The first known screening of the form of Japanese animation referred to as anime was way back in 1917. My introduction was with the classic Speed Racer, back in the early ’70s. While the genre continued on in Japan, it really caught on with kids in the U.S. in the ‘90s, with Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z. My son and his friends were really into the stuff, spending their allowances on trading cards, video games, and comic books. Some outgrew their interest, while others delved deeper into the field as they got older. Just like his nerdy Dad, my son went beyond the obvious TV shows, and discovered items such as the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise. I have to admit that he was even able to interest me in the NGE world, as it is a highly intriguing premise.
When NGE debuted in 1995, it was as an anime series, which proved to be highly popular in Japan. It took a while for it to cross over into the U.S. market, but like many anime favorites, it eventually developed sizable cult following. VIZ Media have just released a couple of pretty neat NGE manga books, which tie in nicely with the whole phenomenon.
First things first though. For those who are not at all familiar with Neon Genesis Evangelion, a little bit of expository information might be useful. The name itself is a bit of a twist on the literal translation, which is “Gospel of a New Era.” NGE has been called “apocalyptic,“ as the “Gospel of a New Era” should indicate. The basic story focuses on a teenage boy recruited by an organization named NERV to control a giant cyborg called an Evangelion to fight monstrous beings known as Angels. The show takes place largely in a futuristic Tokyo years after a worldwide catastrophe.
As mentioned, VIZ Media have just issued two manga books (Japanese comics) of NGE. The original concept for the anime is credited to khara and the GAINAX company. The story and art is by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. For Western readers who have never read manga before, one interesting facet of it is that the books read left to right, rather than right to left. It is kind of cute the way the publisher makes the clear. When you open up the book “normally,” there is a helpful message: “Hey, you’re reading in the wrong direction!”
The two VIZ Media titles that have just been released are Neon Genesis Evangelion 01, 02, 03; and Neon Genesis Evangelion Volume 13. In Volume One we are introduced to the teenaged Shinji Ikari, whose father (Gendo Ikari) sends him to Tokyo-3 city for a meeting with a female employer (Misato Katsuragi). During the meeting, a huge creature called Angel attacks the city, and Misato takes Shinji to NERV, who created the Evangelions. When the Evangelion pilot is wounded, Shinji takes her place and defeats the Angel. As the chapter concludes, Misato becomes Shinji’s legal guardian.
The second volume begins with Shinji being attacked at school by a classmate whose sister was injured when Shinji used the Evangelion. Shinji is then summoned by NERV to fight another attacking Angel. After defeating the Angel, Shinji is in a state of shock. The chapter concludes with Misato questioning Shinji's motivation to be an Evangelion pilot.
The third and final volume of the compendium opens with Shinji making new friends, and his return to NERV. A new Angel appears, in the form of a huge diamond-shaped ship, and nearly kills Shinji. Misato comes up with a plan that will take the entire electrical output of Japan to implement, which is ultimately successful.
Jumping ahead to Volume 13, Shinji is still piloting the Evangelion. The NERV facility is under attack, but the plot fails. While Shinji isdealing with the enemy Evangelions, he awakens his Unit’s potential. At the close, a being created by his enemies holds Shinji’s Evangelion hostage, and launches a telepathic attack on him.
As for recommendations, it is fairly obvious that the three-volume compendium would be the place to start. For those who have already been following the story, it may not be necessary, but it is a nice set. My guess is that it has been released as something of a gift item, as it is the holiday season. For those who have been following the series, I think they will not be disappointed by it.
The books are rated for “older teens,” which seems right. The relatively sophisticated themes are not for little kids. All in all, this is a very nice set of manga for Neon Genesis Evangelion fans both old and new.