Spoiler Alert! It's recommended you do not read the following unless you have finished both Neon Genesis Evangelion (anime and manga versions), as well as the theatrical ending, Death & Rebirth. Got any questions or comments about this review? Message me. Enjoy!
"Neon Genesis Evangelion.
My god, what a journey it's been."
I've said this phrase a total of three times after seeing the anime/rebuilds, Death & Rebirth, and finally the manga. I have to say though, neither of the first two were as refreshing as the third. (In this review, I refer to both the anime and Death & Rebirth as one component of the series)
Neon Genesis Evangelion, although completed in both anime/movie form long before the manga, received critical acclaim from viewers and critics, ranging from absolute adoration to confusion or even disgust. As a viewer, I found myself stuck in the middle of this range. Sure, Evangelion had it's high points and it's low points, but what made it difficult for me to enjoy Evangelion in it's anime form was the strange, rushed characterization that often made complete one-eighties.
Before anyone rushes to the instant conclusion that I didn't like the original anime version of Evangelion, let me tell you that I truthfully did. The issue was that the characters, for the lack of a more coherent explanation, were just unable to be connected to on an emotional level to me as a viewer. This is a key part that I really loved while I was reading the manga. I can't completely explain this feeling, just how it's difficult to explain happiness or sadness, but I just felt more - there - along with Shinji, Asuka, and Rei, as well as their challenges and their search for the reason behind there existences. This was something that the anime just couldn't give me, and whether that was just me being me, or a shared opinion, I'm not too sure.
Now, what differences (as there are many), did I like and dislike pertaining to the manga version of Evangelion? Well, for starters, I couldn't be happier with the differences in Shinji. Now I know a lot of people cry about how much of a *cough*puss*cough* Shinji was during the anime. That's true, but I felt that the fault in this l lied not with Shinji's personality and his frailty, but the difficulty in pinpointing his true character. Was he an idiot? A coward? Did he just not care? Did he find no meaning in life? Or did he? I was puzzled during the entire anime about his true nature. Sure, he is a loser and a coward, but during the angel attacks, there were certain times where he manned up and dug down deep.
In the manga, Shinji often steps up and puts his life on the line instead of hiding and crying during many of the parts in the anime. In fact, a lot of seemingly pointless parts of the anime don't exist in the manga. These parts include: many parts where Shinji wusses out, quite a few of the unnecessary Seele portions, and even that creepy and strange part where Shinji masturbates to a comatose Asuka (thank god). Some new parts that I didn't see in the manga which I deeply enjoyed were Asuka's false attraction to Kaji, more insight into the past of both Kaji and Misato (and their relationship), a better and more fulfilling relationship between Shinji and Asuka/Rei/Kaworu, as well as learning a lot more about Shinji's father and his mother's relationship to Rei.
One of the major pluses for the manga was the fact that it provided me with a more clear and concise personality of all the characters, especially Shinji. Even so, Shinji was a coward at times, Asuka could be stubborn and impersonal, and Rei could be an empty, emotionless husk at certain points. But what separates the manga from the anime is that, in the end, each personality ties together instead of leaving you with a handful of loose straws.
Another personality point I liked was more insight into Rei and the background of Nerv. Who is Rei? Who was Gendo? What are the Angels? The EVAs? You will, as a reader, find every one of these questions answered, and, I can grant you, in a much more fulfilling manner than the anime presented.
In both the anime and in the manga, Rei starts off as the same quiet and emotionless being she is, and ends up, for the most part, becoming a warmer and more "human" human with the assistance and influence of Shinji. The difference, though, is how each media takes it's path to that destination. In the anime, Rei meets Shinji, and has multiple encounters that changes her outlook on her own opinion of herself and others. Despite having enough encounters to seemingly change her personality, a lot of the change and reactions in Rei are left up to the viewer to comprehend and interpret. The manga, though, often assumes a first person point of view from Ayanami herself, and you can hear her thoughts and her memories. There's a lot more development between the two of the in the manga than in the anime, and it all just feels more coherent.
So what was the deciding factor for me? What was the big bombshell that finally and instantly decided which was superior? For me, that absolutely has to be the final 15 chapters. Why? Well let's just say that both the end of the anime (which ran out of funding) and Death & Rebirth left a rather strange and puzzling taste in my mouth that I wanted to try to replace with a better memory of Evangelion.
For starters, I was absolutely delighted with the chapter where Asuka fights the replica EVAs. Remember in the anime movie ending where Asuka was fighting to the death while Shinji chickened out due to indecision in the cage, which led to Asuka getting ripped apart? Haha. I laugh at that memory. Let me say it now. Not. Here. No feeling was greater for me during the entirety of the manga than when Shinji stepped up and decided to fight. And guess what? He saves her. It may have only been temporarily, but Shinji did what he promised and he protected her.
Another part of the last few chapters I loved were the differences between Death & Rebirth and the manga during the part between the fight with the replica EVAs and the ending. These parts include, but are not limited to: Ritsuko being able to shoot Gendo in the end, Misato's last memory of Kaji, Shinji's mother paying a final visit to Gendo AND Gendo's acceptance of Shinji as a symbol of their love, Rei's final encounter with Shinji, and his meeting with his mother before the end.
The final part of the manga left me with an amazing feeling. After watching Shinji strangling Asuka on the beach in Death & Rebirth, I was confused and puzzled, despite being a little bit satisfied. But the manga left a different, more conclusive final impression. Shinji, with the aid of his mother, decides that people should return to existence if they wish. In the ending scene, Shinji is riding a train to Tokyo in a world where knowledge of the angels and EVAs never existed, an alternate reality that Shinji created (although Rei and Gendo are not alive in this world). When he leaves the platform, he bumps into a happy Asuka as well as Kensuke in a chance encounter, despite neither of the three having memory of the other. When they depart on their own paths with their own futures, it is unknown whether or not they will ever meet again. As he leaves the station, Shinji decides to stand strong on his own two feet, and believes that no matter how much he goes through, the sun will always shine at the ending - a lesson that he had been learning since the moment he stepped into EVA Unit 01.
It's a bittersweet ending to me, similar to those of FMA Brotherhood, Angel Beats, Mirai Nikki, and Higurashi, but it feels alright. I tell myself, "this is how it should be". Am I right? I'm not sure. But if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that this Shinji is happy, this Asuka is happy, and Rei made the decision she felt she should've. Will they ever meet again? I don't know. I guess they should, but this is good enough...for now.
So I guess non-pussy Shinji gets a good ending, huh?
He really deserved it.