Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jun 28th 2013
Neon Genesis Evangelion [Omnibus]
Fourteen-year-old Shinji Ikari is the reluctant pilot of the giant robot Eva, humanity's last defense against deadly invaders known as Angels. After losing his classmate in a failed Eva experiment, Shinji abandons his position—but a conversation with intelligence agent Kaji makes him reconsider. When another Angel attacks, Shinji bravely goes into battle, but loses consciousness when the Eva enters a terrifying "awakened" state. Is Shinji lost forever within the machine, or is his soul simply misplaced, drifting through dreams and memories of his parents? Kaji, meanwhile, continues to dig up the real truth behind the Eva program. When Shinji finally returns, he meets a charming but strange boy, Kaworu. It seems Kaworu's skills may soon be needed, as fellow Eva pilot Asuka loses her mind to the psychological attacks of one Angel, and another is too much for level-headed Rei to handle...
If the first Evangelion omnibus declared, "Shinji, get in and pilot the Eva!", and the second volume was "Why must I pilot Eva?", then this third one says, "What exactly is Eva?" The answers, already known to many fans through the TV series and Rebuild of Evangelion movies, are just as shocking in manga form. This omnibus covers Volumes 7-9 of the original release, which takes the Evangelion saga into even darker territory than where it already is. Horror and psychological drama find their way into this volume, adding to the already busy elements of mecha action and conspiracy thriller. Although some chapters sag under the pressure of trying to carry such a weighty plot, the series as a whole keeps itself together well.
Part 1 of the book is Evangelion's last foray into standard giant robot tropes, as Shinji and Kaji have a heartfelt talk about sacrifice and one's purpose in life. After that, it truly starts to open up unexplored areas of the genre: another intense, well-orchestrated fight brings Shinji and company to the brink of death, after which the beast lurking within the robot is finally revealed. This is the infamous "eating" scene—not as stomach-churning as in the anime, but still effective—that leaves everyone terrified and curious about what Eva is. Explaining the truth, however, is trickier than simply shocking everybody and putting the question out there in the first place.
The middle volume of this set is basically a thesis statement about the nature of Eva—it expresses the tumult going on in Shinji's head, while filling in some key story gaps through the memories of senior officer Fuyutsuki. Shinji's dream sequences say plenty about his frame of mind and his troubled relationships, although it does veer into clichés (he tries to kill his father!) that pander to pop psychologists and would-be literature experts. Fuyutsuki's flashbacks about Shinji's parents and the NERV program's origins also fall short of greatness, jumping between different timeframes and cutting in and out of present-day activities. The result is a disjointed back-story that's not as compelling as it could have been.
By the third volume, the storyline returns to full action mode with a couple of Angel battles, while still keeping the drama afloat by introducing Kaworu. Although his arrival in Shinij's life is rather over-romanticized—hey, let's have the fan favorite show up in the most cool and mysterious way possible—the tension between the two boys soon becomes one of the most intriguing subplots. This part of the series also puts an exclamation point on just how serious the story has become, with Asuka's unhappy childhood exposed through the actions of a particularly insidious Angel. It takes a certain talent to weave mecha action and psychological drama together in this way.
In addition to an engaging, multi-faceted storyline, the manga also benefits from sure-handed artwork. Of course, when the artist is none other than Evangelion character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto himself, one expects that he'll get the look of the series right. Not only do that characters' faces and bodily proportions remain consistent throughout, but their emotions—anger, panic, apathy, relief, and everything in between—are expressed clearly. The mecha designs, too, strike that unique balance between heroic machine and barely-contained monster (this time focusing much more on the latter). Some of the battle scenes get too chaotic, with Angels and Evas getting tangled up in strange positions and loose debris flying all over the place, but most other times, the level of detail and visual energy strike the right balance. Even Shinji's languid dream scenes leave a strong impression. The cleanly spaced, rectangular panels also make most pages easy to follow.
Although the story branches out into psychological explorations and deep conspiracy theories, the dialogue remains quite readable in this volume. Shinji discusses his personal concerns but doesn't ramble too much; other characters make clear points about how serious the fight is getting; even internal monologues and memories happen in straightforward language. Technological and supernatural jargon, with mysterious terms like the Instrumentality Project, are the only problem spots in the writing—and those words are cryptic on purpose. Sound effects are left in the original Japanese, but the translations are compiled in a glossary at the back, which can be inconvenient for those who want to follow what the text says. The omnibus edition also includes a fair amount of bonus content, with glossy color illustrations dividing each volume, and short essays that discuss various aspects of the series.
In this volume, Evangelion plunges further into darkness (in a good way), proving why it remains one of the most talked-about series of all time. Not only does it meet the genre's expectations of giant robot smackdowns and conflict between different factions, but it also digs into far deeper, rarely explored ideas. What if personal relationships, and even one's psychological state, could dictate the outcome of battle? What if the machines designed to save humankind were also monsters that could just as well destroy it? And how many lies, conspiracies, and secret organizations does it take to run this kind of operation? As the series' dramatic truths are revealed, it becomes clear why Evangelion truly stands the test of time.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ The story thickens with more shocking events, a glimpse into Shinji's (and later Asuka's) mind, and revelations about the past, all executed with skilled artwork.
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