Plot: Haiba Sumio has a mysterious power – the dream diary. He’ll fall into a slumber and suddenly start writing in his diary. When he awakes, he finds that the words he’s written in his sleep are actually a prediction of the future, and his predictions always come true.
One day, he gets a prediction that his mother will be whisked away by a mysterious force, and the prediction comes to pass. Before he can figure out what happened, he and seven other individuals are kidnapped and taken to a vacant alternate version of their school. A strange being, signified only by a skull with a backwards jaw, named Enigma, tells them that they’re all trapped and they cannot get out unless they succeed in an e-test – a series of several challenges that, when completed, grant the group one of seven passwords to leave the school.
The e-test lasts for 72 hours. Anyone who doesn’t have a password in the allotted time will be trapped in the school forever.
Breakdown: I found Enigma while searching for survival game manga. I have a particular interest in stories like that and this added several elements that changed the structure quite a bit. Most notably, this series includes the aspect of ‘talents’ which are unique powers each participant has.
I really liked this twist because most of the participants either didn’t know they had a talent or they kept it a secret, allowing the reader to learn with the group as to what talents they had. Not only do they all have individual talents but the e-test was created in such a manner that each challenge could be solved by utilizing the talents of each subject – sometimes just one person’s talent was needed and other times they all needed to work together.
It’s a rather brilliant and unique approach to this type of story, especially considering that many of the participants have powers that aren’t your typical abilities. Sumio’s future prediction is rather cut and dry, but some of the other powers include a magic sentient scar that can detach itself from the user and ‘rewind’ things to certain times, the ability to enter and manipulate 2D worlds like photos and videos, and the power to transfer their consciousness into a super-strong, super-light cartoon-y police mascot.
Not only do you have the mystery of what their talents are, but you also wonder what their prizes are going to be. Enigma gives each participant a card listing a prize that they’ll win should they beat the e-test. Sumio’s, for example, is getting his mother back. The prizes of the other players are slowly revealed as their stories are given.
I was very much invested in this story…..for the first half.
Something that raised a red flag for me going into this manga was how long it was. I got to about chapter 20 when I realized there was more than 30 chapters left and the e-test was nearing completion. What could they possibly do to extend it for so long?
A lot. A lot of….stuff.
Let’s start with the reveal of Shigeru’s talent. Shigeru is Sumio’s childhood friend and kinda-ish love interest. Her talent isn’t revealed or even really hinted at until the very end. Spoilers: Her talent is actually the future prediction and all along it was working in tandem with Sumio’s real talent, which is telepathy. Whenever she’d have a vision, Sumio would zonk out, I guess, then telepathically transcribe the event, for some reason. Also, he’d include a childishly drawn picture with it and it’s revealed that….It’s…Shigeru’s younger self….drawing…it. I dunno.
Somehow, someway, Sumio never realized he could read minds, even though he was close friends with a mute person and could understand what he was ‘saying.’
Also, Shigeru never realized she could predict the future all this time.
Also, also, after this is revealed, Sumio starts reading peoples minds with his cell phone….and the cell phone’s UI tells him which people can telepathically connect with him and who is in range of his powers….End of spoilers.
But that’s just the tip of this insanely contrived iceberg.
Enigma was secretly Kirio, an old friend of Shigeru and Sumio who had never been seen or mentioned until about two chapters before his reveal. The skull is actually real….and magic. It’s a magic wish-granting, reality-bending skull. Enigma, which is actually a title given to the current owner of the skull, was using the e-test to find a new owner of the skull since it brings him nothing but misery.
However, even that’s a misdirect because it’s revealed that finding a new owner for the skull was really a ploy to draw out another talent-user, a being known as Cannibal. He’s made out to be scary given his character design and the fact that he eats people’s bones, but his fright factor is diminished immensely by the fact that, in order to do this, he….somehow….turns the bones…..into little human-shaped….pies….And the people don’t even really die when this happens. They turn into wiggling lumps of flesh that all get instantly dumped into convenient trash bags while their….essence or real forms lie in coffins in a literal room within Cannibal’s stomach while they’re all slowly digested in the most non-graphic way ever.
You ever have one of those moments where you don’t truly process how ridiculous something is until you write it out?
Drawing out Cannibal results in another e-test-like game on a train, but this time only three new characters are introduced – all of which are suspected to secretly be Cannibal. You have a really skeevy girl named Mao who clings to all of the boys, a gentlemen with his head encased in a safe and a literal serial killer. Not lying, he’s a serial killer. He happily murders little children.
You never learn of the talents of any of these people and such talents never factor into the game, which is getting an ever-diminishing amount of tickets at each stop, forcing the players to leave behind one person at each location.
Along for the ride is the only other member of the original cast to be part of this new game, class president and resident justice advocate, Matsurigi, somehow.
