Thursday, February 12, 2015

CBR Neon Genesis Evangelion (manga)

Since the story took place in the year 2015, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to review the entire series this year. Let's begin with the sadly under-appreciated manga series!

It's the story of this kid living the dream of every otaku, but still crying about the fact his father doesn't love him all the time...

Comic title: Neon Genesis Evangelion also known as Evangelion or simply Eva
Written & drawn by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto 

Published by Kadokawa Shoten (Viz Media in NA/Glénat in Europe)/Gainax/Studio Khara 
From 1994–2013
Lineup Evangelion series/Shōnen (1994–2009) - Seinen (2009–2013)
Format: Tankōbon/Manga-sized softcover trade paperback Neon Genesis Evangelion Vol. #1-14.

The product of the then-young animation studio Gainax (only founded in 1984!) Neon Genesis Evangelion managed to become a piece of pop culture and easily one of the most recognizable anime series across the entire world.

And it is pretty unique, since it isn't actually that old a propriety and was actually an original creation at the time, not directly based on a previously existing material.

Evangelion is first and foremost the product of the legendary studio Gainax. Founded by a bunch of animation students and long time fans of the medium (aka big time "otaku" nerds). Hideaki Anno, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Hiroyuki Yamaga, Takami Akai, Toshio Okada, Yasuhiro Takeda and Shinji Higuchi. The studio was formed around the production of animated openers for the scifi/fantasy Japanese conventions Daicon III and IV. Following this first work that helped establish them, they made a few handful of short and longer films. They finally launched a first in-house animated series called Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water which ran from 1990-1991 and was highly successful around the world.

The studio only wanted to work on original creations (although that sort of changed since then). After that, they were given free reign to produce another series. With Hideaki Anno at its head as main director and animator they developed Neon Genesis Evangelion, produced by Tatsunoko Productions, which would air from October 1995 to March 1996. It would be followed by two "films" concluding the original anime before finally getting a reboot of sorts in 2007 with the "Rebuild" film series.

But we're actually going to talk about the manga series here this time, and not discuss directly about the TV series.

The manga itself began about a year before the actual anime series started airing on televiion.

It was directly left in the hands of one of the founding members of Gainax, and animator on Nadia, the series' very own character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto!

Sadamoto did the adaptation, script and the illustrations (with a limited staff of assistants as well).

Gainax didn't want to see the series adapted by an outside artist and wanted to keep things in house.

This manga version was originally meant to help attract the interest in the show.. but since the anime quickly became a huge phenomenon, the manga became first a sort of companion to it... and since it went on lasting well over a decade, it is now just a sort of alternate take on the events of the same story.

It was published from December 1995 to June 2013! On a very irregular basis, the releases took longer and longer as time went along. Plus Sadamoto put the series in a hiatus for a while when he went to work on the new Rebuild movies alongside his work on the manga.

By itself the manga offers a more personal interpretation of the story, compared to the more collaborative effort of the anime series in which all of Gainax staff had a hand in it (kind of like how the current new Rebuild films are solely Anno's interpretation).

The story takes place in the year 2015.

We are introduced to Shinji Ikari, 15 years old. Who has just been sent to the city of Tokyo-3 for some unknown reason. Once he arrives there he discovers he was just selected to become a pilot for this giant mecha they call an "Evangelion".  Turns out his father is in charge of NERV. And he is quickly thrown into situation as this giant monster, an "Angel", just arrived on the scene and they need someone to pilot the Eva. The other pilot, the enigmatic blue-haired red-eyed Rei Ayanami is badly injured from a recent test of the Evangelion Unit-00.

We later find out how these Angels seem to be coming after the NERV headquarters located deep beneath the futuristic city.

A decade earlier, back in September 2000 there was this incident called the "Second Impact". A supposedly "deity", codenamed Adam, blew up somewhere around the North Pole, which ravaged most of the world, the eco-system and left a huge mark on human history. The Seele was put in place to keep things under control. (But they might actually be after initiating a Third Impact, in order to possibly merge all humans into a new existence.)

