Greg reviews every manga series he reads, part 4: Eden: It’s an Endless World!
Eden: It’s an Endless World! is by Hiroki Endo and published in the States by Dark Horse. Twelve volumes have come out, but the most recent one showed up in September of ’09, and it hasn’t appeared in Previews since then, so perhaps Dark Horse has given up on it (I can’t find much on the Dark Horse message boards). That would be a shame, because this is a thrilling comic.
The series begins in the late 21st century, after a strange disease, the closure virus, has ravaged humanity. In a long first chapter that serves as a prologue, we learn about two children, Enoah Ballard and Hannah Mayall, who have built up an immunity to the virus. They’re being taken care of by a friend of Enoah’s father, Chris Ballard, who is a soldier for a new political entity, the Propater Federation. In the prologue, we learn that Enoah and Hannah are part of the new generation who’s going to help repopulate the planet (which turns out to be a bit of a feint, but that’s what the reader is told early on). Enoah also fiddles with artificial intelligence in the form of the Cherubim, a robot built to defend their home (which is called Eden) and which later destroys the soldiers who come to take them, including Chris Ballard, who dies before he can reveal himself to Enoah. Then we jump to 20 years later, when the story proper begins, with Elijah Ballard, Enoah and Hannah’s 15-year-old son.
Elijah is trekking across South America, part of which is under Propater’s control and part of which isn’t. The main conflict in the world is between Propater and the still-independent nations, and it’s against the backdrop that the series plays out. Enoah Ballard has become a powerful drug lord in South America, which also allows him to fight against Propater in many different ways. Elijah is estranged from his father, but throughout the course of the 12 volumes he comes back into Enoah’s orbit, both for good and bad reasons. The book is an interesting stew of science fiction, political thriller, murder mystery, war story, and romance. In other words, Endo creates a fascinating world in which people live, die, screw, betray each other, and struggle on with what they have. Elijah is the main character, but Endo gives us many other very interesting people as well. Early on in the story, Elijah meets up with Colonel Khan, Kenji, Sophia, and Wycliffe – who are fleeing Propater with some sensitive information that Elijah accidentally comes upon. A bit later they pick up two prostitutes, Helena and Kachua, who prove that they have much to offer the group as well. They fight the soldiers and we also learn quite a bit about their backstories. Sophia, for instance, is a older woman who had her entire body replaced with cyborg parts, so she looks like a young girl. She can also hack pretty much anything. Kenji is a brilliant killer who doesn’t speak much but does whatever it takes to get the job done. Endo does a nice job with this ragtag bunch and the way they set up an ambush for the soldiers who are chasing them, and then, at the end of volume 3, he completely changes the game. The battle turns particularly brutal (it was certainly brutal before, but he really amps it up) and we understand that in Eden, literally no one is safe (not even children). Usually in stories like this, you can kind of figure out who’s going to survive. Not in Eden. Endo makes it clear that this is a dangerous world, and bullets don’t care who they hit. And not everyone dies gloriously, either – at the end of volume 3, the deaths are somewhat meaningful, but in later volumes, characters die because they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they don’t get to get their affairs in order or deliver a grand speech. Endo’s world is a nasty place, and while it might be unpleasant, it also makes the book gripping, because everyone lives on a knife’s edge, and we simply don’t know what’s going to happen as we turn a page.
Elijah’s mother and sister are used in a game between Propater and his father, but he tries to put distance between his father’s politics and his own life. Not unlike Al Pacino in The Godfather Part III, though, he keeps getting dragged back in. We also go to different places in the world to see the larger political picture – there’s a terrific story about ethnic minorities in China trying to get attention for their plight by seizing an oil station, which of course goes horribly wrong. The best addition to the story is when Propater unleashes the aeons, creatures genetically engineered to be almost impossible-to-kill soldiers. The story about the oil drilling station is a sweaty-palms story because the aeons show up and Kenji, dispatched to rescue one of the “terrorists” because he’s the only one, it seems, who can fight the aeons with any success, lures them to a place where Sophia can broadcast their existence to the world (Propater doesn’t want anyone to know of their existence, perhaps not surprisingly). So while Elijah is not always the focus, the other stories relate to his battle with his father and his battle with Propater.
The next surprising event is when, halfway through volume 10, Endo jumps forward four years (to 2112, which helps date other things in the book). Elijah is now 19 and running a small cell of freedom fighters, and we’re introduced to several new characters. Endo also re-introduces the virus, which has mutated. Originally it closed off the pores of its victims (hence the name, “closure virus”) and turned the internal organs to mush and the outer skin to crystal. Then it turned outward and fused organic and inorganic material, swallowing up cities in bursts of infection. This subplot becomes more important as we reach the end of the current published volumes, with scientists finding out they can communicate with the virus and discovering it has plans for humanity that might not fit in with everyone else’s. A powerful AI, Maya, also becomes more important (even though we’ve known of “his” existence since almost the beginning of the series), as it is able to communicate with the virus as well. Plus, of course, there are the usual assassinations and violence that Elijah has to deal with, but he’s much more confident about his abilities and much more ruthless than he was when he was 15. Endo does a good job with Elijah’s maturation process.
