Ni môgo mi kabôh toubabouhou ya djanva Kalaman
If you unmask the betrayal of the whites
Obafôh ko iman civilizé
They will call you uncivilized
Ni môgo mi kabôh toubabouhou ya djanva Kalaman
If you unmask the betrayal of the whites
Obafôh ko iman développé
They will say you are not developed
Travaux forcés n’magninan
I haven’t forgotten the forced labor
Travaux forcés n’magninan
I haven’t forgotten the forced labor
Travaux forcés kôh
Bory Samory by Alpha Blondy, 1984
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Section 1 [YOU ARE HERE]
- Part 0: Introduction
Part 1: The Obvious AKA These Aren’t Black People I Swear
Part 2: Stereotype Emporium AKA Yes, It Does Get Worse!
- Part 3: The Not-so-Obvious AKA Does Chad Shower?
Part 4: Colonialism AKA Exterminate the Black Organism
Part 5: Nationalism AKA Friends Only Exist in Japan
Part 6: Selective Breeding AKA fascism_irl
Part 7: What Is Terra Formars? AKA Steve Biko and Where We Go from Here
Part 8: Conclusion
(CW: Extremely racist imagery and rhetoric, gore, Ben Shapiro, bad writing)
Part 0: Introduction
In the beginning, there was peace. There was nothing. Weebs and weeblets suckled from the nectared bosom of the anime goddess for however long they pleased, binging show after show after show. They cherished their ships, and their waifus, and their headcanons in reckless abandon. Civilization was at its peak. The people held conventions adorned opulent cosplays for the world to regard with envy. Fanart bloomed across the land in abundance. Politics, that dreaded word, that heinous word, was no where to be found.
The world was as it should be.
That is, until one cursed day. A devil arose from the darkness, in the form of an electric mouse. He spoke,
“Behold! For a show released five years ago is racist as fuck!”
And the world fell.
Okay, but seriously though, Terra Formars is just about the worst thing that exists, and I’m about to make us think about it again. Nope, you don’t get a choice in this. Sorry. It’s happening now. We’re doing it. We’re making it happen.
Look, it’s either this or I add another Joker take to the radioactive pile of garbage stinking up the Internet, so shut up, we’re doing this.
A rather unappreciated advantage of the Internet is the ability to step through past discourse. It may take a historian to figure out what the average Pennsylvanian thought of the end of Reconstruction. But armed with Google, the Wayback machine, and a hazmat suit, anyone can wade through Twitter and relive the rousing discourse surrounding the release of… I don’t know, like FLCL Progressive?
Or maybe… good ole Terra Formars. How’d that one turn out?
Terra Formars, is no stranger to thecriticism of anime fans. The show has no idea how to tell a story. The first season is horribly rushed, skipping development and character interaction to get right to what it considers to be the highlights: blood and gore and boobs. Despite its lightning pace, however, these 13 episodes in total take 24 hours of in-show time. A lot of images flash across the screen but nothing much actually happens.
The second season, by contrast, takes things slower. So slowly that everything d r a g s. Apparently, when the writing staff heard the show could take the time to explain its characters more, it took that as “cut to a flashback every five seconds and tell the audience what we really should be showing them instead”. Every scene has such weight and gravitas attached to it, but you don’t care enough about the cast for it to affect you in any way.
It’s these issues, plus the show’s overall lack of a plot that makes sense, that nets the first season the relatively low MAL score of 7.1, and the second season the abysmal rating of 6.83.
Just to put that in perspective, Wataten! An Angel Flew Down to Me is literally just the story of a pedophile in college who grooms her 5th grade sister’s best friend. She bribes the kids with candy and cake so she doesn’t get the fucking police called on her.
7.52 on MAL.
Terra Formars is five years old, out of the limelight, and, aside from the handful of dedicated fans scattered across the net, no one really talks about it anymore?
So why the Treatise?
Because, as was the case with The Rising of the Shield Hero, and as I expect to be the case for many of the shows I end up writing about, anime fans are easy to accept these kinds of mechanical, apolitical criticisms of the anime. If you try, or even hint at, the disgusting and obvious bigotry and propaganda on display from the first scene of the first season to the last, if you bring its disturbing source material out in the open, anime fans band together and defend the show from any kind of criticism.
The result: for the past five years, Terra Formars has just been, like, stinking up the place. It hasn’t received a thorough critique or breakdown since it was converted to an anime. The show exists as part of modern anime canon without so much as an asterisk.
When Kotaku (remember, Kotaku is supposed to be that hyperliberal SJW site that thinks everything is problematic!) reviewed the show in 2014, it had nothing but praise for Terra Formars, writing:
“Straight up, Terra Formars is high-octane entertainment — lots of cool action and captivating plot twists out of nowhere. Right from the start … the manga picks up and doesn’t stop, and it’s a Hell of an entertaining ride.”
This was added as an additional note, after the piece was originally published:
“A friend of mine pointed out to me that they thought the depiction of the humanoid cockroaches in Terra Formars was racist against black people. While this does not lessen my overall impressions of the manga as I don’t feel it’s intentional, it may be worth mentioning for those who feel sensitive.”
And in fact, the later quote encapsulates real discussion around this show. Terra Formars, as a manga, and as an ill-fated anime adaptation (and worse live-action movie), has been flagged by many people, especially people of color, as problematic.
