Are you a fan of the popular anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion? Do you want to know what the spin-off mangas are like? Then this review is for you!
I’m a fan of the original series and most of its varing manifestations. I was recently surprised to discover that there are two manga series. They are, for the most part, published fanfiction and not written by Hideaki Anno but this doesn’t mean they are bad.
I’ll be scrutinising use of plot, writing skill and characterisation. The two manga series in question are: The Shinji Ikari Rising Project and Campus Apocalypse
There are no spoilers in these reviews, but they are aimed at people who already know the characters and are aware of the original plot.
This particular spin-off manga, by Osamu Takahashi, drags us into an altered universe with gorgeous artwork featuring our favourite leading characters – primarly, Asuka Langley Soryu.
It takes a while for any serious plot to kick in – chapter 6, to be precise. The lives of Asuka, Shinji and Rei are completely mundane and revolve around sexual comedy and romantic angst. In a world where Shinji’s mother is still alive and living in a family unit with Gendo Ikari, the story tries to explore how the chosen three teenagers would compete and interact if dating was their only worry.
We’re led through this alternate universe by Asuka who has been friends with Shinji since the age of four. This childhood bond is threatened when the beautiful Rei Ayanami moves to town – capturing Shinji’s interest – and forces Asuka to consider if she wants to be more than Shinji’s friend.
It’s beautifully drawn but plot points concerning the EVA are jarring and feel out of place in an average world where no one even vaguely mentions the Angels. There is no tension or threat of an imminent attack, which makes the EVA project feel slightly superfluous, like an attempt to create danger where there is none.
The first volume is light hearted compared to the original anime series and takes a somewhat heart-warming look at the dynamics between Rei, Asuka and Shinji. In fact, it acts like a harem in which Rei and Asuka fall over Shinji, and Shinji himself frequently catches glimpses of female underwear; torn between the attractions of two striking young women. So if you’re not a fan of series like Oh! My Goddess this might not be the adaptation for you.
Saying this, Takahashi has done a fantastic job of staying true to the original characters’ personalities and it might be worth giving it a go just to enjoy spending time with Asuka and company. They have been altered to better socialise with each other as there’s an uplifting sense of friendship and love beneath all their pranks and bickering. Even the adults, especially Misato Katsuragi and Gendo, have a cheerful disposition that seems unhampered by dark, NERV secrets.
For those of you hoping for shipping fanservice, Takahashi does a grand job of teasing you with hints at yaoi, yuri and het pairings all around.
It’s a calm and casual approach to Evangelion. The plot is vague and distracted with summer festivals and beach trips, but the characterisation is gripping and makes it worth reading if you want a closer look at ‘what might have been’ had Shinji and Asuka come from a happier environment. Mechs are not promised!
I personally don’t enjoy this kind of manga, so I won’t be buying the rest of the series. For those of you who do like harem-esc manga, this seems like a good one.
Compared to The Shinji Ikari Raising Project, Ming Ming’s Campus Apocalypse is an original and thoughtful alternate-reality. Corporation NERV, Shinji’s high school, the Angels and the characters themselves have been shaken up and re-imagined. This one is my favourite of the two.
Mystery arises from the get-go when Shinji spots his classmate running around at night with a Giant Spear (a.k.a. the Lance of Longinus) and an unknown guy. He puts this out of his mind until the next day at school where he attends NERV Foundation, a Catholic high school.
His curiosity is peaked when ‘the unknown guy’ turns out to be a transfer student by the name of Kaworu Nagisa who has a particular interest in Shinji, and a suspicious attitude towards Rei. Little does Shinji know, his curiosity will plunge him into a world of Angels, EVAs, Cores, AT Fields and prophecies – but not as you’d expect.
Compared to the original series, the art style has a more modern, anime feel. Ming has poured his own touch onto the page rather than perfectly mimic Anno’s drawing, which is part of what makes this series stand out.
I wasn’t sure if Ming’s story would be particularly good, as the first “in-class-scene” has a forced tone of humour. It’s more a case of, ‘look, isn’t this FUNNY?‘ than it actually being humorous. I was thrilled to discover that the story takes a compelling turn and has an exciting take on all the tech/techno-babble from the series. The Angels are especially interesting in this adaptation. In fact, it was the appearance of the first ‘Angel’ that hooked my attention.
The mood of storytelling has kept with the original – dreamy, brutal, symbolic (to a sensible degree) – and promises to be an insightful interpretation. The characters are true to themselves, especially Rei, Shinji and Asuka. Like the Shinji Ikari Raising Project, Shinji’s abandonment issues have been toned down but he is a lot truer to his original characterisation with unforgettable, well implemented mantras such as, “I mustn’t run away. I mustn’t run away. I mustn’t run away!”
For those of you who ship Kaworu and Shinji, there are enough intense stairs between the two boys to make fangirls die of giggles.
This is a compelling adaptation with narrative skill and unexpected re-imaginings of the original series. The artwork isn’t quite as mesmerising as Takahashi’s but the plot makes up for it by the book load. I’ll be buying the next volume.
Unique alternate universe
Are you a big fan of the Evangelion series? Have you read either of these mangas, too?
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: The Shinji Ikari Raising Project, Vol. 4 book (ertafiki.wordpress.com)