One of the things that has made Gainax the entity that it is as an animation studio, in my estimation, is that it produces original content. Anime is generally an adaptive medium, whether from manga, light novels or dating sims. But all of Gainax’s most recognized works, Gurren Lagann, FLCL, Panty and Stocking, and of course Neon Genesis Evangelion were anime first. If you’ve ever read the TTGL or FLCL mangas, you know that these feel more like an afterthought, a cheap mode of production to get a bit more out of a popular IP. But what about Eva?
The main-series Neon Genesis Evangelion manga started running in Japan in 1995, towards the end of the anime production. English translations started being released in 2004, and both languages completed their fourteen volume run between late 2014 and early 2015. English versions of volumes one through twelve are also available in IV Media’s 3-in-1 format with bonus art, better quality paper, and larger pages, and for what it’s worth I am rather fond of them.
While I don’t generally judge material based on length (you buy a video game or book to give you entertainment and reflection, not just to be a time sink), I should mention that the Neon Genesis Evangelion manga is very short. Looking at the numbers, every volume is a little shy of two hundred pages, which isn’t unusual, but the art and text can be read very quickly. I tend to take my time with manga to examine the art, but even I finished the last two volumes in under two hours on the bus the other day. I remember some volumes taking barely fifteen minutes because the story is told almost entirely through the art and can be absorbed quickly.
Art and writing are both done by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, a long time Gainax animator and artist, and the character designer for NGE. But it’s a little unfair to give him the story credit because this is still very much Anno Hideaki’s Evangelion.
There are some slight differences in the body of the work. Most significantly, the manga is shorter, only including eleven of the original fifteen angels, though even the angels that do appear are often short lived and the story seems to lean more heavily on the character side even in the monster of the week segments. The other changes are all fairly small; Shinji’s eyes are brown instead of blue, Asuka’s hair is a different red, and other superficial changes. Shinji is slightly more social and outspoken, Rei is a little more human, and Asuka is not quite as aggressive. The characters are the same in concept, just dialed back a bit.
At the end of volume fourteen is a bonus chapter featuring a backstory for Mari. It finally gives her some character depth and takes responsibility for her personality out of the hands of the hentai artists.
Some of these small changes give a new perspective on things. For example characters have thought bubbles so you can know what they’re thinking during those quiet moments in the entry plug, and Gendo expresses different feelings towards his son. And other changes actually improve on the original series’ biggest flaws. The reader gets some more direct information about Shinji’s backstory and time living with his aunt and uncle. Kensuke is given more characterization than just that military otaku who hangs out with Toji. And most importantly, Kaworu is introduced earlier in the story and actually participates in an angel fight, rather than being shoehorned in at the last minute.
But then there’s the post-Kaworu story, the last two episodes (or in this case the last three volumes). The Evangelion manga goes with the End of Evangelion story but with its own touches. Most of the differences are entirely superficial in the end, but should be much more satisfying for most fans.
As for how it ends off, it’s certainly different for the End of ending, and is an original ending, but it is also very much Evangelion. It is no less satisfying than any of the other ends we’ve seen, but also no more satisfying. I think the story has just had too many endings, and this on in particular embodies is endless, retconned, spin-off obsessed nature.
I enjoyed the Evangelion manga, but then again I also enjoyed Death and Rebirth. On the one hand I think it is what the anime should have been from the start, but I can’t recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen the anime. If you are a big Eva fan and want to see it done right, pick it up. For most people, it doesn’t quite stand on its own without prior knowledge of the series, but doesn’t add enough to the series to be worth the investment.
Don’t Lose Your Way