Neon Genesis Evangelion: Anima, Vol. 5

By Ikuto Yamashita. Released in Japan as “Shin Seiki Evangelion Anima” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Dengeki Hobby. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Michael Rachmat. Adapted by Peter Adrian Behravesh.

And so the light novel series that was written for a magazine dedicated to the selling of plastic models and toys ends the only way that it honestly could: with 250 more pages that show off just how great these Eva battles would look if you put the models together. If you love looking at Evas and imagining them fighting each other, it’s a terrific book. If you do not – and I am counting myself here – it’s a letdown. My expectations were not all that high… indeed, they mostly just involved hoping that we were done with thousands of people turning to salt. (I was wrong, alas.) And there are actual plot and character moments here. But the character moments aren’t enough, the plot is sometimes bad, and the ending merely stops, when it cries out for an epilogue of some sort. Sorry, kids, who knows what happens next, but it will be in a world where giant robots don’t fight, so who cares?

We pick up right where we left off, as everyone’s trying to figure out a way to save the day despite Shinji having .83 seconds to go till Third Impact. Mari is desperately searching for a pack of SOME sort, even if it’s not her original, and does not really give two figs about anyone else. Hikari is possessed by evil. Kaji, also possessed by evil, is being smug in Misato’s direction. The Reis are finally sharing minds again, but that may not be a good thing. The only sensible ones seem to be Asuka and Toji, and unfortunately both of them lose their sense of self as the book goes on. How many apocalypses can Earth go through before it finally gives up the ghost? Can Shinji stop it all? And will we get the weirdest Biblical imagery ever?

The best parts of the book were when it was so over the top I had to laugh out loud. Kensuke and (a now unposessed) Hikari manage to survive certain death by hiding under the Shroud of Turin, a line tossed off so casually it’s brilliant. The way that Shinji, now dead, ends up coming back is so grotesque and awful that my jaw dropped, and to be fair Asuka thinks the exact same thing I did: ew. At the same time, the reappearance of some seemingly dead characters right at the end, and reaction to same, falls absolutely flat, mostly as everything is too chaotic to stay on them for even a moment. Likewise, two characters no longer being evil is barely even given weight because, as I said, apocalypse uber alles. The book keeps such a frenetic pace throughout that you can’t enjoy anything, and then when armageddon is finally avoided (somewhat), it simply stops. The end.

That said, I hear the movies weren’t really satisfying to some viewers either, and the manga (probably my favorite version) also had its issues. Evangelion may simply be too messy a story to have a decent ending for. And these books did have some pretty cool fights. If you want another version of what happens, and aren’t really invested in any one character, this is a series to read. Sadly, my overall reaction to the series ends up being a shrug.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Anima, Vol. 4

By Ikuto Yamashita. Released in Japan as “Shin Seiki Evangelion Anima” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Dengeki Hobby. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Michael Rachmat. Adapted by Peter Adrian Behravesh.

I will be honest, midway through this volume I was getting exhausted, and not in the good way. Fortunately things turned around, but let me tell you, you can only draw out an apocalypse so far before it grows wearying. To be fair, things were not helped by current events – a large part of the book features a series of earthquakes, and it was written about the same time as Japan was also dealing with deadly earthquakes, so things had to be delayed. As such, a large, large portion of this book is the main cast all having a giant fight on top of a chunk of the moon headed for Earth. This includes Shinji (who is now in the Torwachter that stole his heart – don’t ask, it’s convoluted – and about to start Third Impact, three different Reis, Asuka, who is finally becoming herself again, and Mari, who isn’t. The result is fantastic if you love mecha battles and nothing else.

The biblical imagery in the book is still there, but it feels more like Star Trek technobabble than anything else. What’s important is that, by three quarters of the way through the book, Shinji is .83 seconds from dying – and him dying will bring about Third Impact. For reasons that are somewhat murky but likely involve the late Rei Cinq, who seems to also be Yui, most of the cast end up at the old high school classroom, dressed in uniforms from Yui’s time, possibly so that the illustrator can draw the Reis in a different uniform style than the usual. Shinji, unfortunately, is perfectly happy to be there, though others soon vanish. What’s needed is a strong, forceful presence to get Shinji out of his dream sequence torpor. And fortunately for the readers, she’s back and she’s pissed off.

I cannot emphasize enough how much having Asuka back to her old self means for this series. Aside from a couple of amusing parts during Rei Six’s adventures on the moon, where she honestly sounds like Little Orphan Annie, this was a book seriously devoid of snappy dialogue. Asuka can fix that. The best bit involves Mari, who was trying to either add Asuka to her pack. She’s now lost the pack and is dealing with not being a feral child as best she can – mostly by sobbing. Asuka’s response is to save her, so that she could “see what being around me is *really* like”. This is funny stuff! She also gets to be badass – after hearing about Shinji’s dream sequence school, she promptly shows up (with her hair cut short!), saunters into the room like a model, and smashes his reality to bits. I love her.

The next volume is the final one in the series, and it’s due. I hope that we get a slightly better ending than Shinji and Asuka strangling each other on a beach, but this is Evangelion, so who knows? Till then, enjoy your fearsome mechs and headscrewing philosophy.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Anima, Vol. 3

By Ikuto Yamashita. Released in Japan as “Shin Seiki Evangelion Anima” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialized in the magazine Dengeki Hobby. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Nathan Collins. Adapted by Peter Adrian Behravesh.

Fans of the Evangelion Anime light novels will be pleased to hear that there is not quite as many millions of people turning into pillars of salt in this volume. Indeed, the focus turns a bit narrower, as we are very much concerned with battling the enemy, which has stolen Shinji’s heart. That said, are they an enemy? The various troops certainly think so, and the nations have now teamed up to battle the Angels and their spinoff monsters. Unfortunately, biblical imagery is still the main way to attack in this series, and so very quickly no one is able to understand one another, reminiscent of the Tower of Babel. As for Shinji… who is the real Shinji? Is it the one who’s fighting in Super-Eva for most of the volume, with at least one Rei there next to him (though not always the SAME Rei)? Or is it the heart that makes someone who they are?

Asuka certainly thinks so, though to be fair she spends almost all of this book in a sort of primal mode, her experiences from the second volume having merged her with her Eva (as the art within makes abundantly clear) and her personality vacillating between ‘small child’ and ‘adorable pet’. She’s got company, however, as with the Americans coming into the picture we’re introduced to Mari in this continuity. Mari has been experimented on by scientists, and now functions as a wolf pack, complete with actual wolves. She’s not quite as primal as Asuka, but it is noteworthy that the two are paralleling each other again. And Shinji ends up swapping Reis, as Trois’ self-sacrifice butts up against Quatre’s emotional instability and they essentially swap roles. This ends up being very good for Quatre, who was so angry she reminded me of Asuka at times, but I worry about Trois.

As you might guess by the fact that I’m actually discussing characters, this is a better volume than the first two when it comes to actual introspection and things that are not giant robot allegorical battles. Not that there aren’t plenty of those as well – they’re still the main reason to get the book. But this volume is not as frenetic as the first two, and pauses to take in Hikari and Toji’s romantic yet also battle-torn meeting (Toji also gets his arm back – which is both good and bad) and Misato briefly dealing with essentially being a damsel in distress for most of the second book. This book, as with the others, ends with a cliffhanger, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out – heck, this is Evangelion, we could actually see the Angel with Shinji’s heart take over the narrative as Shinji. It works metaphorically, after all.

There have been so many Eva spinoffs it’s hard to compare them. This is better than the first two books, but I’d still say it’s best for fans of the design and mecha work more than anyone else.