And every time it’s the same, condescending, response. “It’s fine.” “It’s not on purpose.”
“Don’t be so sensitive.”
“Don’t be so sensitive”, coming from white people who don’t have to deal with this shit, who don’t have to deal with the fact that you can count all the lead characters who look like you on one hand, and don’t have to share a fandom where the majority of people neither understand what makes life different for you or care enough about you to have their narrow perceptions of the world challenged.
When I put on my hazmat suit and used the wonderful power of the Internet to journey through time and space back to the release of this show, all I saw were persistent attempts to get dissenters to stay quiet about the parts of this show that really matter. It was “don’t be so sensitive” again and again until today, the largest written source of criticism on this medium is a wordpress blog and someone’s old tweet.
I refuse to let my experiences as a black person, or the experiences of any other minority just trying to watch fucking anime without the medium and its fans secreting toxicity all over our essences, to be reduced to some afterthought.
I am about to shit all over the legacy of this worthless piece of garbage of a story. I am digging up its corpse and defiling its grave. As you’ll soon see, it does not deserve to be forgotten as “some Attack on Titan knock-off with pacing issues”. Terra Formars deserves nothing.
At the end of the day though, it’s more than just calling a thing I don’t like bad. There’s a clear lack of understanding within the anime fandom as to what kinds of ideas its media can propagate, and how those ideas are used and continue to be used to hurt people and prop up injustice around the world.
Part 1: The Obvious AKA These Aren’t Black People I Swear
The premise of Terra Formars is as follows:
Back in the 21st Century, humanity began the process of terraforming Mars as a solution to overpopulation, adding first greenhouse gasses and water, then moss and the first animal species: cockroaches. 500 years later, this process is complete. A rover is sent to inspect the planet and learn if it’s ready to host human life, but the machine is destroyed.
During the 500 years since humanity left Mars to develop, the cockroaches sent there have evolved into humanoid-like creatures, hostile to humanity. Tensions rise between humanity and this new race of creatures called Terra Formars. A manned mission to Mars brings back a deadly and contagious virus that’s keen on eliminating all human life on Earth.
The year is 2600. The UN’s space body, known as UNASA (created largely out of NASA), sends a scientific vessel called the Annex 1 to Mars to procure 100 live samples of the virus to help American scientists develop a cure. The Annex I is the latest in a new wave of Terran missions to Mars, following the failed Bugs I and Bugs II missions.
Each crew, made up mainly of orphaned teens and 20somethings in debt, has had their genes spliced with an insect or some other organism, giving them each a unique ability in combat. Armed with superpowers, they must fight their way through the hostile natives to survive and bring back enough virus samples to save the human race.
Not a bad premise for a gritty sci-fi romp. I mean, okay, some of you can tell that this story is problematic from its very premise. But not anymore problematic than is the case for most sci-fi and fantasy.
The first problem? These “humanoid cockroaches” look like fucking this:
When people complain about the racism of Terra Formars, this is usually what they’re talking about. If you were a fan during that time, you probably remember the discourse around this well, as it’s basically the only thing that ever got touched.
The designs of the roaches are not really what make the show racist. You could swap the design entirely for something less based on a racist caricature of black people and the show would still be disgusting.
Still, I think this is the best place to start. First, because even this obvious truth about Terra Formars has been lied about and gaslit out of existence, so it would make me personally feel good to set the record straight. Second, because the show’s relationship with the Martian roach people is vitally important to how it builds its ethnonationalist propaganda, so this needs to be explored.
So yeah, the anime’s Martian roach people are racist African caricatures.
Christ, that’s even a stupid sentence to type out.
Find a black person who has never seen this show and show them the image I linked above. Ask them if they look like black people. 99 times out of 100, they’ll say yes.
The first most common defense of the show’s (and the manga’s) awful design decisions is that real cockroaches are also dark in color so there’s nothing wrong here.
“You’re the real racist because you’re comparing what are obviously cockroaches to black people unprompted! Checkmate, SJW!” ~Reactionary Paul
… is how the gaslighting portion of this argument usually goes.
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m writing on the Internet, so I have the wonderful ability to just attach images for y’all to look at.
Here’s what an actual cockroach looks like
Here’s a black human being
And here’s a roach person from Terra Formars.
That was fun. Pretty colors. Shiny. Means I’ll have to put in a modicum of effort editing the audio version though. Oh well.
Let’s try that one more time, anyway.
Now a black person
And Terra Formars again
Okay ladies, gentlemen, and everyone else.
Do the Terra Formars Martians look more like black people? Or more like cockroaches?
I’ll give you a hint: one of these answers is wrong, and it’s the second one.
In the second picture from the anime, where you can’t really see their antennae, there’s nothing really there that’s supposed to make us read these characters as cockroaches. If you notice the antennae, they could be any insect at best. We only know they’re cockroaches because the show says so again and again.
Yet, no matter what angle you look at them from, they always seem to share some of the more… let’s say “culturally distinct” features of blackness: their mouth shape and lips, their nose shapes, the muscular bodies.
If all black men had bodies like that, I’d have mad chicks to disappoint. Sadly for my love life, it’s a stereotype that has no basis in reality, and only serves to make it seem as though black people, black men in particular, are made of more animalistic muscle than human intelligence. In America, it’s a holdover when we needed a reason to justify black people doing all the manual labor in the country. Today we don’t need that justification because we put all the black men in prison to do that labor anyway.
