It's October once more, which normally means that I'd be starting yet another round of horror manga. This year is a little different though. This month marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Neon Genesis Evangelion, so what better time could there be for me to review all of the Evangelion manga? Before I can start delving into the weirder twists and turns this franchise has taken in the world of manga, though, we should start with the first and original work.
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (Shin Seiki Evangerion), by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. First published in 1994, and first published in North America in 1998.
Shinji Ikari has spend most of his 14 years of life being quietly depressed and self-loathing. Mind you, he's far from the only person with problems, considering that around the time he was born, the world was radically altered by a catastrophic event known only as Second Impact. Out of the blue, Shinji gets an invitation to Tokyo from his cold, distant father Gendo, but the day Shinji arrives also happens to be the same day the city is attacked by an Angel, a massive, bizarre, and almost untouchable monster. Shinji soon finds himself whisked into the world of NERV, an organization that uses giant piloted robots called EVAs to fight back against the Angels. Shinji is now the latest EVA pilot at NERV, and he must face the Angel and fight back if he and the world are to survive.
It's hard to approach this manga without any presumptions when you've already familiar with the story. This wasn't so much of a problem when this manga first debuted, as it came out months before the first episode ever aired. These days, though, anyone who has seen the first couple of episodes of the show or the first Rebuild movie will have seen everything there is to see in this first volume and thus it's harder for a modern reader to approach it with fresh eyes.
I'm not joking when I say that this first volume follows the story of the first two episodes almost beat for beat. All the characters who should be there are there, and they talk and act as they should at this early point in the story. Shinji is depressed, Gendo is a looming creep, Misato is her usual spunky self, and Rei is quiet and bleeding heavily, and we start to learn the basics about NERV, the EVAs, and the Angels. The only major addition is the insertion of a couple of dream sequences which makes the true nature of the EVAs (and Shinji's in particular) kind of obvious. All the mecha battles are there as well, and they are suitably huge in scale. It's just that it all hews so closely to the original source material that it feels utterly redundant. I can't help but want Sadamoto to do a bit more and to do something a little difference to make this experience of Evangelion more distinct. As it is, it's perfectly fine, but it feels more like an illustrated recap than it does a proper manga.
Now it goes without saying that the artwork is pretty solid. When you have the show's character designer doing the art, there's no concern that he's going to screw up the character designs or make a mangle of the artwork in general. Sadamoto's style is confident and expressive, even if he really does tend to draw the same angular face over and over, but it's perfectly fine here. That being said, he doesn't take any real risks with his artwork either. The presentation is plain and simple, and it's clear that Sadamoto didn't necessarily feel all that comfortable with the mecha action. They come off as somewhat stiff, and they beg to be blown up into big, splashy panels instead of a bunch of mostly static mid-range shots. There's no energy or drama to them, and it's a detriment to a beginning that's in desperate need of both.
There are quite a few extras here because of the fact that this manga came out before the show did. The production crew took this chance to try and sell their audience on the show, which is why we have not only an introductory essay from series creator Hideaki Anno but also an essay and sketches of EVA-01 from mecha designer Ikuto Yamashita.
The original Evangelion manga starts off perfectly fine, but it doesn't really add to or enhance the story it's adapting. It's simply there, and it's hard to recommend it too strongly when its animated equivalents are so much more engaging.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 14 volumes available. All 14 have been published and are currently in print and available in e-book form through Viz.com.