Once Shinji didn’t care about anything; then he found people to fight for–only to learn that he couldn’t protect them, or keep those he let into his heart from going away. As mankind tilts on the brink of the apocalyptic Third Impact, human feelings are fault lines leading to destruction and just maybe, redemption and rebirth.
Neon Genesis Evangelion Volume 1-3
By Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Publisher: Viz Media
Age Rating: Older Teen
Price: $19.99 USD
Neon Genesis Evangelion is an anime from the 1990s that defined a generation, and changed the mecha genre. I was never able to watch more than a few episodes of the anime, so I thought reading the manga adaptation would be a better way to go. Nope. My first instincts were correct. These first three volumes are slow and boring with a protagonist that you spend most of the time wanting to slap silly.
Shinji Ikari is a teenage boy who has been living with his aunt and uncle after his father dropped him off with them ten years ago. Feeling abandoned, Shinji has grown up not caring if he lived or died. His apathy permeates all his interactions with the people around him, making him seem whiny and passive aggressive. For a lead character that the reader is supposed to be supporting and/or cheering on, it had the opposite effect on me. Like Shinji, I didn’t care if he lived or died, and wasn’t sad when he was told to leave.
Of course, I can’t put all the blame on Shinji. His father, Gendo Ikari, who built NERV and the Evangelion project, is just as much to blame. He is cold and calculating toward Shinji, not seeing him for 10 years and then calling for him just to use him. He doesn’t offer a supportive word or even a genuine smile to his own son. Jerk is the kindest word that can be used to describe him, since he can have and does show these emotions, but they are reserved for Rei Ayanami, the first pilot for the Evangelion project.
Rei is like the complete opposite of Shinji. She is emotionless and completely devoted to Gendo. She seems like a robot, following orders and never showing her feelings. Her past is unknown, making her more of a curiosity for Shinji and the reader, but not a female protagonist to care about.
The only characters who seem normal, or at least not completely broken are Misato Katsuragi and Shinji’s friends from school, Kensuke and Toji. Misato is Shinji’s superior and acting guardian. She has Shinji move in with her, and is the one person to show any concern for him. He has an odd pet, a penguin called Pen-Pen who used to be an experimental animal. Pen-Pen is used for a lot of comedy relief, as are Kensuke and Toji. Toji stares out antagonistic toward Shinji since his sister was injured in the first attack where Shinji piloted the Evangelion. But after Shinji saves them both in another attack, they become more friendly toward him. I enjoyed the story more when these characters were on the page, though I didn’t care for the attempt to give Toji an accent. It really didn’t work for me.
I wanted to like the realistic way that Shinji reacted to being thrust into the cockpit of a giant mecha, and having the fate of all humanity on his shoulders. Older mecha series would have the teen all gung-ho and enthusiastic about jumping into a battle. Shinji’s reaction isn’t like that at all. He’s reluctant and scared at first, but quickly becomes apathetic and so emo that it’s difficult to distinguish what’s because of his situation and his attitude. He seems upset after defeating an angel but was it because of the fight or because of an argument he had with Misato before the fight that carries over into it? It seems to be the latter, which is disappointing.
The story jumps right into the action, with Tokyo-3 being attacked by an Angel and Shinji barely getting a how-do-you-do before he’s pushed into the EVA. There is a lot going on, but not much happens. There are more battles and even more of Shinji being emo, but little to no explanation to what the Angels are, or why they are attacking. While too much exposition can be a bad thing, so can too little. There needed to be something more than just Shinji being emo.
I have no complaints with Sadamoto’s art. It had a 1990s feel without seeming dated. All of the characters are distinctive and emotive. The EVA mecha itself has some good technical work when it’s still, but things get a little hard to follow when it’s in battle. There are so many speed lines that the action can be buried at times.
I know Neon Genesis Evangelion is a beloved story for a lot of fans out there and was a Gateway to anime for many. Unfortunately it’s not a story for me. The action is a nice distraction, but it isn’t enough to keep me from wondering if there is a story in here some where. Some might like following a protagonist who spends all his time bemoaning his lot in life without actually trying to change it, but I don’t. I don’t mind broken characters as long as they are doing something. Shinji does nothing, and that just frustrates me, which is the last thing I want in my entertainment media.