I’ve been an enormous fan of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion for many many years. It remains my favorite series ever and with a handful of other anime, is such a formative building block of who I am. If you don’t know, a lot of anime tends to be adapted from manga series, which are Japanese comics, with the word manga basically translating literally to comics. They are the same thing. Most of the time, if a manga version came first I’ll try to absorb that over the anime series. I’m able to read the oftentimes VERY LONG series far quicker than I can watch a whole bunch of episodes. When I got into Evangelion I knew a manga existed but I also knew Evangelion started as its own original series, with the manga being a tie-in of sorts to run parallel and drum up support for the show. Everytime I’d check in on it, I kept finding out it wasn’t finished. Mind you, this was YEARS after the anime had finished. “How could this be?” I’d often ask myself. For these reasons I dismissed the manga and figured I’d never give it a read. It seemed destined to be this bizarre side story that didn’t matter and seemed to inevitably never actually conclude. Well, here I am circling back to Evangelion again in my thirties. I’ve rewatched the anime and all the various movies and am now diving deep into all the apocrypha, all the side stuff: the many OTHER spinoff manga, the video games, the collaborations, the absurd merchandise, and most of all the official manga series. It has finally wrapped up and I have it all in front of me. So I thought as long as I sit here immersed in the LCL fluid of Eva, why don’t I start a sort of read along diary as I go for every volume of the manga. I’m going to point out things I like, things I hate, interesting bits that only exist here, differences between the anime and the manga, and all other manner of random musings I may have.
So before we jump into the volume by volume stream of consciousness from me, let’s drop some more context about the manga. It is written and drawn by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, who did all the character designs and quite a bit of the art for the Evangelion series. I find it incredibly cool and fascinating that the manga was done by someone so closely involved. Sadamoto said in an interview he “wrote the script of the manga using the anime “as a base” but goes on to say he adapted it as he saw fit all on his own with no outside consultation. This results in the work following the anime but ending up becoming something vastly different. Interestingly, due to production delays with the anime this actually came out FIRST on December 26, 1994 in Kadokawa Shoten’s Monthly Shōnen Ace. Like I said this was done to really get people hyped up to watch the upcoming show. The anime didn’t debut until 10 full months after this. By the time the show finally hit, the manga had been out so long 3 volumes of material had been released. However, this wouldn’t last long. It originally was releasing a chapter a month before Sadamoto quickly ended up busy with other work and chapters ended up releasing extremely infrequently. It wouldn’t be until 2013, about 18 years since it debuted, when we would finally see a conclusion. So before we even dive into the actual material, we have such a bizarre and intriguing background to it all. With that out of the way, let’s dive in!!
One of the things you notice right away is how Shinji is way more of an everyman protagonist in this than he feels in the show. I can’t quite tell if it’s the English localization or not, but he seems less the frightened turtle and more the annoyed teen boy. He’s not so much damaged as he is a regular 14 year old. Shinji becomes the main focal point for the story and we never really leave his POV of events. This is on purpose as Sadamoto says in an interview he wanted to follow the anime exactly but try to simplify it more for readers but found that task impossible. Instead he decided on a different approach saying “I put all of my strength in trying to see how the world of Evangelion would look through Shinji’s heart.” adding he set out to “..make the flow of the main character’s emotions easier to understand.“. Questioned further he adds “Unless I get into Shinji’s head, I can’t draw the manga.” and “What I’m attempting to write here is a piece of my life – the dialogue of Shinji that would come from inside me.”. So from all of that you really see that Sadamoto is purposefully branching off from how the storytelling of the anime works. Instead, this manga becomes a deeply personal work of Sadamoto inserting into Shinji and giving us a different experience more focused on his internal experiences. It is very interesting to see right away here.
The plot mainly sticks exactly to what you’d expect here in the beginning, following very closely to the first two episodes of the series, albeit with slight differences we’ll get into. One thing I want to note is how massively talented Sadamoto is from detailed action and set pieces to being a master at body language and expressions. Above you’ll see some of his more entertaining and soulful renditions of when he goes peak silly with an upset Misato. I love Shinji just sitting there like “WTF?” He’s just really good at drawing these characters and infusing them with life. It’s a joy to see the actual character designer get to play with his creations this way, producing page after page of gorgeous art.
One interesting thing we see right away that differs from the anime is that we see Rei in Eva Unit-01 leaping into action to fight the Angel, Sachiel and help save Misato and Shinji. We never see this in the anime, we only later see Rei hurt after she presumably did try to synch and pilot Eva Unit-01 in failure. It’s a very different way to get introduced to the big robots and I love this line they give Shinji:
From here things play it the same as Misato brings Shinji to NERV HQ to meet Ritsuko and his father. We get the face to face visit with EVA Unit-01 and get a big info dump that is way clearer than the anime. Take for instance how the “big robot” is explained:
Shinji’s father Gendo then appears and tries to convince Shinji to get in the robot and in the manga he is still cold and uncaring but seems A BIT more human? Ok, so he’s still a terrible father but he feels slightly deeper here.
Shinji rightfully starts shouting at his father about how absurd this all is, so the team tells him to go and then preps Rei to hop back in because she’s not dead yet. Shinji sees Rei fall and goes to her, cradling her realizing he has to do something as Misato gives him an unwarranted guilt trip until he finally agrees to hop in. All the stuff you know and expect. Shinji gets ready to go and as I was saying we get a Shinji with an inner monologue that’s a bit more tough, more rebellious. He seems to be doing this in spite instead of some cowering, guilt possessed move about not running away anymore. He feels much more “Shonen Protagonist” here.
