Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Cage of Eden
Returning home from a school trip to Guam, the third year students of a Japanese middle school suddenly find their world turned upside down. When all of their plane's instruments fail, it crashes on a mysterious island filled with prehistoric monsters who would love a human-shaped snack. Akira Sengoku, a boy who always sees himself as lacking, discovers that he must come to the fore as his classmates and the other passengers give in to the temptations of uninhibited freedoms...and not in a good way.
If William Golding, Richard Connell, and the writers of “Lost” got together to pen a manga series, this is the script they might have come up with. Part Lord of the Flies, part “The Most Dangerous Game,” and taking place after a plane crash on an uncharted island in the Pacific, Cage of Eden sets out to examine what happens when all the rules just disappear. While it is not as accomplished as either Golding's or Connell's works, it still packs a punch and makes you question just whose role you would be playing if you were in the same situation.
The story takes a little while to get to this point, unfortunately. After an intriguing first line, Yoshinobu Yamada takes the better part of the long first chapter to get to the good stuff. This conceivably functions as an introduction to the characters and their relationships at the unnamed middle school, but feels a bit stale for the story we are promised by the back of the book. Akira Sengoku, we learn, is an alternate on the volleyball team, best friends with the school heartthrobs, and generally considers himself second best. His teachers think of him as one of the two class troublemakers, although given that the other one, Yarai, seems to have spent his time in Guam beating up soldiers, this seems an overstatement. His friend “Eiken” is a self-proclaimed videographer whose works consist of the girls in various states of undress. This allows for Yamada to indulge in a few cheesecake shots complete with outlined labia and bulging vulvas, a piece of fanservice that, while it doesn't really detract, certainly isn't needed. Both Akira and Yarai wish that their worlds could be different somehow, just moments before the plane begins to shake and the world goes dark.
When Akira wakes up, he is alone on a tropical island. At first he thinks he is the only survivor of the crash (and that a prehistoric rodent is a beaver, reminding American readers that the species is not native, or even present, in Japan), but soon he meets up with two more. Together the three try to piece together what happened and how they ended up on the island in the first place. Eventually they do find the downed plane, and with it Eiken's camera. This is where the story really picks up, a little more than halfway through the volume. It would be fair to say that this is definitely a book that gets better as it goes on. The first chapter is relatively mediocre, but by the third it is nearly impossible to put down. If you're a reader who needs to be grabbed instantly, you may have some trouble getting into this, but if you can hang on, it's worth the wait. Yamada shifts the mood from standard adventure fare to shocking and horrific in a matter of panels, bringing out the ugly side of human nature in the blink of an eye. One double page spread of violence and the worst that humanity has to offer is chilling, calling to mind the gruesome reality of newspaper headlines in lurid black and white.
For all of his balloon breasts and detailed female groins, Yamada's forte is actually these scenes of stark terror. While his character designs are firmly rooted in old-school shonen manga, Yamada has a flair for the gruesome and horrid. A fly on a dead man's unblinking eyeball sticks in the mind much longer than a scene of a flight attendant bathing. The plane is drawn realistically, which helps to emphasize the horrible acts that take place there. Prehistoric animals show clear research and are immediately recognizable to anyone who has studied them and the tropical paradise they live in is also well-detailed. While male characters come off as much stronger than the females, there is still a hint of independence to the girls – they are happy to have another body around, but they will also do their parts. This is much less true of the grown women, who seem perfectly happy to depend completely on the young teen males, almost to the point of stretching the reader's belief. This is not the only slightly off point in the story. Readers may find themselves wondering why Yasai was allowed on the trip to begin with if he's the kind of kid who beats up armed men. And why were the flight attendants, and teachers, for that matter, allowing the kids to run rampant around the plane in the opening scenes? One male teacher is shown reading a magazine titled “Orgasm Rush” - are we really supposed to believe he wouldn't be fired for bringing such a thing on a school-sponsored trip? But then since the whole premise of the story is a plane crashing on a prehistoric island, it does seem like some bizarre details could be, if not forgiven, at least overlooked.
Despite its slow start, Cage of Eden becomes deeply engrossing, so that once a certain point is reached, it is nearly impossible to put down. Although Kodansha USA has a few odd translations, mostly in terms of passive versus active voice, the text reads smoothly. The central mystery may be something we've seen before, but in this case that doesn't matter. As Akira and his fellow survivors set out to solve it, we are filled with a foreboding that the most dangerous animals that they will face on the mysterious island are not the prehistoric beasts that inhabit it, but the humans who have dropped from the sky.
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : B
+ Horror scenes are horrifying, good animal details, a likeably flawed hero.
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