As I’ve said before, if you’re going to do any kind of adaptation of film, TV or other media to comics you need to have talented people on hand if you want to have any hope of making it work. That’s not the only way, though, but it’s usually the most reasonable compared to getting the people who created the original involved. After all, most of the major staff members on any production are generally too busy to commit to any kind of adaptation. By that standard, the “Evangelion” manga is a very rare beast indeed. The series is written and illustrated by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, character designer for the “Eva” TV series and for a whole host of other top-flight anime productions from “Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water,” “.hack//SIGN,” and “Summer Wars.” Though there are some new wrinkles to this story, it’s Sadamoto’s sequential art that makes this worth reading.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or have a blinding hatred of all things anime (which is probably the more likely scenario here) then you’ve probably at least heard of “Evangelion.” Hideaki Anno’s landmark 1995 TV series that singlehandedly raised the bar for giant robot anime and arguably brought a new level of sophistication and maturity to anime in general. It also went on to create one of the largest fan followings in the industry which has manifested itself in the sheer amount of merchandise and dojinshi that continue to be produced in relation to it. Mind you, this is all around one 26-episode TV series and two one movie that wrapped everything up in a definitive fashion. However, as fan demand is utterly insatiable in regards to this series we’re currently in the middle of film three (in Japan) of a four-film cycle retelling the story in a substantially different format.
I’ve only seen the first one, which was essentially a compilation of the story from the first six TV episodes with better animation. The second film supposedly takes things in a much different direction, but since the original series and movie represent everything I could possibly want in an anime, I haven’t been able to care. That’s another reason I’ve waited so long to pick this up. However, Sadamoto’s involvement has always intrigued me and with this omnibus edition, I finally went, “Hey, why not.”
The verdict? As you’d expect from having someone so intimately involved in the show, the look of the anime is as dead-on accurate as you could hope for. All of the characters are perfectly on-model and the mecha look like they stepped out of the TV series. Sadamoto also has a good eye for action and the battle scenes can be pretty spectacular as well. What really caught my eye throughout this collection is how expressive he makes the characters. Like the TV series, the cast’s expressions here will occasionally take on “cartoonish” dimensions, but never to the point of breaking the reader’s immersion in the story. A prime example of this is when Misato questions Shinji about living by himself and his gloomy anitisocial-ness provokes her into making him room with her. It’s a brief scene, but the way Misato’s frustration manifests itself first as gloominess and then as manic happiness, along with Shinji’s utter shock at his new living arrangement make it a memorable sequence.
Though this is what appeals to me most about Sadamoto’s style, he also reworks certain parts of the plot to present things in a more straightforward fashion. The first example of this comes when Unit-01 is sent out to attack the first Angel... as Misato and Shinji are making their way to NERV headquarters. This has the effect of providing an explanation as to why Rei was so injured when we first see her in person, a scene which is essentially unchanged from the anime. Other scenes, such as Shinji having a vision of his mother suddenly turn horrific while in the Eva will only have resonance for those who have already seen all of the anime, and others like Misato and Shinji’s encounter with Keisuke and Toji after the young pilot decides to stick around act as a nice narrative bridge where none existed before.
The characterization of the cast is also subtly different in some cases too. While the likes of Misato and Gendo make the transition with their personalities intact, Shinji is a little different than what I remember. He’s not as morose as he was in the TV series and comes off as slightly more assertive and even snarky in a couple places. Though this means that his portrayal isn’t the spot-on picture of clinical depression that some have noted, he’s not the picture of happiness either. Shinji in the manga doesn’t strike me as a different character, just one with the most off-putting edges sanded off which makes him a bit more relatable in the process.
Now I’m not going into detail about who these people and things are as well as the plot in general because I’m of the opinion that people should watch the anime above this. (If you haven’t, go on. I’ll wait.) It has its flaws, but no other anime has captivated me as it did. Sadamoto’s interpretation is a nice stroll down memory lane where a lot of the interest comes from comparing the differences between the two works than the story being told inside. Frankly, I think it would be interesting for someone without ANY knowledge of the anime to read this and then offer up their thoughts on it. I’m too close to the anime to offer up such objectivity, but I did like what I read here and will likely pick up the next omnibus when it’s released in March. If Sadamoto ever does finish this adaptation (which he has been working on for over a decade now) then I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to just stick with being an anime character designer for the rest of his career. However, his work here shows that he has real talent as a mangaka, and I’d like to see what he’d be capable of when working from an idea of his own.