Shinji's parents, Gendo and Yui Ikari were actually working on the original prototypes Evas, apparently cloned from this Adam. (Yeah, Adam and Eve, I wonder where they got that from..) When Yui "died" during an experiment in front of Shinji's eyes at a very young age.

Shinji is now put under the care of the NERV administrative Misato Katsuragi.

He discovers what it's like having the fate of the entire mankind in his hands, and how much pressure he's put through piloting this "machine". And he seems to try quitting the whole thing every volume or so.

At school he meets some "friends". Well, not really. First nobody cares about this new guy, then they learn Shinji's a pilot and everyone's all over him. He meets this country kid Toji Suzuhara and this military otaku Kensuke Aida. Toji's angry at Shinji for his reckless control of the Eva which put his sister in the hospital. But after saving them during an Angel attack and getting to see how hard it is on Shinji to pilot it, they slowly become friends.

Shinji slowly opens up to others as the series progresses. He is quite intrigued by Rei and the strange bond she seems to have with his father. A new pilot, the chosen "2nd Children" (before Shinji) arrives in Japan from the West, this girl Asuka Langley Soryu. Asuka loves to put on a nice sweet face in front of adults, but she's really awful with everyone once they turn their backs. Then later on the SEELE executives put a children selected by their own aboard the Eva program, this strange white-haired boy named Kaworu Nagisa...

All the while Shinji realizes he finally smiles now. He got some more friends than every in his short life, and finally allows himself to open up to others. He isn't focuses so more on the fact his father never really much for him...

And then things turn really ugly really fast as the story heads to the end.

We discover the real intentions of this Ryoji Kaji from Misato's past, why he was really spying on the NERVE. The enigmatic "AT-field" psychic barriers all the Angels seem to possess is revealed to be present in every living creature. Gendo merges with the remains of Adam. And the Unit 01 gets loose a few times, and seems able to  move on its own..

And what's this whole "Human Instrumentality Project" and how does it tie with Rei?

The anime series might have been created first, but the manga was the actual one to be released first originally. But despite all that, the anime quickly outpaced it. Which in return allowed the book to follow its own pace... Who would have guessed it would take a few decades more to reach the same conclusion, more or less?

If anything, the lack of any real pressure allowed Sadamoto to follow his own pace and leisure, continue telling the generally same story on his own.

With the big picture already revealed in hand, he could shuffle things and decide to play with the events around. Allowing single episodes-worth of the narrative to take several chapters - if not an entire volume.

The manga puts a lot more emphasis on the characters' psychology and personalities. Shinji and the others get to have more development and evolve quite a bit during the course of the entire manga series. Shinji himself is allowed to interact more with others.

Without the supervision of Anno, Sadamoto could alter the plot as he pleased.

Compared to the anime, a lot of little details are completely changed. Our main protagonist generally considered lifeless and making so very little decisions on his own (before the climax at the very least), Shinji is here less introverted and more expressive in the manga. He still seems to have the same hatred for his own father though. Rei (or more precisely "Rei II") gets to be more human and interact more with the others around, she even appears to develop some actual feeling for Shinji. The Eva 00 gets to appear a lot earlier and do more things. Asuka is revealed to have been conceived in a "test-tube". She actually gets to save the day here unlike her anime counterpart who is constantly saved by Shinji and never gets to fight an angel on her own. Kaworu is introduced a lot earlier and seems to be trying to understand humans and learn their behavior. Thanks to the medium we get to see what's going inside their heads, thanks to the narration and use of thought bubbles, we even get to know Rei and Kaworu's thoughts, which brings a lot to the table! One of the television series' most mysterious characters Ryoji receives a proper backstory in the pages of the manga, more backstory for most of the entire cast of characters. Gendo (and Yui) receives more exposition and background information, the past of Shinji's parents is explored in a few chapters. Gendo can be easily considered one of the main characters in the manga. We even get to see him try to get control of this power (or at least attempt to do so). Relationships develop more naturally. The death of Yui is actually shown and explored more, not just a mere plot device here.