Okay, okay, okay. So clearly, some of you are not on board. I’ve still got fucking ammo left, so let’s keep going.
Here’s a humanoid bug from another medium, Pokemon Black and White, that retains far more insect-like qualities than Terra Formars’ cockroaches do, without being racist.
And here’s a creature from Homestuck that is black and chitinous, like Terra Formars’ roaches are supposed to be, but also manages not to be ridiculously, obtusely, ludicrously, white-friend’s-uncle-on-thanksgiving-ly fucking racist.
It’s amazing how easy it is to never run into the exact problem Terra Formars has. Who’d’ve thunk’d?
People have argued that the Martian roaches are just similar to Homo erectus or some other pre-human stage of evolution, just recolored and textured to look like cockroaches. Any other resemblances to any race is a mixture of coincidence and projection.
First, this argument is literally nothing. Black people have been compared to the theoretical look of Homo erectus since forever. Eugenicists and race realists have asserted that black people are less evolved than their white counterparts, closer to apes and Homo erectus than Homo sapiens, for centuries. Saying “they’re not black, they’re less evolved sub-humans” is not the defense some might think it is.
As we’ve learned more about the various types of early humans, we’ve become prone to the graft our racialized interpretations of people onto early humans. From the “controversy” surrounding the idea that the first humans to land on the British Isles may have been dark skinned (Source), to the science news media running with the idea that Homo erectus was so lazy it drove itself extinct (Source) despite the fact that that conclusion a) wasn’t found in the scientific paper the headlines were based on and b) represents the guesses of one of the researchers, and other researchers stated their disagreements with the idea.
Evolution, science, and Homo erectus have been racialized since the dawn of time. You can’t hide behind them in an attempt to deflect what Terra Formars is clearly doing here.
Second, again, they don’t look like cockroaches at all. You can call back to Homo erectus without the African stereotyped look. It’s art. This wasn’t the only way to do that.
Guys. For real.
THE BUGS HAVE AFROS
LIKE SERIOUSLY THEY DO JUST LOOK WITH THE EYES GOD GAVE YOU
ARE YOU SHITTING ME????
Bring me a cockroach that has my hair and I swear to God I will delete every Treatise and Hot Take I’ve ever written. I’ll retire forever. You’ll never hear that some mediocre show is actually racist or capitalist propaganda ever again.
Just show me one fucking bug that just so happens to have my skin, my face, and my hair and I will shut this blog down right the fuck now.
No. It’s just not true. There’s no argument here, yet this is the narrative that won after 5 years of “discourse”.
There is no reason at all why these designs would “just so happen” to turn out the way they have. In fact, adding more distinct features of cockroaches to the Martian roach people would improve the design and better communicate the show’s core ideas.
Imagine for a minute, if these creatures had lighter front sides/underbellies (like they do in real life), dark bug eyes, pointed chins, reversed legs, alien feet, limbs with hair on them, maybe an abdomen.
Would that not look scarier? Would that not scream cockroach? Instead of 50 scenes of the main characters calling them “damn roaches” and flashing images of cockroaches in front of my face whenever they move, you could just, like, show through the design that they’re cockroaches. Would it not be more 𝕋𝕙𝕖𝕞𝕒𝕥𝕚𝕔𝕒𝕝𝕝𝕪 ℝ𝕖𝕤𝕠𝕟𝕒𝕟𝕥?
The show chooses not to do this though.
This is a common theme here on Mo’s Home for Treatises and Hot Takes. People consuming media often get trapped in (or choose to adopt) the thinking that everything that’s on the page is just how it had to be. In reality, the only reason why anything in a story exists is because the author chooses for it to happen.
It’s not just people of color who view Terra Formars’ Martians as stand-ins for Africans. There’s another important group of people who see it the same way: actual racists.
When the manga started to gain popularity, and especially after the anime was first released, corners of the Internet far-right memed this show to all hell. It was just as fun as you’d imagine.
“Terraformars design has been controversial for being seen as a parody of African American people, although is based on Homo Erectus [lol]. As a joke, the Terraformars are sometimes refered (sic) as African American people, often using stereotypes.” ~ Terra Formars on Know Your Meme
Ah yes, the famous law of nature that states that things cannot be both jokes and racist at the same time.
One of the worst things the far-right on the Internet has done is convince minorities that we can’t tell when we’re being made fun of. Like the bully harasses you every day in gym class and then harasses you for getting upset at being harassed because those last times were just jokes he swears.
At the very least, racists think Terra Formars are racist. That’s, like, not a good thing last I checked.
Part 2: Stereotype Emporium AKA Yes, It Does Get Worse!
Alright so maybe the bugs do look a little like black people. And maybe some 4chan trolls got a hold of it. So, what’s the harm? After all, Terra Formars has black humans as well, right?
They look normal. Some of them even have speaking lines sometimes. So maybe we chalk this up to a bad choice in character design that ultimately never hurt anyone?
I’ve got more ammo. Way more!
Because of course I do. This is a Treatise after all. That’s why I’m here. To trigger the cons with FAX and LODGING.
Because see, what really makes these creatures racist stereotypes isn’t really the design. Like I said, the designs just got the most attention when the anime was first made. As usual, not really the worst part.
