Spirits are high aboard the plane; a class of middle-school students is on their way home from their class trip to Guam, and they are busy being teenagers—playing video games, eating, looking at videos of the girls. And then the plane starts lurching from side to side…
What happens next in the first volume of Yoshinobu Yamada's Cage of Eden, which debuts this week from Kodansha Comics, isn't entirely clear, but somehow Akira Sengoku, his egghead friend Mariya, and the flight attendant from the plane all end up on an island—an island that doesn't even exist, according to Mariya's still-functioning laptop, but that seems real enough, as do the strange creatures that inhabit it. Creatures like the giant bird that attacks Akira and his friends—a bird that has been extinct for 50 million years, according to the encyclopedia on Mariya's computer.
Cage of Eden is your basic stranded-on-an-island survival manga, although it puts a few twists on the formula. At first it looks like Akira and his two companions are the only people left on the island, but soon they come across the plane, which remained intact but is seemingly empty, except of the corpse of the pilot—who was stabbed. As they search the plane, Mariya finds a friend's video camera with a recording of the events that occurred after the plane landed, which basically consist of everyone going nuts. What the video doesn't show is where they all went, and even after another missing classmate turns up, the mystery remains.
The cast of characters is pretty standard: Akira is the everyman middle-school student, not particularly good at sports or his studies, but very fond of his childhood friend Rion, who is sweet but otherwise devoid of character. Mariya is your standard haughty, bespectacled smart guy, and Kanako, the stewardess, embodies the irritating stereotype of the clumsy, perpetually apologetic, incredibly large-breasted young woman. Before the crash we also meet the alpha male, the bad boy, the pervert (who is the one with the video camera), the nice female teacher, and the roguish male teacher, who presumably will pop up again. It's pretty obvious, though, that the point of the story is that ordeal will bring out Akira's true personality, and he will go from being a nebbish to a hero by the end of the series. Thankfully, by the end of the first volume Kanako seems to be growing some spine as well.
The art in this book is rather impressive, blending a standard-issue shonen manga style with carefully rendered drawings of prehistoric creatures in action. It's one thing to depict a diatryma or smilodon with scientific accuracy, another thing altogether to show it convincingly in motion—and to put it in the same panel with a human character without ending up with something that looks like it was pasted together. Yamada integrates all these things smoothly, making for an interesting, action-packed story. I was less thrilled with the copious amounts of fanservice, which not only didn't add to the story but often detracted from it (as when Kanako takes a totally pointless nude dip in the pond, something no rational person would do under the circumstances). But shonen manga is shonen manga, and the fanservice is part of the deal. It's still a good adventure story.
Like many survival stories, Cage of Eden displays an impressive set of possible dangers but ultimately hints that the greatest danger comes not from the powerful jaws or talons of a mighty prehistoric creature but from the darkness that lies within our fellow humans—and that often emerges under circumstances like these. The story has been told before, and Cage of Eden is no literary or philosophical masterpiece, but taken on its own terms as an action-suspense story, it delivers the goods and leaves the reader wanting more. Bring on volume 2!
Cage of Eden Vol. 1 is on stands now!