Tag Archives: manga

Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion is an amazingly successful anime series and companion manga. The anime, directed by Hideaki Anno, consists of 26 episodes first broadcast in 1995-1996. The manga, written by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto and originally produced as a marketing tool for the anime, ran from 1995 to 2011. Other spin-offs, such as video games and toys, have made this one of the most profitable Japanese franchises. This despite the production company having financial difficulties that severely compromised the ending of the series as originally envisioned. A revised ending, supposedly closer to the original intent, was presented in the 1997 film The End of Evangelion, but it did not meet audience expectations. The first of four animated films (collectively called Rebuild of Evangelion) to remake the series was released in 2007, with a second in 2009. The first three movies of the new series are slated be an alternate retelling of the TV series and the fourth movie will be a completely new conclusion to the story.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is an apocalyptic action story that tells of the efforts by a paramilitary organization called NERV to fight merciless invaders called Angels. The story never really explains what the Angels are or why they are attacking Earth, although it is implied they are aliens. NERV’s primary weapons against the Angels are giant mechanized humanoid-shaped exoskeletons called Evangelions that are piloted by specially chosen teenagers, one of whom, Shinji Ikari, is the main point of view character.

Shinji is a reluctant hero. As the estranged son of the Evangelions’ designer, he is pressed into service against his will. Much of his motivation seems to be his desire to please his cold-hearted father in the hopes that their relationship can be mended. As an Evangelion pilot, Shinji witnesses many terrible sights that contribute to his melancholy. Nevertheless, Shinji perseveres against the horrible odds with which he is faced, sometimes using only his force of will to move forward against his numbing fear.

Against this backdrop, the series presents a number of philosophical, psychological, and religious themes; using symbols and allusions drawn from both Eastern and Western spiritualisms. However, reaction to the bizarre ending of the series was mixed at best. The revised ending of The End of Evangelion was perhaps even more incomprehensible.

In an attempt to rectify the original’s shortcomings and to employ the latest animation techniques, writer Hideaki Anno and directors Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, and Masayuki produced Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone (2007) and Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance (2009). The two films retell Shinji’s story with better production values and a leaner plot. The Angels have a much more alien appearance, and much of Shinji’s high school antics are omitted, leaving the core battle with the Angels as the central focus. It retains Shinji’s conflicted emotional and proto-sexual relationships with co-pilots Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Shikinami. There is a new subplot, however, of an Evangelion prototype being manufactured on the moon for secret reasons. Unfortunately, the resolution to all the loose ends will have to wait until at least 2012 when the third and fourth movies are scheduled to be released in Japan; who knows when they will surface in the U.S.

Fullmetal Alchemist

Fullmetal Alchemist the manga, written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa, was published from 2001 to 2010. It was adapted by director Seiji Mizushima and writer Shō Aikawa into an anime (FMA, for short) that ran for 51 episodes in 2003-2004 in Japan; subsequently released on DVD in the U.S. in 2005-2006. In what is perhaps the fastest remake in history, it was readapted by director Yasuhiro Irie and writer Hiroshi Ōnogi as Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood for 64 episodes from 2009-2010 in Japan; released in the U.S. in 2010-2011. I haven’t read the original manga; this review will cover the two anime series (dubbed versions).

Fullmetal Alchemist is set in an alternate reality in which alchemy is an advanced scientific technique within a society that has a mixture of early 20th-Century industrial capabilities and modern sexual equality. Alchemy is based on the principle of equivalent exchange, i.e., “In order to obtain or create something, something of equal value must be lost or destroyed.” The story features brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, sons of master alchemist Van Hohenheim who left home for unknown reasons when they were very young. Their mother, Trisha Elric, died of a terminal illness a few years later, leaving the two brothers orphaned. The young boys determined to resurrect her, so they dug into their father’s reference books to learn about human transmutation, a forbidden branch of alchemy. Their eventual attempt ended in disaster, resulting in the loss of Ed’s left leg and right arm, and Al’s entire body. Ed managed to bind Al’s soul to a suit of armor, and Ed’s arm and leg were later replaced with automail, a kind of metallic prosthetic limb. The two then began a quest to find the legendary Philosopher’s Stone that they think will be able to make them whole again.

To help facilitate their search, Ed enlisted in the state military, becoming the youngest state alchemist. Ed acquired the nickname Fullmetal due to his automail. Ed and Al soon got caught up in a conspiracy far beyond anything they’re prepared for. They discover a genocidal plot by the top military leaders. Meanwhile, shape-shifting monsters called homunculi, taking the identities of the seven deadly sins, begin preparations to take over the world for their mysterious creator.

FMA followed the plot of the manga until about halfway through, when it completely diverged (after all, the manga was far from complete at the time FMA was produced). FMA’s ending seemed a bit rushed and had some plot holes. Brotherhood followed the manga very closely all the way through, with a more logical and satisfying ending. Brotherhood is less centered than FMA on the Elric brothers, featuring a large cast of supporting characters. The villain of FMA is a little more believable; the villain in Brotherhood is more of a clichéd power-mad megalomaniac.  Does this make one series better than the other? Not really; they are two sides of the same coin. The two share most of the same voice talent (the one notable difference is that the boy who played Al in FMA got too old to continue voicing a pre-teenager, so was replaced by a woman) and the art direction and character designs are almost identical. FMA is darker in tone and has a more ambiguous ending than Brotherhood. Most reviewers prefer the soundtrack of FMA to Brotherhood. The animation of Brotherhood is probably better and more fluid than FMA.

Brotherhood condenses the plot of the first half of FMA to about a dozen episodes. Whether this is because FMA had filler not in the manga, or whether it was because the producers assumed the audience had seen FMA and didn’t want to sit through the entire beginning again, is not clear. For those who have not seen or read any version of Fullmetal Alchemist, I would recommend watching the first 26-28 episodes of FMA, then pick up Brotherhood at about the 12th episode. This will give the viewer a fuller and more nuanced picture of Ed and Al’s relationship as well as more details about their world, and avoid repeating essentially identical scenes. There is only one major plot change before this point that I can think of—one character dies in FMA that survives in Brotherhood—but I don’t think this is enough to hinder one’s understanding or enjoyment of Brotherhood.

Whichever version you watch, or perhaps both, you will be seeing one of the all-time finest examples of anime. Fullmetal Alchemist explores the themes of self-sacrifice, honor, and fighting against all odds for what is right, and does it with action, humor, and compassion in a steampunk world with fascinating characters.