Mars is the shithole-iest country
The Terra Formars are scientifically undeveloped. I want to make it clear that this makes sense in-universe: the cockroaches have only been on the surface of Mars for the past 500 years or so, cut off from the technological developments on the planet Earth. That’s not really enough time to develop a good understanding of physics, engineering, mathematics, medicine, and the like. Those things on Earth took thousands of years and thousands of cultures working together to understand.
Again, though. I’m not concerned with whether or not Terra Formars justifies its bigotry with internal logic. I’m interested in how its world is framed.
A mysterious disease from a far-away place is threatening to end civilized life as we know it. The people who live in these places are hardly people at all. They’re club wielding, rock throwing masses that brainlessly attack everything not like them. They rarely wear clothes or shoes. The narrative will constantly mention that individual members of this people are not capable of problem solving, and must take direct orders from a leader that happens to be more intelligent than is expected.
The only artificial structures that these Martian roach people seem to be able to build are pyramids, which just so happen to the most iconic structures on the African continent.
Can I just mention that this is the shittiest argument for the idea that Africans can’t build things? White civilization today is still unsure how the pyramids were built given the tools available to the Egyptians at the time. The pyramids that find themselves in Africa and Latin America are literally unlike anything white civilization has ever accomplished. The discrepancy seems so hard to square that white people will literally believe in aliens before believing that the ancient Egyptions, Nubians, and Mexicans were maybe more advanced than they’re given credit for.
Anyway, one character says of the Terra Formars,
“Because of you and the rest of your kind, Earth is becoming a shitshow.”
“You feel nothing. No pain. No fear. That’s why you’ll never progress like us you pieces of shit.”
These are all just various stereotypes people have of Africa.
It’s the shithole where all the diseases come from (think about conservative reactions to the HIV epidemic, or the more recent Ebola epidemic). Its people are uncivilized, still uncomfortable wearing shoes. With the exception of ancient Egypt, Africans don’t build things, they just live in the jungle or the desert, in mud huts or in the wilderness. Africans are either too stupid to “progress” like the rest of the world, or too uncultured, or both.
It doesn’t matter what the Terra Formars look like in this case (though it does make matters worse). You don’t bring all of these tropes together by accident: it’s a deliberate and obvious attempt to make a statement on world affairs.
Maybe this is more obvious to me than it is to mainstream anime fandom, because I’ve been exposed to this rhetoric and I’ve had it used against me. But this really isn’t complicated stuff. You just put two and two together.
There’s a bad place filled with savages who are bringing diseases that will kill us all unless we do “something” about them. This something involves indiscriminate, ruthless, unrelenting violence until the threat is neutralized.
Here be dogwhistles, y’all.
Black people are violent
(CW: Female genital circumcision)
While the anime starts with the story of the Annex I landing on Mars to collect enough roach samples to find a cure to the virus threatening humanity, the manga starts a few years earlier with the Bugs II mission. This is treated in a prequel anime that got made but I never watched because I’m working on respecting myself for at least a little bit.
On the Bugs II mission, there was a South African woman named Victoria Wood. Her powers were based off the Emerald Cockroach Wasp, which is equipped with a stinger that disables the fight-or-flight response in cockroaches, turning them into what are essentially “slaves”. Victoria Wood does the same thing to the Martian cockroaches on a larger scale, injecting them with what is essentially a mind-control poison. It’s taking a real thing and exaggerating it to fit a horror/sci-fi setting. Not too bad, I guess.
In a brief pause in the action of the story, Victoria takes a moment to describe what life was like in her home country.
She continues. Remarking,
I’m dying slowly. Just so y’all know. I guess we’re all dying slowly. Wait, would that mean I’m actually dying faster than average?
Probably. I’m dying faster than is normal, but slower than I’d fucking like to.
First of all, on grave robbing, that’s not an African thing. It happens all over the world. Yes, even in Japan. Victoria explains this to this Japanese man as if it’s some exotic and primitive thing that only savage Africans can imagine, but it’s not. When people are poor and desperate, and when they know rich people get buried with expensive stuff when they die, it doesn’t take much to put two and two together. Race has nothing to do with it.
The issue isn’t that no South African has ever robbed a grave, or that certain South Africans haven’t thought to protect their dead from grave robbers before. It’s framing grave robbing as this thing that happens in these shithole countries for black people. Nowhere on the African continent is grave robbing so bad that the poor encase their dead in concrete. People don’t steal whole corpses either, I mean holy fucking shit how do you make money off a putrid, disintegrating body? Who’s buying zombie flesh on the black market? What the actual fuck?
Oh, no no no no no, I see. It doesn’t matter. You know those Africans. They’re not even civilized enough to have valid socioeconomic reasons for doing things. This is just how they work.
And then there’s this female genital circumcision stuff.
Look, if you wanted to stereotype Africans as those barbarians that mutilate little girls for fun, at least look up a fucking map of Africa and pick a country where this stuff actually happens to any sort of degree (Source). The percentage of women in South Africa who undergo female genital circumcision is around the same percentage as women in the West who undergo it. Which is to say the number is statistically insignificant.
But I bet the person who wrote this only knows two African countries: Egypt and South Africa, and they picked the blacker one to make their point. That’s probably how it worked.
This author cited a fucking academic source when the narrator of the story went on a rant about how netting has evolved with human intelligence, yet doesn’t bother to do basic research when it comes to African cultural practices.
