The 1995-96 TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion is considered one of the definitive works of animation produced in this decade. Taking the traditional giant robot genre in a more psychological direction, while giving its audience striking animation, action, and music, Evangelion pushed the boundaries of TV anime. But the tortured tale of reluctant warrior Shinji Ikari and his adventures battling the mysterious alien entities called "Angels" was first showcased in manga form in Kadokawa Publishing's monthly Shonen Ace.
Written and drawn by the anime series' co-creator and character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Wings of Honneamise), this comic version is being published in the US by Viz Communications.
Viz is publishing the comic in two formats - "western" and "Special Collector's edition." The western version is flipped. Because Japanese is read right to left, the images are flipped so the translated English can be read left to right. It looks like a normal US comic. The Collector's Edition is printed right to left in the traditional Japanese manner. The inside front cover sports a note saying that this is the last page of the comic, not the first, and to start reading from the other end.
The first four pages of the premiere issue, "Stage 1: Angel Attack," are in full color, because that's how Sadamoto's manga art originally appeared in Japan. In Japan, when a comic publisher wants to give special notice to a new manga or a major new chapter, they will sometimes print the art in color or two-tone.
Now on to the story. In the year 2015, 14-year-old Shinji Ikari is on his way to meet his estranged father in the city of Tokyo-3 after more than a decade of separation. Shinji's personality is established on the very first page, when he says, "I've never had any dreams or ambitions. I've never really cared whether I got into an accident or something and died." He is a very unlikely candidate for warrior/savior of the human race.
Shinji is confronted with that possible future when he ends up in the middle of a destructive conflict between the Japanese military, a huge seemingly unstoppable being called an Angel, and a giant entity called the Artificial Human Evangelion. He soon learns that his father sent for him to pilot the battle weapon Evangelion against the Angel. Shocked and distraught, Shinji at first refuses, but relents when he sees the alternate pilot, a seriously injured girl his own age.
Shinji learns he is one of a rare breed of "children" born after the catastrophic Second Impact of the year 2000, when a meteorite struck Antarctica. Two billion people died in the subsequent flooding. As one of these "children," Shinji is one of the few people capable of operating the technological wonder that is Evangelion.
As the comic's lead character, Shinji has an archetypal connection to young anime leading men of the past, back to Tetsujin 28 (Gigantor). He is perhaps most closely related to the troubled teen Amuro Rey of Mobile Suit Gundam (1979). Like Shinji, Amuro had an emotionally distant relationship with his father, who was the principal designer of the original RX-78 Gundam mecha. Moreover, Amuro was born with the special "NewType" mental abilities. Shinji doesn't fully understand his abilities that let him pilot the Evangelion with nearly no training.
But as Gundam evolved the giant robot saga into a new level of story complexity, Evangelion 25 years later has added more levels. Perhaps the most interesting difference is the connection each character has with his warrior robot. Whereas Amuro Rey probably epitomized the dream of any robot otaku in being almost instantly able to pilot a complex machine like the Gundam, Shinji's initial "bonding" with the EVA Unit-01 is depicted as a truly frightening experience. The battle with the weird Angel entity only compounds his terror at being thrust so suddenly into the role of Earth's savior.
Thus, in Book One of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Sadamoto turns the giant robot genre on its head by showing the larger-than-life mechanical constructs no longer as objects inspiring awe and wonder, but rather as towering figures of fear. From an allegorical standpoint, Evangelion's remarkable robots may have a closer connection to the "God Warriors" featured in Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind.
Misato Katsuragi - Shinji's self-appointed guardian and captain of the secret United Nations agency NERV, the base of operations for the Evangelion weapon. Arriving in the story with the screech of her sports car's tires, Misato is an upbeat 29-year-old with an outgoing personality that is in direct contrast to Shinji, whom she finds, "so gloomy... like some kind of mood disorder!" She takes it upon herself to provide Shinji with a new home and a protective big sister.
Gendo Ikari - Shinji's father and central figure in the development of the Evangelion. A character as mysterious in his motivations as the Angel threat he created the EVA Units to combat, Gendo is a most unsympathetic character. Coldly indifferent to his own child, he nonetheless has a strong bond with the first Evangelion pilot, Rei Ayanami - a bond his son wishes he had with him. Gendo bares physical scars attesting to his emotional connection to Rei.
Rei Ayanami - another of the special "children." Rei is actually called the "First Child," the original pilot of the EVA Unit-01. If Shinji is depicted as an emotionally troubled teen, Rei is even worse. Although speaking little and acting distant, she still manages to make a connection with the reader, perhaps because of her chilly presence. Her silence and beauty invoke curiosity about her character.
Sadamoto creates subtle yet powerful images of Shinji and Rei. On the cover of issue #1, Shinji is shown as a still-innocent child, but on the cover of #3, Rei looks out from a window, her head and eye bandaged, her child's innocence lost.
Sadamoto does a good job of retelling this story of humans, artificial humans, and aliens from anime to manga. In the letters section of issue #4, editor Carl Gustav Horn described the manga as "Sadamoto's own interpretation of the story." While his artistry mimics the visual look of the animated show, his version differs in some ways. At the end of Evangelion, Misato takes Shinji to view the city of Tokyo-3 in an attempt to cheer him up. In the anime, the scene ends with Misato telling him, "This is Tokyo-3, the city you saved!" as they overlook the futuristic metropolis warmed by a crimson sunset. In the comic, Sadamoto extends the scene, adding a degree of sadness and a deeper emotional resonance to the animated version's uplifting glow.
The comic version of Neon Genesis Evangelion offers artistic and reading rewards nearly as engrossing as the much talked about anime series. It comes well recommended.