On the other hand, the way this post-apocalyptic setting works isn't as shown as in the anime. The entire city of Tokyo-3 is only briefly alluded to, relegated to the background. But we do get to see how life was in this world after the 2nd impact via Kaji. And finally where Gainax chose to pair Shinji and Asuka in the anime, Sadamoto decided to leave Asuka fixated on Kaji and instead decided to use the relationship between Shinji and Rei as the main focus of the story. (In the end, the story might very well be about a girl giving the world up for this boy who doesn't really care much about life.)

Following Nadia, Gainax basically decided to explore some similar themes they started exploring in that show and expand those ideas through Evangelion. Both seemingly about how mankind was created by these other beings out of this world... And choices our heroes are forced to make as they accept how things are.

How humans are just artificial beings, like the Evas. This Adam is revealed to be the first "human", and progenitor of all these Angels. And this Lilith the NERV keep locked underground is the other side of the same coin, the one responsible for mankind and all life on Earth. Not everything's explained though, a lot is only suggested and alluded to. In the manga there appears to be 12 Angels (13 including humanity), just as there 12 members on the SEELE. Mmmh.. Just as Jesus' twelve apostles in the Bible... I wonder... Does it mean something? Not everything is meant to be mean something!... or is it?

The manga series lasted 18 year for only 14 volumes! Sadamoto took his sweet time producing this series, and it shows. The art looks simply amazing. The story is well thought and well crafted, at times better expanded upon than in the original anime series. He would take several breaks, and even put the manga in hiatus to work on the Rebuild films. The series was originally published through Shōnen Ace from 1994–2009, and then it moved from the shonen (for young boys) genre to seinen (adult audience) through Young Ace (2009–2013).

You might accept the story at face value for what it appears to be - a modern take on giant mechas genre. Or have some issues for what it attempts to be - a best of everything otaku, and a very deep deconstruction on the tropes of the genres. One of the most impressive attempts at playing with various postmodernist themes. Hideaki Anno put a lot of himself in the characters, just as well a his co-author Sadamato did, adding his own personal touches here and there. An analysis of its protagonists.

This multi-media franchise proved to be a huge success, and the manga received a huge success on its own selling millions copies of the books all over the world. It would go on to become one of the most successful Japanese franchises in decades.

Overall, Neon Genesis Evangelion is an all-time timeless cult classic. And the manga is easily one of the best aspects of the franchise. We get to understand more of its story and its complex concepts.

It requires a lot to take it all in, but it's carefully exposed and slowly introduced through the run of the story. A lot is taken in as the tale progresses. More ideas and themes are introduced and explored throughout the books.

Gainax wanted to show off the best of the shonen genre, what the genre they grew up with could offer. It was made by otakus for other otakus. As such they always took a lot from the fandom and the nerd community over there, always letting fans promote and toy with the concept of Evangelion - which offers a lot from the significant material to the kickass robots fightings on screen. They were afterall as much otakus as their fans. A lot of official spinoffs and parodies of series (doujinshis) have been released over the years.

Not even counting on all the merchandising, memorabilia and fanservice stuff GAINAX has let people produce around their franchise (for a fee, of course, I imagine)...

Taken in itself, the Evangelion manga is such a great unique experience, Highly Recommended!

Once the anime series reached the end at the time, it received a lot of critics, and they went on following it with some direct continuation in the form of a recap movie and an alternate ending of the series.

Since then we've been getting these all-new reinterpretation of the series, this Rebuild film series.

There's also been a long rumored-live action Evangelion movie project, which is definitively in development hell for good. Honestly, I'm not sure I would love either a purely Japanese or straightly American production, the best of both worlds would to get a joint-effort collaboration between both. But I doubt Hollywood feels like sharing any box office revenues nowadays...

All in all, it's a cult classic well worth a read, which ended not that long ago actually (I can't believe it has already been this long...!

I give it:
3 / 3 Bobobos!

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