One of the more unfortunate pieces of news to come out of Shueisha’s otherwise flourishing Jump Plus service was Morita Shiro putting his series Soloist in a Cage on hiatus earlier this year, citing health problems but promising a swift recovery.
Not only does this put into question the aspersion that less frequent serialization is better for a mangaka’s long term health and career, particularly when it comes to the tough environment of Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump, but it also put the brakes on what was shaping up to be a fantastic series – even among the increasingly excellent line-up on the Japanese language Jump Plus and English language Manga Plus services.
With all that in mind, today I’d like to lay out what makes Soloist in a Cage so compelling – particularly with the aim of ensuring that, when Moriya Shiro comes back ready to work, he’s got an eager audience waiting for him. Let’s get into it.
Soloist in a Cage follows the story of Chloe, a young girl living with her baby brother in a gargantuan prison that has come to be known as Prison City. Because of the murderous inhabitants of Prison City, they are forced to confine themselves to a single room and live in isolation – that is, until Chloe meets ‘The Colonel’ and his men, who offer her the chance of freedom.
Such a premise should, if you’re anything like me, remind you immediately of 2000 AD’s seminal comic Judge Dredd. After all, both stories take place in large, lawless cities where danger is around every corner and peace is only maintained by a cadre of ruthless cops.
The parallels don’t stop there, however. In general, Soloist in a Cage is unique as it feels very cinematic in its presentation and structure – aping the style of western comic books as a result.
Much of the art direction is focused less on communicating explosive and fluid action than it is on depicting the foreboding locale of Prison City, against which our protagonist Chloe is always depicted as a tiny force of resistance.
This gives Soloist in a Cage more a graphic novel style than your typical manga, and it’s clear that original author Moriya Shiro is quite aware of this.
The series’ chapters are divided into different ‘seasons,’ with two currently completed. Not only does this ape the vocabulary and structure of Western TV, but also purposefully sections off the different arcs in the series to achieve a very cinematic three-act structure.
We have ‘season one’ which contains the ‘inciting incident’ of a typical Western screenplay – complete with a time skip, journey and ‘return’ – as well as the first set of hurdles for our protagonist, Chloe, to overcome.
The ‘second season’ acts as the second act, slowly the action down as the protagonist literally stays in one place for a while so that the narrative can introduce key moments that will no doubt pay off in the third act.
Or, at least, it would if it was wasn’t on hiatus. Moriya Shiro released the last chapter of ‘season two’ of Soloist in a Cage, chapter 10, on March 2, before going on hiatus due to health problems.
Unfortunately, this means that the very meticulously constructed story of Chloe in trying to save her brother is currently unfinished – and on a major cliffhanger at that.
I’m not usually one to pass judgment on a story until it’s had chance to reach a conclusion, as it’s often how a story manages to ‘stick the landing’ that has the biggest effect on my overall perception.
Even so, there are many elements at play that make me happy enough to give Soloist in a Cage a pass on this occasion.
Not only is the manga absolutely brimming with cinematic beauty that beautifully realizes its near future setting, but it’s also a very competent mystery story that knows exactly when to reveal key information and when to keep us in the dark, on the edge of our seats.
Furthermore, to bring it back to the Judge Dredd comparison, it’s incredibly violent. Not in a gratuitous way, mind – its violence is always warranted, mostly meant to show how far Chloe has come as a character and how her mission is affecting her in more ways than one.
Such content would never be allowed in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump – the monthly Jump SQ, perhaps – but that, in turn, shows us how important Soloist in a Cage is in proving the worth of Shueisha’s online Jump Plus service.
If Soloist in a Cage was a regular, weekly serialization, then I’m sure that would have untold negative effects on Moriya Shiro’s story.
Weekly serialization wouldn’t have been good for his health, for one – so many talented mangaka have been ruined by that environment over the years, such as Hunter x Hunter’s Yoshihiro Togashi and even NARUTO’s Masashi Kishimoto, who decided to forgo art for his latest Samurai 8 for that very reason.
Even more so, Moriya certainly wouldn’t have been able to adapt the carefully organized ‘season’ structure under the pressure of weekly serialization – which would have inevitably led to a much less focused, perhaps less cinematic story.
The aforementioned violence in Soloist in a Cage that paints the events of the story in a bloody, tragic light also wouldn’t have been allowed in a magazine such as Weekly Shonen Jump, which has to curate its content due to suit a younger audience – even if the editorial team do let some things slip through the cracks every now and again.
This more mature presentation is particularly interesting as the series also shares many parallels with Posuka Demizu’s The Promised Neverland, those its core plot conceit of ‘escape’ as well as formidable enemies in the form of wardens and guards.
In this sense, you could say that Soloist in a Cage affords us a glimpse of a more realistic, more mature type of The Promised Neverland story – and, considering how popular Neverland has become recently, I’m willing to bet that many people might jump on the series because of that very conceit.
Serialization via Jump Plus has also brought about perhaps the best aspect of the series, which I’ve failed to mention up to this point – that fact that its available in both Japanese and English for absolutely free.
While the Japanese version of the story via Jump Plus might only provide the chapters on a rotating basis, the English version of the story via Manga Plus (which essentially carries the majority of Jump Plus exclusive series in English) provides all 10 chapters of all two seasons absolutely free.
Availability plus quality is an absolutely unmissable combo – especially for us in the English-speaking West, who are actually able to get into Soloist in a Cage much easier than our Japanese peers.
It’s this accessibility, coupled with how compelling the series is on its own, that gives me confidence in recommending Soloist in a Cage despite its unfinished, stalled nature.
I also hope that my recommendation of the series can guide at least a few new readers to the series – so that Moriya Shiro can come back to a thriving community of fans once he’s fully recovered.
You can read Soloist in a Cage in English via Shueisha’s Manga Plus.