Gratifyingly straightforward and remarkably composed, “Eden” forces a variety of layered questions. What is a perfect world? In a perfect world, are there humans? If humans prevent a perfect world, should humans exist? If humans destroy themselves, should they stay gone? Welcome to the review of Netflix’s “Eden”.
These are the questions floating around the story of “Eden”, the first Netflix Japan Original anime. While only a single season of four 25-minute episodes, the show makes a lot of its time. Series writer Kimiko Ueno is involved in other anime like “Little Witch Academia”, “Carole & Tuesday”, and “Crayon Shin-chan”. Justin Leach directs “Eden”. Finally, Kevin Penkin, the absolute musical mastermind behind shows like “Made in Abyss” and “Tower of God”, serves as the series’ composer.
“Eden” takes place several thousands of years in the future. In this future, humans destroyed almost all of the world. Newspapers in flashbacks show that there were an additional four more world wars. Various epidemics and pandemics (oof) wiped out large portions of the population and multiple animal species. When almost all arable land had gone, the Eden project locked thirty-five thousand people in cryostasis. The goal? To have AI and robots rebuild the environment and revive the remnants of humanity.
“Eden” begins when two agricultural robots, E92 and A37, happen upon a human baby marked Sara Grace. They’re forced to hide her away from Eden; its leading robots hunt down any traces of humanity and re-program any robot who even believes humans created them. Eden then follows Sara quickly through her youth and into a complicated story. I’ll be going over the strongest points of that story: its well-designed main cast, the elements that contribute to the setting, and finally the moral question at the center of season 1. Obviously, that means spoilers; you have been warned.
One of the more persistent details in the first two episodes is the evolution of language. E92 and A37 begin “Eden” speaking very…well, robotically. After taking in Sara and raising her, we get to see the robots, who speak Japanese, and Sara, who is a baby learning to speak, grow together. After a quick time-jump to Sara as a teenager, she speaks with some robotic tendencies. E92 and A37, now referred to as her mother and father (side note: gendering these robots makes no sense and a baby would have no basis for doing it), speak more like humans. The robots lack that mechanical quality to their voices. Sara for her part says things like “repair” instead of “heal” or “affirm” instead of “say yes to.”
Other robots who live alongside Sara and her parents have a near-religious following of humans. They collect remnants of society with a particular focus on art and media. Robots in “Eden” are incapable of creativity and find human art remarkable. Something as simple as dance or emotional expression is new, organic, and worth protecting for these robots.
The antagonist is incredibly well designed as well. I’ll go over him in more detail during the final section. But it’s worth mentioning that the writers and animators did a fantastic job conveying both sides of the antagonist Zero. During his time as a human, wholesome moments with family are beautifully contrasted with horrible realizations about the future. In just four episodes, “Eden” creates a compelling opposing force and even adds a twist via his character. Central to his presence on screen are his human memories of those wholesome times. Zero lacks Dr. Weston Fields’ human emotion. But once Sara forces it into his mind again, the seemingly separate characters are one again.
None of this would be possible without excellent animation and a spectacular set of composed music. The entire series is done in computer-generated imagery (CGI). Many anime fans groan internally when they see this, and I am one of them. Typically, shows blend CGI with traditional animation. The CGI shows up mostly to animate difficult scenes or for movement. In other shows that are entirely CGI, basic scenes feel sluggish and clunky. This isn’t the case with Eden. The anime’s world features fairly smooth movement and a breathtaking landscape. In this future without humans, the entire world is lush and green. Robots fuel themselves by converting organic material like produce into bio-fuel. As a result, much of the visible world is sprawling fields, birds, and insects.
Musically, the detailed score pirouettes beside a vivid landscape lending aid when necessary. When the plot begins to accelerate, the music swells. When non-verbal robots indicate worry or concern, the soundtrack pushes musical words into viewers’ ears. The style of the story, sound, and imagery is reminiscent of an open-world video game. This makes sense given Kevin Penkin’s history; he has not only worked on video game soundtracks but also on multiple anime that rely on an RPG-esque progression through floors or towers.
The questions within Eden around humanity’s survival are where the series shines. Unfortunately, they are the most consistent area of my frustration with the anime. On the good side, Eden constantly examines the question of human value in an otherwise perfect world. The world Zero created by keeping humans asleep is lush, full of natural life, and peaceful. Humans seem to inevitably cause disaster and destruction. Eden makes a point of highlighting the value of art and creativity, sure. But even the pursuit of these good ends results in one human exerting her will over another. The story only ends when Sara decides that humans should live, rejecting Dr. Fields’ decision to cast aside much of his humanity so that the world could live.
Eden ends in explicit optimism and that is what frustrates me. In the final scene, when Sara once again confronts the question of humanity, there is no verbal answer. But obviously, she believes humans ought to survive. Otherwise, she’d have had no reason to wake up the sleeping humans. Dr. Fields lives on and Sara seems confident in her choice with Fields now suddenly agreeing with her out of nostalgia for his loved ones.
Personally, I think the anime as presented makes Dr. Fields (or, more properly, Zero) the much more compelling side to take. Humans go through thousands of years of attempts to survive. Eventually, it is war that makes recovery impossible. Even the project to save humanity breeds conflict. It seems that the world of animals and plants is much better off without human interference.
Overall, I think Eden is a fantastic project that gets better as it progresses. The story is simple enough to fit the overall runtime. While I have personal frustration with the missed opportunity within its plot, Eden still was a pleasant take on the “last human standing” trope of television and film. The story leaves us many questions about both the past and future. I for one will definitely be checking out season 2 if and when it comes. Until then, Eden is streaming on Netflix. After this review of “Eden”, I’d give it a seal of approval and would strongly recommend checking it out, if only for some of the more interesting questions I’ve seen posed in anime this season.
All images courtesy of Netflix.
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