Why do I keep coming back to the the state of Dark Horse Manga so often on this blog? That’s because after all the titles I’ve read from them over the years, I genuinely care about what’s happening to them and would hate to see them go away. I see the steady decline of new series from them, the fact that three of their core titles (including their two longest-running series) will be reaching their conclusions soon, and their apparent inability to sell a title that doesn’t hail from an established artist or have a significant media tie-in as a major problem that no one has bothered to talk about yet. Without addressing these issues, I honestly think that in a few years Dark Horse Manga will only exist as an editorial entity to manage the company’s extensive backlist of titles.
What can be done to avert this fate? Keep buying their titles and spread the word about the titles you love to anyone who will listen. That’s why I keep bringing up “Eden: It’s an Endless World!” as it represents one of the best science-fiction mangas I’ve ever read, yet sells in quantities that only allow for the publication of new volumes every two-and-a-half years. After such a wait between vols. 13 &14, there’s a great potential for disappointment in anticipating whether or not this latest volume would be worth the wait. However, unlike other Dark Horse Manga series that have come back from hiatus mangaka Hiroki Endo shows us why he is the man and delivers another thoroughly exciting and engrossing volume of his signature title.
Now the opening may throw some people off as it focuses on a character that we’ve heard of but not seen: Kante Azevedo, the new chairman of Propater. (For that reason alone, it’s recommended that everyone who hasn’t re-read vol. 13 recently does so before cracking this one open.) We start off by seeing a flashback of his dramatic escape into a U.N. refugee camp in Africa before catching up with him in the present and his plane becomes the subject of a kidnapping operation by Ennoia Ballard, the drug kingpin, international power broker, and father of the title’s main protagonist Elijah.
Once Kante and Ennoia meet, they do a lot of talking as it’s clear that the latter wants something from the former, even as the chairman admits that he’s nothing more than a “straw leader” of Propater. After the opening chapter, we see the two again at various points throughout the volume. They represent its slowest parts as their discussions about the nature of man can be a little familiar, preachy or both. I wouldn’t say they’re boring as there’s this tense undercurrent through them that comes from the fact that Ennoia clearly has a plan, and it involves getting Kante to do something. What these things are is not clear yet, but it’s clear that he’s working to put the screws to Propater and that’s entertaining enough to ponder.
Still, it’s not like this event has no significance to the overall narrative in this volume. When Ennoia’s kidnapping scheme kicks off, it serves as the inciting event that drives the main action -- the efforts of Elijah and his crew to get his sister Mana back from Propater. This has effectively been an operation ten years in the making for some of these characters and one of the title’s longest unresolved plot threads. To say that its resolution has been anticipated and imbued with high expectations by myself would be about right.
Fortunately the whole sequence is nothing less than “Eden” doing what it does best. Showing off incredibly well-planned and executed action scenes with lots of compelling science-fiction concepts with just the right amount of humor to keep the drama from becoming overbearing. It starts off with Mana being taken for a ride by her classmate Rosie in a dramatic motorbike/car chase through the city that culminates in a one-on-one duel with a cyborg as mean as he is androgynous. The stakes are upped in the next part as Dr. Fineman, with his brain still in a cybernetic canine body, begins the defusion of the assassin nanomachines in Mana’s body, while Kenji and Sophia join the offensive. Propater doesn’t take this lying down as they add in some of their own operatives including a host of Aeon soldiers and some operatives who have a very personal axe to grind with Sophia.
Even though the fireworks die down as these new players enter the scene, the tension remains high as Mana’s life hangs in the balance. Much like “The Walking Dead,” Endo has shown a proclivity to maim if not outright kill key characters in this series so all of this might very well end in tragedy for everyone involved. The mangaka does do a good job of selling the danger everyone’s in as even Kenji has had trouble going toe-to-toe with the Aeons in the past, and the personal connection Sophia has to the new hacker and swordswoman who enter the story could very well be her undoing. In fact, the last fifty pages represent a steadily growing crescendo of dread and action that had me fully immersed in what was going on. Really, for most of the entire volume the series is firing on all cylinders and is easily one of the most compelling things I’ve read all year.
This includes the fact that part of the dread I got from those last fifty pages was the feeling that this was going to end in a cliffhanger. That feeling… turned out to be right on the money. Now, in case anyone is reading this and thinks that this is a good reason not to buy this volume, then we will never, ever be friends. Even if does turn out to be another two-and-a-half year wait between volumes, I wouldn’t trade the experience I had reading this volume for anything. Thrilling action, great character development, well-timed humor -- witness Elijah’s efforts to get his sorta-girlfriend Miriam to go “naked apron” -- it’s what I look for in everything and its well-thought out science-fiction side just makes the pot that much sweeter. Plus, if you’ve read this far then you’ve already experienced a far more brutal cliffhanger along the way. Just in case you haven’t started reading this series yet, if you like it enough to get to vol. 5 be sure to buy vol. 6 at the same time. You’ll thank me for it later.
Of course, that’s what this review really comes down to: I love this series enough to explicitly tell everyone who reads this site that they should go out and buy it. Right now, as a matter of fact. If everyone who bought vol. 13 did that immediately, then we’d be assured a much shorter wait for vol. 15. As you can see, vol. 14 shows that the title is still going strong after all this time and I can imagine that momentum carrying through to the end -- only four volumes away now. So if you like this title and want to see that end brought over here legitimately in English then I recommend you go and vote with your wallet now. The fact that it’s in these straits is only part of the problem with Dark Horse Manga, but it’s something we can address right now.