Make no mistake: The first volume of this series was one of the funniest things I’ve read all year! It’s a special thing to see creators run through the tropes inspired by “Aliens” and countless other sci-fi works without the slightest bit of self-awareness and utterly convinced that what they’re doing is special and worth our attention. Yet the special-ness of that first volume is diminished here as writer Yu Sasuga and artist Ken-Ichi Tachibana have stepped up their game (or had it lifted up by the strong hand of editorial guidance) to the point where the execution of their humans enhanced with insectoid traits versus evolved humanoid cockroaches concept has reached basic competence. As a result, what we get in this volume isn’t nearly as funny as what the first one had to offer.
It’s twenty years after the events of the first volume and one of its survivors, Shokichi Komachi, is recruiting for a new mission to Mars that will not only take the fight to the humanoid cockroaches known as Terra Formars, but hopefully find a cure for a mysterious extraterrestrial pathogen that has found its way to Earth. First on their list is Akari Hizamaru, who is fighting deathmatches in Thailand against bears to save the life of his childhood friend who has come down with the disease. Working in his favor is the fact that he’s somehow acquired the ability to take on the insectoid traits that the crew of Shokichi’s mission had with no particular explanation for it. Then there are also Marcos and Alex, two goofball illegal immigrants from Gran Mexico who manage to get onboard with the mission because a childhood friend of theirs is also part of things. Toss in some Russian crew members and it’s like the 80’s never ended for this series.
The thing with this volume is that there were a few things I actually liked about it, or at least didn’t think that were completely moronic. Shokichi, twenty years on, has actually grown into a pretty likeable individual capable of good humor and inspiring those around him while not letting go of the tragedy that has defined his character. Akari’s development in this volume is predictable, yet still does a decent job of setting him up as the ostensible protagonist from here on out. The fight the he actually fights a goddamn bear to the death is offset by the friendship he strikes up with a kid in the U-NASA hospital who is likely only present to tragically die at some point and provide crucial motivation for his journey. Marcos and Alex are the lunkheaded comic relief characters who will no doubt be motivated by the swift and brutal death of their childhood friend Sheila in the very near future. Meanwhile, Michelle Davis -- one of the officers on the new mission -- seems to provide a response to my request for an Ellen Ripley-esque female character with some badass credentials who wasn’t a childhood friend of a male character in this title.
None of this is anything special, but the air of general competence makes for a less entertaining reading experience. As the series is no longer charging through the tropes of its genre with blinding self-unawareness the results aren’t nearly as funny. Moreover, the story being told is incredibly bland, familiar, and predictable at this point. Even if we were being thrown headlong into another cliche or trope, the events of the previous volume at least kept you on your toes. If the creators are dialing things back here in order to surprise us with fresh carnage in the next installment, then I can understand that. I can see several of the characters that are introduced here as potential cannon fodder to be brutally killed by the Terra Formars in the next volume after being given names or personality traits like “jerkwad” here.
Speaking of the title creatures, they take a backseat in this volume. We only see them as captive examples of their kind here and in the end of the volume as they make their SURPRISE APPEARANCE! I will admit that the nature of their entrance and actions in the final chapter here does give me hope that things will start going off the rails in a fashion that is similarly entertaining to what I have seen before. Given what I’ve read here, there exists significant concern that their actions may wind up trending towards a more conventional and boring path.
The fact that I’m rooting for this title to go off the rails should tell you everything you need to know about it. While the first volume hit the right tone of “entertainingly awful” to make it memorable in my mind, this one hovers around the realm of “competent and boring.” They can’t all be “Future Diary,” as that was a title that managed to become awful in new and interesting ways over the course of its run. I’ll continue to read “Terra Formars” as long as it gives out hope that it might yet reach such dizzying heights. As for everyone else, if this sounds like your idea of a good time then you’re welcome to it along with me!