Aside from its use of cyberpunk tropes, from artificial intelligence to cybernetic bodies, the dystopian future of Hiroki Endo’s Eden: It’s an Endless World! could almost pass for a modern day gangster story. And that’s one of the least likely genres that I imagined the plot moving towards after the first volume, with its reflective, existentialist tones. Eden seemed focused on a bigger picture, one ecological and geopolitical in nature. Nothing less than the fate of the world seemed to be at stake. If only it were that simple.
As the series has progressed, such greater problems have gradually given way to “smaller” ones: poverty, drug addiction, prostitution, organized crime and corrupt government. While the ragtag band of mercenaries and outcasts that make up the story’s protagonists are able to prove themselves in combat through teamwork and sheer will in early volumes, overcoming such social pressures (along with new foes) could prove to be too much for them to handle. But for the characters of Eden, life isn’t about changing the world, but just surviving in it one day at a time. This, as it turns out throughout volumes two through seven, is never a easy matter.
Volume 2 opens with the central protagonist, 15 year-old Elijah Ballard, unwittingly teamed up with a band of resistance fighters in the Andes Mountains. His companions (formerly his captors) set out to escape territory controlled by the right-wing, global dictatorship known as Propater. Outmanned and outgunned, they face off against their opponents in some of the most elaborately composed and intense action scenes that I’ve ever come across in manga. I’m no expert on the form so I can’t say how Endo stacks up against the greats as an artist, but I’ve got to admit that his attention to detail, no matter how gruesome it can be at times, is unmatched in my book.
Pretty pictures aside, his attention to detail concerning the characters is what makes Eden such a great read. The more manga I read (not to mention the anime I watch), the more I notice authors consistently going the extra mile to fully develop not just the protagonists, but the villains as well. From acclaimed Studio Ghibli films to popular shonen series, characters’ backgrounds and motivations are often explored to a degree that’s rarely considered (or truly valued) here in the West. This is a broad statement, for sure, but I think that most fans of manga and anime would agree with it to some extent. Eden operates well within this tradition, devoting multiple chapters to its characters’ troubled pasts. Little is revealed of the quiet but ruthless assassin Kenji during the first few volumes, until we’re treated to a flashback of his childhood and the events that lead him to choose such a dangerous path in his life. We also get to know the cyborg hacker Sophia, the gang lord Pedro, the prostitute Helena, the circumstances they faced from birth and the choices they made which eventually entangle their fates inextricably together.
In short, we’re presented with characters deep enough to, if not truly care about, then at least empathize with. This is important as it’s made clear quite early on, no character is truly safe from the violent twists of fate that are so common in Eden‘s hostile world. This left me more shocked and shaken than I’ve been by a manga in quite some time, and I don’t expect any respite in future volumes.
I’ll admit that I’m far from the most seasoned reader of manga in the otakusphere, but I think I can recognize a great book when I see one. Eden: It’s an Endless World! continues to be one of the more ambitious mangas I’ve ever read. Even as it’s set its sights on more conventional targets, it’s continued to grow more intriguing. With no small amount of trepidation, I look forward to more.