There is a decent mystery in figuring out who Cannibal is because all three of the new people are jerks to some degree, but it’s also very suspicious that Matsurigi is even on this train.
I’ll spare you the details of the rest of the story, partly because it’s just way too much to go over and partly because it’s near impossible to do it without spoilers everywhere.
The end result is….a lot of exposition being thrown around in nearly every chapter, a hell of lot of insane coincidences and an ending that is both baffling in how confusing and overly complicated it is while simultaneously being one of the most quick and clean endings ever.
I went from a cool supernatural power-based survival game, one that focuses more on building friendships and actually surviving instead of shock deaths, anger and never-ending suspicion no less, to spending almost every chapter being confused and wondering why this manga is continuing as long as it is. The second e-test was almost entirely pointless, in my opinion, and I just could not care at all about any plot involving that skull.
The manga has a wide range of fairly unique characters, with my favorites being Aru and Moto. I loved that everyone got their own unique backstories that melded with their talents quite well. However, like a lot of ensemble series with colorful casts, the main character is fairly dull.
Sumio is a very nice guy that damn near everyone loves. His only real flaw seems to be that he’s a bit of a skirt chaser, even though this is nearly gone by the midpoint of the series.
The entire group relies on him and his dream diary a lot to get through the e-test. Enigma even points this out at the end of the game. In the second e-test, most of the original cast is MIA and the only talent shown, for the most part, is Sumio’s telepathy.
Everyone does come back together near the end, but scarcely are their unique talents used again, and the focus remains on Sumio throughout the entire story. In fact, in the ‘true end’ chapter, the whole story is dedicated to the group following some very strange and insanely convenient ‘seven wonders of the school’ ghost story in order to find and remember Sumio….who was just…hanging out in the auditorium.
I don’t dislike Sumio at all, don’t get me wrong – he’s very noble and brave and is always working to help people – but when you have such a large cast of interesting characters, it irritates me when the most boring one of the group ends up being the main focus.
Speaking of boring, Shigeru is a perfect match for Sumio in that regard. Shigeru is the quintessential love interest. She’s childhood friends with Sumio, she’s very nice, she gets kidnapped more than once and she’s kinda useless until the very end.
Also, her prize might be a little on the ‘oh my god, are you kidding me’ side. Spoilers: Her prize is for her and Sumio to reunite with their old friend, Kirio. And…it’s kinda implied that she wanted this because Sumio started paying less attention to her after Kirio left and she thought if Kirio came back, Sumio would pine after her. Between that and the fact that her power is linked to crying, she’s a real feminist icon. End of spoilers.
Like Sumio, I didn’t seriously dislike Shigeru, although I will admit I definitely dislike her more than Sumio. She just didn’t interest me very much. She doesn’t have an interesting story. She is literally just there for most of the series, being useful only a few times before she’s kidnapped and removed from the story for about 70% of the second act.
The art in this series has its ups and downs. It’s fairly well-detailed and some characters have memorable designs, but wow, Sumio’s hair is one of my most hated hair designs ever. It gets better as the manga goes on, but the fact remains that it’s an oddly coiffed green afro. At least the manga’s in black and white so you rarely see the green, but just the design was driving me mad in the first handful of chapters.
Bottomline: I can’t bring myself to say I genuinely disliked this manga because I did connect with several characters (I love Aru most of all) and some of their stories and powers were really well-constructed. There were numerous nail-biting and heartwarming moments, and the story, as a whole, could be really creative. The aspect and integration of the talents and prizes were very well-done and incredibly interesting.
However, I also can’t deny that the second act is just a big cluster of convenience and so many sudden exposition dumps that it was actually getting difficult to keep up with it half the time. I really believe that the story should’ve ended just a few chapters or so after the e-test was over. Everything involving that dumb skull just seemed tacked on and ridiculously contrived. I can see where they were coming from and how everything interconnected, but it was a really long road to follow and it just wasn’t worth it, in my opinion.
The absolute or ‘true’ ending quickly cleaned everything up in such a squeaky clean manner. I’m all for happy endings, believe me, but there’s such a thing as going too far with it.
Additional Information and Notes: Engima was written and illustrated by Kenji Sakaki, and it was published in Shueisha.
Recommended Audience: This is a little tricky. Some people do die in this manga, but, for the most part, it’s tame. There are some graphic-ish images, but they’re usually off-panel or quick. Cannibal’s shtick should be incredibly dark and made specifically for shock deaths and gore, but considering the goofy nature of his powers, what with turning people into cute little pies and the eaten people not actually dying, I can’t say he’s a big offender either.
The serial killer I mentioned earlier gets some questionable-ish scenes and dialogue, especially when he’s talking about his past crimes, but that’s also not that bad.
There’s no nudity and only a tiny bit of harsh language.
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