Eva Unit-01 is then sent out to fight the Angel, Sachiel with Shinji inside. We get him acclimating to the task of controlling the Eva in a very humorous couple of pages that show him successfully starting to walk as Misato and Ritsuko shockingly look on. Then the Eva Unit won’t STOP walking as it charges ahead with Shinji unable to stop it. In the anime it trips and falls rather humorously but I like this version quite a bit too as it shoves Shinji into the action whether he likes it or not. Again, this is more of a rough and tumble Shinji taking on whatever may come.
Shinji yells a batlle cry and goes head first into the battle but misses the Angel entirely and crashes into some buildings and falls down. Then we get the usual scenes of Sachiel wrecking Unit 01 as Shinji suffers the pyschic pain blowback. The continued beatdown ensues as Shinji and Unit 01 pass out and go unresponsive.
The next chapter starts with Shinji asleep in a dream void where he sees his Mother who he quickly embraces until she quite nightmarishly transforms into a hideous creature with wires and more hooked into her. Rightfully Shinji FREAKS THE FUCK OUT!!
This really shocked me as almost from the start you are lshown that perhaps Shinji’s Mother’s consciousness is somehow within Eva Unit-01. Sure, readers wouldn’t quite get that yet but now with hindsight that is exactly what is being shown. I found the design of Unit 01’s unarmored body here to be so frightening and interesting. We’re never really shown this specific design DURING the show but if you look at design documents of the Eva Units for the show that was what was originally drawn out. Have a look:
I thought this was so so cool. Again, the fact that Sadamoto was so heavily involved in the series to have access to all of these designs and info makes for such a more worthwhile adaptation than a work done by someone looking in from the outside with some totally wrong direction. I love that we get to see what may be happening to Shinji at this point as well as the Mother foreshadowing. We don’t get this unique insight into what is happening to Shinji in the show. In fact once Eva Unit-01 powers down, we don’t go back to Shinji until well after the incident. Shinji’s freak out and desire to be saved causes Unit 01 to mysteriously awaken when it shouldn’t be able to. It promptly goes apeshit, confronts the Angel, rips open its AT-Field and before it can kill the Angel, Sachiel self destructs – all just like the anime. Only differences are some nice shots showing us Shinji through this amidst all the intrigue. I feel like giving us that personal view of Shinji makes this WAY more offputting. I love the panel of Gendo smugly smirking, knowing more than everyone else.
After this we get Shinji waking up in the hospital but instead of the “unfamiliar ceiling” shot and running theme from the anime we get a dream sequence of Shinji trying to run away from his gruesome, unarmored Mommy Unit-01. Again, I absolutely LOVE that we get this. It further hammers home all the perverse, fucked up things that lie underneath the “robot” surface and show the reader something is seriously wrong.
Shinji wakes up, sees the battered Rei, has an awkward confrontation with his father and meets back up with Misato, who learns that Shinji won’t be living with his father as she thought. Shinji snaps at her and classic Misato comes out:
I LOVE this entire sequence for so many reasons. First we get SO MUCH animated Shinji, displaying more emotion in these few pages than he seems to do in the entirety of the anime. I love the background line work and the creased, angry brow squiggle for Misato’s face on every panel. I love both of their expressions and body language here. That word balloon to show dialogue of Ritsuko on the phone actually having her in it as an angry chibi figure is immaculate and why I read comics. And lastly I just love Misato being Misato. She is my favorite character in the anime because she is able to be so multidimensional and act so different all the time but it all feels so real and authentic. Her getting so angry here at Shinji and not brooking his teenage shit is so good. It’s all drawn so perfectly.
The volume then ends with Misato showing Shinji the overpass view of Tokyo-3 and praising him for his actions, while he starts to cry and say that he just wanted his father to say those nice things to him. It is a quietly effective scene that really humanizes Shinji and Misato in a rather relatable scene.
All in all, I really enjoyed this. I expected the beginning at least to stick EXACTLY to what we get in the anime and while not EXTREMELY different, there’s just enough of Sadamoto giving us his own interpretation that you get hooked. His art, which of course makes up the foundation of all the characters in the anime, is on another level here. Every page is full of aesthetically pleasing, SPOT ON Eva masterpieces. You start to feel like you’re getting spoiled by how much of it is here. How can this exist from the actual character designer?? He does an excellent job with the mechas, the Angels and all the fight scenes, things he wasnt directly responsible for on the show, and still makes those look beautiful in his vision. Shinji, Gendo, Ritsuko and Misato all feel like they have more personality here and it feels like we get to take more of a peek behind the curtains into what they think throughout. Whereas the anime was a Lynchian Rorschach test where you observe and make your own conclusions; the manga welcomes you in, sits you down, offers refreshments and gives you a personal explanation. It’s refreshing and it’s fun and it’s what I want out of an adaptation. I hope to see more radically different takes as I go here. If I had to criticize the volume, I’d say it maybe follows the anime groundwork TOO closely here which would bore longtime fans.
Next Time: I dive into Volume 2 and see how closely we stick to the anime once more. I can’t wait to see more characters introduced. I hope we see more of the dreamscape monster that is Shinji’s Mother. I’m very excited to see Sadamoto’s takes on more of the Angels and the Eva Units!! All that and more Fan Service too!!