See, now that’s just the thing. Yes it’s true that the most severe forms of female genital circumcision are painful, irreversible, and often forced upon women. And yes, many people have built good reasons to oppose all circumcision on the basis of bodily autonomy and consent. But what this is not is an honest concern about ending sexist cultural practices in the third world. It’s about using a real problem to insist that Africans are brutal, unthinking, violent savages.
The author is just making up stuff about Africa that’s sorta vaguely true if you stretch the truth enough because the point is not to actually care about women in the third world or victims of grave robbing.
There are informed, empathetic, well-researched ways you could write a story about the challenges of growing up as a woman in a patriarchal third-world country that actually move the conversation forward. We could talk about the various forms of the practice from least to most damaging and their effects. We could talk about the women who have chosen to undergo the procedure and what it means for their culture and heritage. We can talk about occidental religions and culture, and what male genital circumcision means to the people who practice it. Maybe compare the two.
Making up some bullshit about how South Africans saw 12-year-old’s clits off with rusty tin can lids because “that’s just how they are lol” is none of that. It’s disgusting. It’s racism in it’s purist, most unaltered form.
The author doesn’t even see Victoria Wood as a victim. Just a byproduct of a failed, barbaric, violent Africa. Victoria dies unceremoniously and off-screen. Unlike her numerous white and light-skinned Japanese counterparts who die to inspire the men in the story to action, we never hear about Victoria again.
The Terra Formars themselves are also shown to take a kind of glee in slaughtering as many people as they can.
Again. Not unilaterally a bad thing to have a kind of monster or villain that takes a joy in killing. It’s a pretty common horror trope
The issue, as it always is, putting this trope into context.
Black and African people have been stereotyped as primitively violent for hundreds of years. Post-colonial Africa has reinforced this stereotype, as nation-states have struggled to define themselves in the power vacuum left by European colonial empires.
Compare for example how the Holocaust is talked about to how something like the Rwandan genocide is talked about. There are scores of literature that explain in detail the various socioeconomic factors that lead to the rise of antisemitism, hyper-nationalism, and the ultimate genocide of 6 million Jewish people off the face of the planet. Most average (read: non-Nazi) people can either give a rough account of this history or, at the very least, acknowledge that the causes of this genocide were varied and complicated.
The Rwandan genocide though? Tribal conflict. One side just hated the other side. They couldn’t get along so they killed each other. So sad.
People will explain away the current violence in Cameroon between the anglophone minority and the francophone majority as “it’s too bad they’re a third world country”. Colonialism? Arbitrary borders? What are those?
People will explain away civil war South Sudan and Somalia as “that’s just how things are there”. People will explain away gun violence in Chicago as “their culture loves violence”. If they’re even aware of this at all.
In a study published in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency entitled Mental Illness, the Media, and the Moral Politics of Mass Violence: The Role of Race in Mass Shootings Coverage (Source), researchers at Ohio State University found that the media is 19 times more likely to present white mass shooters as mentally ill compared to black perpetrators. The media is also 12 times more likely to ascribe mental illness to Latino shooters than black shooters. As the authors state,
“Quantitative findings show that Whites and Latinos are more likely to have their crime attributed to mental illness than Blacks. Qualitative findings show that rhetoric within these discussions frame White men as sympathetic characters, while Black and Latino men are treated as perpetually violent threats to the public.”
When white people are violent, there’s always some rational explanation. “No one just snaps” they say. There’s always some sociopolitical context we’re not factoring in. We have years of investigations into why ordinary people could end up enforcing the violence of the Nazi regime. We pour billions of dollars into researching how propaganda led to the rise of nationalism in Europe. We clamor for more mental health institutions whenever a sweet, innocent white boy decides to pick up a gun and slaughter his classmates.
Black people are never afforded the same luxury. The media narrative is that Black people are violent just because. Our suffering and our death need no explanation. There is no sociopolitical context to the Rwandan genocide, or the situation in Somalia, or the war in South Sudan, or gun violence in Chicago. Our deaths are the natural order of the universe. Our deaths are just how we are.
The only difference between the liberal position and the conservative position is that white liberals pity us, while conservatives are disgusted.
I’ll paraphrase a message I got from someone online maybe a year or so ago:
After Europe left Africa, everyone there kills each other. Blacks are always loud and violent when in large groups.
Terra Formars presents violence in exactly this attitude. We’re shown clip after clip of these creatures that look like black men tearing people apart limb from limb, interspliced with images of disgusting bugs, while the characters go on and on about how horrifying and disgusting these people are.
It’s propaganda pure and simple. Propaganda that would fit alongside depictions of the White Man’s Burden.
Black people are a threat to attractive, light-skinned women
While both the manga and the anime are clear and unapologetic in their portrayal of the Terra Formars as violent, terrifying, unfeeling beings, it’s especially effective in the anime. The show takes advantage of quick cuts and selective framing to make it as clear as possible how dangerous these beings are.
But on top of the general framing of the Terra Formars as violent killers, the show has a specific emphasis that this violence is directed towards attractive, light-skinned women.
