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Soloist in a Cage Manga Review!

Soloist in a Cage Manga Review!

-Written by: Will | May 2023

I try to read a manga with little to no expectations, but I couldn't with Soloist in a Cage. When I checked the review sign-up sheet, one of my co-workers wrote a note next to this title:

"Somebody sign up for this, it's a masterpiece <3."

People like to hype up their faves, so when I signed up for it I set my expectations lower than that. Still, when I finished the first volume I was impressed. Though it's too early to call Soloist in a Cage a masterpiece, it very well could be.

In a land with a neverending winter, criminals are sent to a city prison. I mean a city prison, complete with apartments and industry. It's a life sentence for these doomed souls. Under these suffocating conditions with an absence of law, crime and death are never far away. But in this bog of darkness, people still find love. Chloe and her baby brother, Locke, are a result of this glimmer of hope. When their parents don't return home one day, they are stranded inside the apartment, the only place they have ever lived. Their source of food comes from the charity of neighbor Ross Sandberg. A revolutionary, Sandberg plans to escape the prison. But what about Chloe and Locke? Can Sandberg leave them behind? If the children do come, can he guarantee their safety?

This only covers the first chapter, which acts as a prologue to the full story. The back cover doesn't spoil the rest of the book, so I won't either. Let's say the prison city stays the main setting through the volume. Even with that mystery, I can tell you it is worth the read. Chloe and her bond with Locke drive the plot, and they are well-developed characters. Chloe is not a helpless child, and she will do anything to free Locke and herself. This shapes her character in unexpected but compelling ways. Like this air of mystery? Good, because the book, from the story to the setting, is full of it.

The setting is also one of the manga's highlights. It's got a dark atmosphere similar to Battle Angel Alita, but instead of cyberpunk, it is Soviet Russia. The aesthetic shows from the concrete buildings to Chloe's black fur coat and hat (Galaxy Express 999 fans might also recognize her outfit). The prison is a gulag. Even though it has more amenities, you're promised a painful death when you first step inside. But the prison's technology is science fiction. Android bodyguards patrol the wall, and the security tech is futuristic. But the sci-fi elements blend in well by taking inspiration from old technology. For example, the androids' heads look like old box cameras.

The great setting and tone wouldn't be as effective without the art on display. Its defining feature is the use of darkness and light. The shadow work sets the mood while also clearly showing the action. The shadows have a hand-made quality to them you don't see nowadays. Using digital shading works well (and you see examples of that in this manga), but I like the extra effort made here.

The play of light and shadow also heightens the action scenes. Chloe is a dancer at heart, and that informs how she moves in combat. There's a grace to her motion that allows the fights to be easy to follow. To help with the night battles, the author uses the snow as action lines. When Chloe thrusts her knife, it's like the snow and wind bend to her will. I'm interested in seeing how the author can top themselves in future volumes.

I am excited to see how the author can keep this great streak going. Soloist in a Cage is a series that stands out from today's manga, both in subject matter and quality. All these elements come together to make the central mysteries so intriguing. Why would a country build such a complex prison? Why is it always snowing? What happened to Chloe's parents? And what about the central mystery that I can't spoil? Let's hope volume 2 can keep the quality going (and give us some answers!).


Soloist in a Cage Manga Volume 1

Soloist in a Cage Manga Volume 1 features story and art by Shiro Moriya.

A prison the size of a city. A lonesome, snowy place that houses all manner of criminals. It's within this cage that an orphan named Chloe struggles to survive while caring for her baby brother. But when her neighbor hatches a plan to bust them out, the wheels of her fate begin to turn. This is the story of one girl's battle to hold onto hope.

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