No time like the present, I suppose…
Before I go anywhere with this review, let me give some background. The fact is, myself and Evangelion have never really gotten along. I watched a mere five episodes of the TV series before giving up on it – it didn’t click with me at all, and I really loathed most of the characters (I liked Misato, and that was about it). When I suddenly realized I didn’t care one whit how the battle with the cube-shaped Angel, Ramiel, was resolved, I walked away from the franchise and never looked back until the Rebuild movies started surfacing. I sort of figured that I should have at least some familiarity with the franchise given how massively popular it is, and the new movies seemed like a decent way to do so without having to force myself through the TV series. But, uh, I never managed to get around to those, either. Whoops.
Fast-forward a few years. The second movie came out, I entertained the notion of watching the movies again, failed to, and thought, “Well, hmm, maybe I could read the manga.” More years passed! And then Viz announced it was going to release omnibuses of the manga. Aha! At last! The perfect chance!
…well, ok, it only took me about five months from the publication to actually finally pick it up. Every time I went into the store, thinking, “This will be the day!”, I walked out with the latest volume of A Devil and Her Love Song or Limit instead. Finally, finally, I was sent a coupon in the mail, found myself in a dry spell of manga I’m actively following, and found myself staring at the spine of the first omnibus on the shelf of the local Barnes & Noble. You Can (Not) Escape!
I tell all this to help establish that I’m very ambivalent about Evangelion. Ultimately, I only ended up starting the manga because I felt I should, not because I was particularly curious or interested in it. The fact is, for me the manga was the least painful way of familiarizing myself with the franchise. And even so, I almost dumped the damn thing less than ten pages in, since, holy shit, Shinji, you are a pain in the ass!
It was very slow-going at first, but I found that things improved significantly as I read. I’m by no means a convert, but I found the experience of reading this omnibus much pleasanter than the experience I had watching what little I did of the TV series. I think the thing that really made the difference for me is that the characters are toned down a bit, something that is especially helpful when it comes to Shinji. He remains an unhappy boy with serious daddy issues, but he’s a bit livelier than his TV incarnation – he still lets Toji sock him, for example, but he’s directly snarky to Toji, and the allowance comes across as more because its a waste of time to Shinji to bother trying to stop him rather than due to the fact that Shinji loathes himself so much so that its not worth stopping him.
The three volumes in this omnibus cover, roughly, the same territory as the first six episodes of the TV series, and we end with Shinji having managed to pry the door of Unit 00’s entry plug open after defeating Ramiel. I know there are some small differences, although I couldn’t tell you what, exactly, since my memory of the five episodes I watched is a bit fuzzy at this point. Rumor has it that things diverge more as the manga progresses, though (and having already read the second omnibus – I had two coupons, bros! – I can vouch for that certainly being the case in one particular instance).
This is a pretty nice release from Viz, although one of the color pages at the very front is really blurry, unfortunately. I’ve never cracked open one of the individual volumes, so I can’t say if this was unique to the omnibus releases or not, but I was impressed with the additional content at the end of each individual volume in the omnibus. Let’s face it – generally, author’s notes and such in manga are inane babblings and not in the slightest bit worth reading. Here, however, we get write-ups from not only the author (Yoshiyuki Sadamoto), but also from some of the voice actors from the TV series, from Hideaki Anno himself, and from the designer of the Eva Units, amongst others. There are also some write-ups which touch on specific things within the story and give further explication/explanation on them. Its a nice addition. (My favorite, though, was a three-panel omake Sadamoto drew involving one of the Angels making another a bento.) At $20 for the physical release (and $15 at most online retailers) and $15 for the digital release, you really do get a lot of bang for your buck here.
Of course, I suppose I haven’t quite answered the $64,000 question here – did I like it? I’m not quite sure, to be honest. I am, however, intrigued, and I’m not repelled like I was for the anime version, so I’m going to at least tentatively put this in the worthwhile column. I also do think this is an excellent entry-point to the franchise for folks like me who are largely unfamiliar with it given how low the price-point is.