The implications here are quite explicit. In fact, the anime tells you as much with this piece of dialogue here:
“The Terra Formars target enemies according to a specific hierarchy. First, they attack anyone with a tool, or the tools themselves. Especially if they’re good ones. Second, they attack anyone alone. Third, they attack anyone injured. And fourth, for some reason, they love to go after women. We don’t know why they go after women. It’s not for sexual gratification, it’s eerie. But something definitely attracts them.”
In addition, at least one character states that the Martian roach people “are nothing but worthless swine, creatures who poison our daughters” (that’s a direct quote) and uses that as a stated reason for wanting them all dead.
The stand-in for the violent, animalistic black mob has been so dehumanized that we’re told explicitly that they’re incapable of a basic human feeling: sexual desire. This is of course not to imply that our asexual comrades aren’t human. Rather, it’s the story that frames a lack of sexual attraction as a lack of humanness, and paints that characterization onto its African/black stand-ins.
The show doesn’t even do the weird cross-species attraction trope thing. Africans are just so base, and so vile, and so unlike civilized people that we’re incapable of even feeling sexual attraction as we go around raping, molesting, and killing for no good reason whatsoever.
The term Black Peril (Source) refers to an idea formalized in the context Colonial Africa, but present in any part of the world where a white ruling class governed over black people. Black Peril was the idea that African men had an uncontrollable desire to copulate with white women. Black Peril tends to specifically refer to Colonial/Apartheid South Africa and Colonial South Rhodesia, however, this idea played out pretty much the same in the United States, without the label, from the Civil War onward.
These governments would take accusations of rape and sexual assault by black men against white women as a pretext to restrict the rights of black men and perpetuate an idea (an idea that still exists today mind you) that black men are inherently driven to assault fair skinned women “for some reason”.
The reality of course was far different. White men in these governments raped and killed black women with impunity while the police turned a blind eye. In the African colonies in particular, most of the white population were men, as the European governments at the time thought to send the male “labor” class to work and manage the colonies while the precious hwite women stayed safe at home. These men relieved their sexual frustrations with black women, in encounters that were usually violent and certainly not consensual. Often, white law enforcement officers themselves partook in these rapes, and they still do today.
Currently in the United States, the police routinely abuse sex workers (Source) or just people they’re stopping (Source) and sometimes if you’re lucky they’ll actually charge one (Source) with a crime or something. Do we have data on this? Not really. Who the fuck are you going to call when the police rape you? The police?
Having an institution with a monopoly on violence that’s only accountable to itself and capital is starting to sound like a bad idea. Hm.
Black Peril has historically been used as a pretext for violence against black men. Many of the lynchings committed in the Southern United States by the Ku Klux Klan used alleged sexual violence by black men as an excuse.
In South Africa, the fear that black men have uncontrollable sex drives led to a government campaign to control the black population in South Africa, through immigration control and limits on the fertility of black women.
In South Rhodesia, black men were forced into domestic servitude in white households. This paranoia that African men were sleeping with white wives while the husbands were at work led to support for increased laws that controlled the freedom of movement of African men, and laws that allowed the police to kill black men for whatever the police sought to define as “attempted rape”.
In all three of these countries, Black Peril was used to enforce bans on interracial sex, marriage, and children.
Since at least 2011, all of this crap is getting shoveled unceremoniously into the minds of clueless anime and manga fans. In 2019, I get to write a fucking essay about it.
I love history, man. It rocks.
If all that stuff about the Klan and African history doesn’t really move you. If you’re still wondering what the hell a South Rhodesia is (it’s modern-day Zimbabwe). Here’s the proof why all of this is still important.
Black Peril might have been an idea that started with strong associations to Africans and blackness, but the idea that men of color are these rapist hordes coming to deflower our beautiful young fair-skinned maidens is an idea that has since been grafted onto the entity of the Global South.
The very stable genius that is the current President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, routinely uses the association of men of color with rape to forward a rabidly xenophobic, classist, anti-immigrant agenda.
Consider how, despite the fact that there is no evidence that a link between undocumented US immigrants and crime exists (Source), the 2018 murder of Iowa State University student Mollie Tibbetts was used to rally conservatives into clamping down on immigration laws and rights for undocumented immigrants.
Consider how this image alone, an attractive young white woman juxtaposed with a scary brown man, probably helped legitimize the perceived need for concentration camps for migrants at the US-Mexico border, where immigration officials abuse, harass, and kill their occupants, more than any trumped up statistic or fact ever could.
Consider how, despite the fact that study after study has shown no significant increase in crime (Source) in Germany following the 2015 migrant crisis, the 2015–16 New Year’s Sexual Assault Spree did more to demonize African, Arab, and South Asian men, more to help limit the rights of Muslims in the West, and more to help organize the far-right in Germany, Western Europe, the United States, and Canada than any single propagandist ever could.
Black Peril is not some obscure thing of the past. Black Peril has just changed and evolved to serve the needs of the present ruling class.
Terra Formars is part of this transformation. The story is part of this colorful tradition of using the idea that men from the Global South are driven by some inexplicable yearning to rape light-skinned women to implement policies that further suppress the people in the Global North that have the fewest rights: the poor, the non-citizens, the minorities, and the refugees.
It’s not because the story was written in Japan by a Japanese person that these realities don’t apply. The idea that only white people can be racist is not one I support, so don’t parrot that “racism is privilege plus power” shit to my goddamn face please.
