Looking around for a manga to start off with, I eventually stumbled upon Cage of Eden on a whim. Reading a few chapters, it reminded me of Highschool of the Dead. Both series are dominated by gruesome, terrible beings (zombies in HOTD, extinct animals in Eden) that will kill you without a doubt in their mind and a penchant for blatant fanservice though Cage of Eden’s is much more conservative in the number of scenes. Yet, this is a manga that really knows how to keep you wanting more and leaving in some really annoying cliffhangers and that’s this series biggest strength.
Some facts about Cage of Eden:
- Story and Art: Yoshinobu Yamada
- Serialized in: Weekly Shounen Magazine
- Published by: Kodansha
- Volume 1 was first published on February 17, 2009 in Japan and August 23, 2011 in the United States
- Volume 17 is the latest volume published on May 17, 2012.
The average high school boy in question, Akira Sengoku, is our hot-blooded but well intentioned protagonist with a perverted streak to put the girls at bay with the exception of his good friend Rion Akagami. The plane that Akira and his many school friends are on suddenly crashes, leaving a staggering amount of casualties. Mass panic sets in once the captain of the ship is found killed and phones aren’t able to connect to anywhere. With people forming groups, Akira leads a misfit group of friends and a busty school nurse as they figure what the hell is going on, but quickly get introduced to extremely terrifying creatures. Akira’s friend Mariya is one of the smartest persons in Akira’s school and quickly informs the group that these creatures are confirmed to be extinct, with some being older than the Triassic period. If you think all Akira’s group had to worry about were these creatures, think again. With no law and order, stuck on a faraway island with little to no supplies, the island is turned into a “Lord of the Flies” scenario: survival of the fittest, charting your own path and making your own rules without regard for others. But hey, it wouldn’t be Japanese enough without a trap character, now would it? Yes, amidst the chaos of prehistoric animals out to kill you and fellow students starting to go completely insane, there’s a trap character. Oh Japan, you’ll never learn..
The thing that makes Cage of Eden a really great read is the art. The character designs are fine, especially the shocked/terrified faces that almost dominate every chapter of these five volumes. But what I’m talking about is the designs of the extinct animals: they look terrifyingly real, at some point I almost started to think this guy was going to pop out of the page and chomp on me like a snack. The driving message about this series is fear, that these supposedly extinct creatures are still alive and raring to find fresh blood, and Yoshinobu Yamada’s designs totally instill both a clear understanding of these beings and how to draw them in a way that’s realistic and as terrifying as can be. There’s also a consistent feeling that something isn’t quite right, from the behavior of Akira’s friend Kouhei to the planned creation of a new ‘school’ in volume 5, and it’s a very subtle feeling enough to notice it but not where it becomes obvious and predictable. When reading Cage of Eden, you get the sense of something watching over you no matter how much tits the pages want to shove at you, and that indeed rings true. You can’t go without at least one nasty creature or psychotic student ready to kill anyone in each chapter, forty in all five volumes so far. Akira is also a pretty good leading character, sure his undying trust in friendship has caused a lot of eyebrow raising amongst his group and he exhibits the same perverted instincts any high school boy would, but these five volumes really establish how believable his leadership talents are. In fact, one character in volume five said it best: “In a world like this, where even our teachers betray us, a stupidly honest person like [Akira] is the most dependable.”
The first two volumes start off a bit shaky. We get introduced to some dude in a mask, almost killing Akira, and then poof he’s gone and nowhere to be heard since. I want to believe this character will come back, but for now it just feels off. The narrative jumps around a bit, from Akira’s group to other groups without much regard for continuity. These are also the volumes that constantly show off pointless fanservice in large quantities. I’m okay with some fanservice just as is, even better if there’s *gasp* a reason for it, but not like this. The above problems are dealt with in the next three volumes, but another jarring one springs up and his name is Yarai. Now, I think Yarai is a character I want to see more of and he remains a fascinating one, but this guy usually comes in and magically fixes everything. He’s pretty level-headed, very smart but you get the feeling he always just happens to be around when Akira and the group are in trouble. In volume five, Yarai comes at the right time and finds out a way to save everyone inside the cave. Just like that, and once again he takes off after telling Akira his idea to start a new county within this island. I’d like a chapter or to that focuses on Yarai, because his come and go nature doesn’t sit well with me not when there’s a lot about him that’s interesting and worth going in depth on. And that trap character…
Overall, I think I found a manga worth continuing. Cage of Eden has some flaws it could work on, some that are harder to touch upon, but it always leaves you wanting more and that’s something, any anime or manga needs to have to keep viewer/reader interest. The lovely, yet grotesque art of the extinct animals is also a huge plus in both the ick factor and realistic portrayal of these once extinct animals and at the end of each volume there’s a helpful guide by Mariya explaining the various animals which helps a lot. Looking for a pretty good thriller? Cage of Eden definitely warrants your attention.
Art – B+: Amazing depiction of the animals, really nice facial expressions and both of these are huge in this story. Good character designs.
Story – C: Yarai is a walking Deus ex machina, but the events before volume 5 are quite solid, especially volumes 2-4.
Characters – C: Akira has the typical shounen protagonist DNA, but it actually works in this series when everything is despair or fear-ridden. The females start off weak in the first two volumes, but they get more promising roles to fill in the later volumes. Kouhei and Yarai are fascinating characters, but a bit flawed.
Enjoyment – B: A very intriguing manga, for sure. I find Cage of Eden a very engaging series, though it may stumble along the way, it always grabs my attention. I’m a little bummed that volume 6 isn’t out yet, but with seventeen volumes so far, I think that’s a good ratio for Kodansha USA.
Overall – C
I am shocked to say that my review (albeit, a much shorter version) was posted on AnimeNewsNetwork’s Right Turn Only column! Should have used my screen name…