The Japanese comic (or manga) has a great tradition of creating intelligent science fiction for grown-ups. Akira was one of the key titles that brought Japanese comics west and Eden can be seen as a direct ancestor.
This first volume is a fine example of how the Japanese have taken elements of this genre and made them their own. Eden’s post-apocalyptic themes have been worked countless times before – the author admits to its derivative nature in his afterword – but it takes things a step further. There’s a softer approach than we’re used to, focusing on the lonely existence of the apocalyptic survivor, but breaking it up with pulses of horror, which ironically occur when the isolation is shattered by other groups of marauding humans.
Spanning 20 years we see the world through two generations. The first have genes somehow immune to a skin-hardening plague that is slowly petrifying most of the rest of the world’s human tissue. The second is their son, striking out alone in a hostile world full of empty department stores and bandit-like pockets of so-called humanity.
In the background, a covert military group has made the most of the chaos, overthrown the world’s governments and turned society into a dictatorship of their own making. But is the plague a natural disaster or a man-made attempt to destroy itself? This and other questions permeate the plot.
Hiroki Endo’s black and white art is detailed, subtle and perfectly complements the story. The daily lives of the survivors sharply contrast the horror, but the art style suits both, as comfortable in the vegetable plot as the bloodbath. Endo uses the nifty trick of fading out the background as you’re reading: initially building layers of detail to fill your imagination with a coherent, solid world; then pushing it back and giving the characters room to stand out again when we need to focus on them.
With a cast of key characters you can almost count on one hand, but also inferring an enormous depth and complexity to the ravaged world around them, Eden is a fascinating work of speculative fiction. Intelligent science fiction isn’t something you stumble across every day and, while it’s traditional and superficially derivative of its post-apocalyptic sub-genre, Eden adds both depth and accessibility that make it a pleasure to read.