The idea that Japan, a country that was fascist imperialist empire that took over Korea, much of China, South East Asia and showed no signs of stopping until the US military indiscriminately killed millions of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, a country which today still has high profile citizens deny the war crimes committed by this fascist imperialist empire, a country which is 97% ethnically homogeneous and is about to receive an influx in immigrants to combat its dying labor force, cannot possibly have a problem with racism because “they’re not white” is so insane and so ahistorical that I honestly do not have the time or patience to take it seriously.
I’m not saying that all Japanese people are racist or whatever. And as someone who’s never lived in Japan and doesn’t even speak enough Japanese to hop on right-wing Japanese Twitter, I’m not at all qualified to say if Japan is a “racist country” or not. Calling a country racist isn’t even a meaningful delegation. I’m only asking the world to stop using “but Japan tho” to deflect criticism from this obviously awful, obviously racist story.
Terra Formars and immigration
So speaking of immigration…
Heheheh, this has to be my favorite transition yet.
Anyway, Ben Shapiro.
The ultra-conservative Orthodox Jewish political commentator came into prominence following a confluence of changes in the US political landscape, on and off the Internet. From the rise of neoliberalism in the 1980s, to Ronald Reagan’s redefinition of religious American conservatism, to the death of bi-partisanship under Bill Clinton in the 90s, to 2010’s reactionary, racist Tea Party movement following the election of America’s first black president, to the rise of Internet conservative talk radio around 2011 which sent conservative Americans further to the Right, to the cultural colonization of the Internet by the alt-right in 2014 propelled largely by Gamergate, to the crystalization of right-wing American populism following the rise of Donald Trump… each one of these cultural phenomena fused into the fast-talking-Arab-hating-college-campus-debating-climate-denying-feminist-owning-trans-woman-misgendering-4'11"-being-cool-kid’s-philosopher we know and love today.
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” ~Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Napoleon Bonaparte
In 2016, Ben Shapiro published a fiction novel entitled True Allegiance. As far as I can tell, it’s a collection of of his various conservative beliefs wrapped up in a novel of flat characters and nonsensical plot lines. I don’t think I’ll ever be covering it at length on Mo’s Home for Treatises and Hot Takes, in part because there’s a limit to how much self-inflicted mental pain I can take, and in part because it’s been done better already.
The book takes place in a dystopic alternate version of the United States run by a “””socialist””” (read: center-left neoliberal) president. The country is overrun by illegal immigrants and drug cartels at the border, black crime, and waves of Muslim terrorists entering the country. All the while, the president cares more about sucking up to the media than doing what needs to be done to protect (white) Americans.
The heroes of the story include: oil tycoons who use their own money to run for office to combat EPA regulations, the US military, the US government (when it cracks down on poor people), terrorists (as long as they’re white), and cops that shoot 8-year-old black kids.
The story’s villains include: the LIBERAL MEDIA, the US government (when it hands out welfare), terrorists (as long as they’re Muslim), and… civil rights leaders who “manipulate” black people into getting mad when the cops shoot 8-year-old black kids.
So, anyway Ben fucking Shapiro.
Near the beginning of the True Allegiance, we learn that parts of California and New Mexico have been given away to the Mexican government under the current administration, to atone for America’s “imperialist past”. We visit a city in what remains of California, which is particularly suffering due to the president’s open-borders policy. Ben writes,
Sunny Pool, a city in Eastern California. The city with the greatest economic disparity and the highest incidence of drug-related crime in the developed nations. The drug cartels of neighboring Mexico are mostly to blame. 69% of police officers die on the job, 4 of 10 females over age 13 have been raped, and they pour into the area as if escaping from hell. The illegal immigrants.
So, what’s this have to do with Terra Formars?
The answer is that I’m a liar. You see, that last bit I said about the president of True Allegiance giving away parts of the US to Mexico doesn’t happen in the book. That quote isn’t from the book either.
Those things happen in Terra Formars.
I barely had to change the quote to make it work. I just stripped away the little bit of worldbuilding this story has. This is how it actually reads in the manga:
Sunny Pool, a city in Eastern California. The city with the greatest economic disparity and the highest incidence of drug-related crime in the developed nations in the 27th Century. The drug cartels of neighboring Gran Mexico are mostly to blame. 69% of police officers die on the job, 4 of 10 females over age 13 have been raped, and they pour into the area as if escaping from hell. The illegal immigrants.
The story seems to be confused as to what the US-Mexico boarder really looks like. It sorta implies that the highest, coldest parts of the Rocky mountains lie between the US and Gran Mexico. I took that to mean that Gran Mexico has expanded in territory, but it could just be that the author is an idiot. (It’s probably the later)
Point is, the story’s two Mexican main characters, Alex and Marcos, are treated with the tact of a fucking Ben Shapiro novel. The two are indistinguishable. Don’t tell me I didn’t fool you there for a second. If you’d read the book you were probably confused why you didn’t remember a quote that outrageous. A quote so obviously Shapiro-like.
I think, despite it all, it’s sometimes hard to imagine an anime or manga as right-wing propaganda. This is in part because we’re trained to “other” foreign media: because these media are produced in a strange land by people who speak a language we don’t understand and who don’t look like us, the stories in these media are always abstract, enjoyable on some level but ultimately incapable of speaking to anything past the material conditions in Japan.