I don’t want to give away too much of “what happens” because it’s fun to discover it on your own. Endo gives us a twisty story with betrayals and sudden deaths and surprising sex and fun revelations about characters. What he does very well is create many complicated characters who are very hard to pin down. Elijah grows up in luxury because of his dad’s profession, but that makes him and his family targets for the bad guys. As he grows up, he becomes harder and harder, turning into a skilled assassin, but he also tries to remain a “good” person, agonizing when he’s forced to kill. In later volumes, we see that he’s matured into a natural leader who continues to tread a noble path but doesn’t hesitate to defend or avenge those he loves. Endo does this with all the characters, even the bad guys. We see Pedro the pimp, for instance, who has an unhealthy obsession with a prostitute, and how he turned into the person he has become. Endo isn’t necessarily asking us to forgive his abuses, but he does show us how someone could get that way. We might wonder why Sophia would give up her body and become almost a robot, or how Kenji became such a good killing machine, and Endo shows us. Endo also does a nice job with relationships, both sexual and otherwise. Elijah, for instance, gets normal crushes on women when he’s 15, and when he finally gets into a sexual relationship, it’s wildly awkward for quite some time. Pedro and Manuela’s relationship is twisted and doomed, but Endo shows how both of the participants would keep coming back for more. Miriam, a cop introduced in volume 10 when the series jumps ahead four years, has a crush on her partner but, we learn, is a virgin (in her 20s), which complicates every relationship she has. It’s remarkable how Endo can keep up the tension in this book while still managing to give us several very developed characters who interact in perfectly normal and human ways. It makes the book much more satisfying to read.
Endo’s art is tremendous as well. He doesn’t shy away from showing the horrible effects high-powered ordnance has on human bodies, as the people who die in Eden do so in very graphic ways. Endo doesn’t do this to shock us, like many recent superhero comics do, but to bring home just how terrible violence is (even as the book piles up the bodies). The effects of violence are uncomfortably real in this book, unlike in superhero books where people recover amazingly fast from terrible injuries. Even though this is a world where cybernetic parts can be grafted onto human flesh, that doesn’t mean the violence is meaningless. In one blackly humorous scene, a character gets both his arms lopped off just below the elbows. Elijah’s gang gets him into their van while Elijah scoops up the severed arms, hoping the hospital can re-attach them (they can only get one back on, as it turns out). The sight of Elijah carrying two bloody arms is disturbingly funny, because it’s something that, if we thought surgeons could re-attach them, we would do as well, but there’s still a comical element to it. Endo also draws the sex scenes very well, as the participants often stop to talk or switch positions. When Elijah gets introduced to sex, Endo even turns the book into a comedy, with his paramour (I don’t want to give away who it is) ordering him around, both in bed and out. Endo even manages to work penises into the book – he draws them with very little linework and detail and often obscured, but at least he tries. There’s also a great deal of attention to detail in the book, from the surroundings (whether rural or urban) to the way the characters interact with each other. A book with so much violence needs to have fine choreography, and Endo is up for that – when Kenji stalks and kills his prey, we can almost see him moving fluidly through his victims. This is a very dense book with a lot of characters, but as you read it, you get to know the people in it quite well, so even when they show up after a long absence, we know who they are. And the science fiction elements – Cherubim, the aeons, the effects of the virus – are superb, too, as Endo uses them sparingly and thus increases their impact when they do show up.
It appears that Dark Horse doesn’t have any plans to publish the final six volumes of Eden, which is a tremendous shame. The next two manga I’m going to review are excellent, but Eden is better and the main advantage they have is that they’re complete (how’s that for a teaser?). Hiroki Endo has done a wonderful job giving us what appears to be a science fiction story but encompasses so many other genres as well. Eden is often hilarious (surprisingly), touching, romantic, and brutal. Endo takes no prisoners with his characters, which heightens the tension and makes us appreciate each character more when they show up, because we’re never sure if they’re going to die on the next page. And the evolution of the main character, Elijah Ballard, is very interesting to track. Even though it’s not completed, I don’t have any problems telling you to find the 12 volumes that do exist. Even though it promises a lot more in the final volume, the story that exists right now is excellent. Don’t worry about the destination, worry about the journey!
I don’t know when the next manga review will show up, but you might be able to guess which series it will be. Maybe Danielle, Melinda, or Michelle will come back and write more about manga, because when I’m the resident manga expert on the blog, something is seriously wrong with the universe. Come back, ladies! We miss you!