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Cage of Eden by Yoshinobu Yamada
Review by Paul Haggerty
Kodansha Comics Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781935429258
Date: 23 August 2011 List Price $10.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Japanese Honorifics / Japanese Naming Conventions / Read On-Line / Show Official Info /

Sengoku Akira is having a very strange, and increasingly horrifying day. And it's about to take a turn for the worse. One moment he's standing in a jumbo-jet that is flying him and his classmates back home after a class trip, and the next, he's in a jungle, surrounded by some of the strangest and deadliest animals to have lived over the last million or so years of prehistory. Creatures that even his vivid imagination couldn't have invented to fuel his nightmares.

Now Sengoku and the other passengers need to find a way to survive in a savage wilderness, using only their wits and the few possessions they were carrying. But like all metaphorical Edens, this world has its share of snakes and, unfortunately, many of them came on the plane.

Cage of Eden is the story of the passengers of Flight 357, most of whom are the Japanese teachers and students of a middle-school field trip to Guam. Beginning with the last student hurrying to catch the flight home, Cage of Eden starts out slowly, introducing the major characters as they interact on-board the plane taking them home: Sengoku Akira, the main protagonist, the class clown, the kid most likely to do nothing with his life; Akagami Rion, the school idol, champion of the gymnastics team, childhood friend, and the girl he's been in love with since he discovered that the love existed ... and whom he feels is entirely too good for the likes of him; Mariya Shirou, the computer geek and smart-ass know-it-all; Kouichi Yarai, the class delinquent, odds-on favorite to be in prison before graduation day; Kurusu Motoko, Sengoku's home room teacher, and Oomori Kanako, a klutzy and ditzy, but kind-hearted and well-meaning, flight attendant.

Part Lost, and part Lost World, Cage of Eden is told in a mixture of present narrative and short flash-backs, and features an extensive cast of characters, only the very first to be introduced being mentioned above. Most of the action centers around Sengoku and his slowly growing group of survivors, with occasional cut-aways to Yarai and Kurusu, as they wander separately. Right from the beginning, the story begins to change your expectation of the characters as Sengoku discovers Mariya having just been attacked, and Oomori, currently being attacked by a Diatryma, a flightless carnivorous bird, that stands 10' tall, or would, if it hadn't been extinct for 50 million years.

Sengoku can't stop himself from charging in to save Oomori, because ... that's just what needs to be done. This begins an epic journey across the wilderness, where Sengoku, his classmates, and the other passengers of Flight 357, slowly come together, in both small groups and large, to either join forces or fight against each other, everyone trying to find the right mixture of philosophy and pragmatism that will keep them alive while they puzzle out the mystery of where they are, and how they got there.

Because, from simple survival, Cage of Eden quickly becomes a story of a mystery. Mariya's computer (and how he keeps the battery going is itself a mystery that takes a while to solve) holds information vital to solving the puzzle, but the information is not always illuminating. Plotting their flight shows where they must have crashed, but it also shows that there is nothing there but open ocean. The encyclopedia tells them about the strange animals, but there's no possible way they could all co-exist at the same time without having changed over the eons. And then there's the monolith and the lighthouse, sure signs that people have been here before, a long long time ago.

Cage of Eden is a very large story, taking place over the course of 185 chapters of 20 or so pages each, collected into 21 volumes. There are dozens of characters that come and go, multiple sub-plots that spring up, fade away, and then return when you least expect them. It's a story of fighting against both primal nature and the nature of humanity, with all it's warts. The plane carried a representative sample of the best and the worst of humanity, and the worst can be very bad indeed.

It's a sweeping story with a mysterious back-story that takes its own sweet time in letting itself be drawn forth. And when the end comes, while the major tapestry is complete, not all the loose threads are sewn up. Some small mysteries are left to live out a life of their own. And most of all, the characters remain true to themselves, no matter how much they’re forced to grow up in very short time.

A couple words of warning, first, Cage of Eden is at many points a dark story. Teenagers are routinely ripped apart and eaten by a variety of wild life, although the gory bits aren't presented up front. It is also a manga with a good deal of fan-service: cleavage is plentiful, as are skirts swirling in the wind, extremely-low camera angles, and girls bathing topless in the streams. If you find casual nudity of this type offensive, you will definitely be dissatisfied with Cage of Eden.

However, if you can over-look the parts containing this stylistic choice, you'll find Cage of Eden a fascinating dramatic mystery, full of characters that try their best, and sometimes fail; characters that try their worst, and sometimes unfortunately succeed; but most of all, you’ll find a core cast of characters trying to uphold the best tenets of civilization in the most uncivil location imaginable, struggling against all the forces of nature, not only to survive, but to keep each other alive. Even the ones, given the first dozen pages, you would never believe were up to the task. Strangely enough, Cage of Eden left me feeling more upbeat about humanity than most hero stories of the last decade.

As a reminder for people not familiar with naming conventions in manga, please remember that the first name is the family name (used by casual acquaintances), and the second name is the personal name (used by close friends). As both are used in this story, depending on the relationship of the characters, it can be confusing at the start as to which character is which. Sengoku Akira and Akagami Rion are close friends and refer to each other as Akira and Rion. Most others call them Sengoku and Akagami. Check out the links above for more information on naming conventions and associated honorifics in manga.

A good long read, but highly recommended.

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