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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Retrospective Review: Eden It's An Endless World! GN 1 & 2

Eden: It's An Endless World volumes 1 & 2
Author: Hiroki Endo
Dark Horse Comics
v.1: 216 pages; v.2: 208 pages

Spoiler warning: Retrospective reviews contain spoilers for the books they discuss as well as later events in the series. Read on at your own peril!

Eden is both a brilliant love song to the post-apocalyptic survival genre and the beginning of a deep exploration on man's role in the natural order. In the near future, a large portion of humanity is wiped out by a brutal, new virus that hardens the skin while dissolving internal organs. Those who aren't immune are either severely crippled or allowed to live with cybernetically enhanced bodies. Taking advantage of a world in chaos, a paramilitary force known as the Propater topples the United Nations and seeks world domination. Elijah, a young survivor searching for his mother, travels towards the Andes Mountains with an artificially intelligent combat robot. When he encounters a group of anti-Propater freedom fighters, a maelstrom of unique characters unfolds. Graphic, cyberpunk, and philosophical, Eden is a place where endearing heroes face a constant struggle for survival and violent surprises wait around every corner!

After a large portion of humanity is wiped out by a brutal, new virus, an organization known as the Propater seeks to wrest control of the world from the United Nations. Elijah, a young survivor with immunity to the virus, crosses paths with a group of supposed freedom fighters. His companion, an artificially intelligent combat robot named Cherubim, is appropriated and reprogrammed, and Elijah is pulled into a world of relentless peril and intrigue! Cybernetic enhancements! Extreme violence! This breathtaking ride is just getting started!

I was only (!) fifteen when Dark Horse Comics released the first volume of Eden: It’s An Endless World! I remember very well picking up the first volume on a whim, curiosity piqued by the cover – a mixture of wires and machinery and two people that seemed caught between consciousness and slumber. I read it and found myself mystified – in a good way, mind you – and also somewhat confused. A lot of the story went over my still developing mind, and a lot of the moral issues truly went over my head with the loudest of whooshing noises. But I loved it, even if my understanding of it was rather shallow. A note: I had just watched Ghost In The Shell for the first time a couple of years earlier and the aesthetic of cyberpunk in a post-disaster world in which humans were slowly being replaced by cybernetic parts was (and still is) utterly fascinating to me.

Read on after the jump for the rest of my retrospective review!

While going back and starting my re-read of the volumes of Eden released so far, I’m amazed by exactly how many things escaped my understanding the first time. For example, the exact relationship between Enoah in the first chapter and the roaming boy Elijah – somehow, the fact that Enoah is Elijah’s father, a rather important revelation, never sunk in during my initial read through which really does shift the meaning of the rest of the story. Yikes. More embarrassing than somehow spending the majority of the Artemis Fowl series thinking the main character was blond when he actually had black hair? I think so. Let’s not even discuss the fact that the two young women introduced in volume two were sex slaves completely passed me by. I must have been both naïve and dense as a brick when I was in middle school, geez. (At this point, I must note that the series does discuss topics such as rape, murder, and drug abuse with an open frankness that may upset some readers. Avoid Eden if these subjects upset you to the point that you have to stop reading; as far as I remember, they’re not issues that are dropped from the story any time soon.)

Having said all that, let’s focus on what the series actually is: a bloody masterpiece. No, really. It is one of the best pieces of fiction I have ever read concerning technology and human nature and the like I have ever read. Like Ghost in the Shell, there is a lot of cyborg tech and hacking running about, especially in the second volume, and it becomes even more fascinating when you realize this all came out of the aftershock of the virus that decimated the human race and clearly still figures into daily life in this brave new world. 

One of the most fascinating characters so far is that of Sophia, the guerilla group’s resident hacker who is mostly mechanical and is actually much older than she looks – old enough to have had eight kids before turning cyborg. She has the ability to delete painful memories and feelings from her hard drive, but she doesn’t, because she values and cherishes her emotions and the depth they bring to her life. It’s almost funny how well she connects with Kenji, the one whose inability to emote correctly gets him into the most trouble within the group (something that becomes a lot more obvious once Helena and Kachua join the rag tag bunch for the duration).

I can’t talk about Eden without discussing the art, I just can’t. It’s impossible. Some series you can get away with it, but not this one. Why? It’s so detailed! Everything is so intricately laid out across the page – the landscapes, the inner mechanics of the technology, the facial expressions of the characters, everything. There is the part where I warn people with squeamish sensibilities to consider not reading Eden, as Endo puts a lot of detail into the death and destruction that litters the planet after the onslaught of the virus runs its course. It truly does earn its parental advisory sticker on each cover, doesn’t it? 

This series is also a visual treat for tech nerds; a lot of attention is put into the various machines used, as well as the cyborg technology used in conjunction with several of the characters, especially when Sophia is hacking into a computer system and her face is spread open to let the cables freely access the terminal in front of her, like something you’d see Major Kusanagi or Batou break out during a police mission (and the comparisons to Shirow Masamune keep on growing, don’t they?). Lest you think the only appeal is the wires and chips, Endo’s full page spreads of various scenery are absolutely gorgeous and very emotionally open. There is nothing cold or distant about Endo’s art, and it only serves to pull you that much further into the story itself.

There is nothing about Eden I don’t love – the story, the art, the writing, everything is top notch. If you love science-fiction stories, you should be reading this. If you love stories full stop, you should be reading this. Go to your local bookstore and request the first two books and check it out for yourself! Hiroki Endo is one of the best storytellers currently on the market, and it’s a shame that more people aren’t reading his series right now. I’m so glad I’ve started this Eden re-read; it’s drawn me back into a dark and fascinating world that had been lacking from my current bank of reading material, and my current reading is that much richer in depth because of it. It truly is a love song to a genre that deserves better than what popularly defines it, and it gets that within the pages of Eden without a doubt.

For more information about the Eden: It's An Endless World manga, check out the pages for volume one and volume two at the Dark Horse Comics website, which both include previews of the books themselves.