I’m reminded of when a friend told me about an Islamic Civilizations class he was taking. He mentioned being frustrated because the other students in the class seemed incapable of analyzing Islamic political figures past the text of the Qur’an. Europe has had plenty of religious heads of state, yet, we understand that their motivations are not tied to the Bible. They were human beings who wanted power, land, control, wealth, and more. Yet, because the Islamic world is seen as an other, as something different, as something unrelatable and irrelevant to the West, its leaders must be driven by something equally strange and unrelatable like the Qur’an.
It’s the exact same dynamic here. Terra Formars openly inserts itself into the ongoing conversation on American immigration policy and civil rights. If I sound like a broken record, it’s because I can’t stress this enough. The story is talking about us as much as it’s talking about Japan.
Terra Formars likens the fall of US global hegemony as a head that’s been cut off. Once powerful and in control, it’s now lobbed off and shriveled. This leaves the opportunity for newcomers to suck the blood? What cut off this head? Immigrants, of course. And China (we’ll get to that later!).
These are literally talking points ripped out of the Trump White House. The only difference here is, the author seems to be pleased about it, because the decline of the United States, unfortunate as it may be, will allow Japan to rise to its rightful place as a global superpower.
This is as much forethought Terra Formars puts into its 27th Century geopolitics: the world is basically the same except we’ve engineered a situation in which Japan is the best country now. Oh, and also I guess we recreate the geopolitical circumstances of WWII as well (more on that later)?
Also, I lied again. The world isn’t the same. The world is worse. The story asserts that the future generations haven’t been able to curb breeding in the Global South. The world is now overpopulated, and it’s leading to the decline of what should otherwise be great nations like the United States of America. Overpopulation is the stated reason why Mars needs to be colonized.
Remember that all the candidates to get the surgery needed to go to Mars are explicitly the dregs of society: the poor, the criminals, and other minorities. This woman (her name’s Michelle), and thus the story, blatantly state that the best way to make these “undesirables” useful to society would be to kill them, experiment on them for the greater good, or give them the most dangerous jobs in society that we wouldn’t waste on the “desirables”.
Daily reminder that the US government conducted dangerous syphilis experiments on black men in the thirties and the US’s racial hierarchy directly inspired laws created in Nazi Germany.
Genocide? Sure, I mean the world is overpopulated anyway, right?
Let’s circle back to Marcos and Alex. These two characters lived in Gran Mexico with their parents. Their families were poor, as are the vast majority of Mexicans in this story, of course. The only reason why they have decent lives at all are because their dads work for a rich, white landlord. The daughter of these parasites I mean landlords is Sheila, who befriends Marcos and Alex and protects them from the roving hoards of gangsters that regularly threaten their peaceful lives. Alex and Marcos in turn take a liking to Sheila; they admire her and want to protect her.
They’re not interested in her sexually though. Gross could you imagine? An old black ram tupping a white ewe.
Their lives go to hell when Sheila’s parents refuse to pay their servants. The workers go on strike and eventually revolt, burning down Sheila’s estate and leaving her as an orphan. Alex and Marcos live with the guilt that their dads killed their best friend’s parents.
I shit you not, the story presents the rich, white landlords as the good guys here. Marcos and Alex’s parents are the greedy, ungrateful browns who didn’t realize how good they had it since the white man started taking care of them. The anime goes as far as to call them greedy.
To be clear, the anime removes the context from Marcos and Alex entirely. We don’t know they’re illegal immigrants, and we’re barely made to understand that the two boys’ parents weren’t getting paid at all. All the racist manga subtext is paved over for the anime. In the anime they’re just poor people who come from somewhere and know Sheila somehow.
That’s not better, in case it wasn’t clear. That’s worse. The anime knew the subtext of the original work and reinforced it, just choosing to cut around the parts most likely to generate controversy. That’s not the same thing as rewriting the story to be less problematic.
Sheila, now an orphan, is able to emigrate to the US using her family’s wealth and connections. However, Marcos and Alex must arrive illegally. They note how there are no more jobs because other undocumented immigrants took them all. Job machine broke. Wack.
There’s a “funny” line where Alex is afraid someone will mistake him for an Indian. Because good God is there nothing worse than being Indian, I guess?
This author is not just content with hating brown people in the far off-lands of Mexico and the Southwest United States. He’s perfectly capable of also hating brown people a little closer to home, like Indians!
(These could actually be Native Americans. I’m like, not sure, and unwilling to put in the effort to find out.)
These undocumented immigrants were a drain on the system when they were just trying to get jobs and make a decent living for themselves. The story respects them only after they’re willing to risk their lives on human experimentation and a suicide war mission to Mars. After all, there are too many of “their kind” around anyway, right? The world is “overpopulated”.
There are 7 billion people on the planet right now, and we currently make enough food to feed 10 billion (Source). Terra Formars’s definition of “overpopulated to the point that we should consider culling the Global South” is 9 billion people six whole centuries into the future where innovations have no doubt made food production far easier and more efficient than it already is.
Yeah so the story isn’t concerned about “overpopulation”, if such a thing even exists. Keeping in line with the long tradition of eugenicists and capitalists who use “overpopulation” as a pretense for population control and genocide (Source), Terra Formars is concerned with eliminating certain groups people off the face of the planet.
I’m running out of ways to say this story is racist and gross. Let’s shift gears a little bit, and talk something way more fun.
Let’s talk about boobs!
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