, mostly from birds, and one who’s been spliced with a poisonous plant that induces hallucinations, a technique that comes in handy in offing one of the roaches. These abilities can’t be simply turned on and off, one has to take a serum that triggers the “transformations.” The crew comes with six officers, these officers transformational abilities are greater than the average crewmember’s, hence why they are officers.
The horror of what they’re up against doesn’t wait until they touchdown on Mars either. Going into orbit they are suddenly attacked by six terraformars that somehow already got on board. When I saw this I instantly smelled a rat, an inside job, and this theory bears out in the final episode when it’s discovered there seems to be “terraformars sympathizers” in their midst, for these traitors gave the roaches a big heads up, not to mention a schematic of the ship and the escape vessels. These traitors are never shown in this season, only coming to light in the final episode, but earlier in the series a character is told to get back to the ship and make sure he gets there before the Russians and the Chinese. Apparently this 100 member crew is made up of all nationalities, but I don’t understand why you would put together a crew that has the potential of turning treasonous upon each other?
Having been given a heads up these roaches hit the supplies first trying to destroy all the serum; they also manage to make a bloody mess of at least a dozen crew members, who are basically just kids. Heads are torn off, limbs are separated from bodies, bodies are gutted, one dude has his head and spinal cord ripped off and the roach used that stiff spinal cord like a sword, decapitating other crew members around him. The gore is a very hard R, in case you’re wondering.
The remaining crew is told to get to their escape ships, all six escape ships launch, crash land on Mars and this is where the rest of the series plays out, with a few scenes back on earth. What I loved about this is how they went about the character development. They used, in some cases extensive, flashbacks to give us fully rounded characters we can care about when they die. Some of these flashbacks show how they ended up going to U-NASA and being part of this mission and getting genetically augmented. And I will say no one is safe. Characters I liked got killed, some early on, some later in the show. One of the most tragic is the couple of episodes focusing on one of the officers, Adolf Reinhard, who was just a supporting character for a while before he was expanded flashbacked to. He escaped with a few crew members, but by the end of that little subplot, he and every one of his immediate crew are eventually killed off.
The series reminded me of Starship Troopers (1997) a little bit. That should give you some sense of what the battles look like, with tons of terraformars bearing down on the various survivors at different points on the planet, since not everyone crashed landed in the same spot. Making matter worse is we see some of these terraformars have been genetically modified with the same tech that modified the crew of Annex-1, another sign an unknown sect of humans have turned traitor at some point in history.
The season ends with the crew still battling for their lives on Mars and with the revelation the rescue ship they assumed would come was never sent. Rescue wouldn’t come for another 40 days, so in the meantime they collected samples (live terraformars) and battled for their lives. A Season Two does exist and I hope Viz Media releases it. There are also two OVAs (Original Video Animation) in existence that clock in around 25-minutes depicting the failed BUGS-2 mission. I’d love to see those too.
Terra Formars: Season One is available only in a DVD/Blu-ray set from U.S. anime company, Viz Media. You can buy it here on Amazon.
Slipcase (front/back) Back Of Case
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.78:1 high definition widescreen—5.1 English DTS-HD master Audio (stereo), 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio (stereo)—English subs only
(Note: You cannot go between audio options by simply pressing Audio on your remote, you must choose them from the Setup on the main menu. Your options looks like this: English, English With English Subtitles, English With Songs And Signs, Japanese With English Subtitles).
Extras included . . .
- Art Gallery (58 photos)
- Clean Opening/Endings (w/optional English & Romaji subs)
- An Interview With Erica Lindbeck (6:05)
- An Interview With Chris Niosi (6:29
- An Interview With Patrick Seitz (10:05)
- An Interview With Viz Media’s Terraformars Team:
- Part 1—Mission Start (13:43)
- Part 2—Spec Op: Localization (14:23)
- Part 3—Mission Complete (9:15)