Evangelion ANIMA: An Eva Adventure like never before

Evangelion is a series that even if you haven’t watched it, you must have heard about it if you’re a mecha fan. It is that prolific and well-known in the genre, even in the anime industry as a whole. Neon Genesis Evangelion started out just like any other mecha series, and in the end they even experienced scheduling and budget difficulties, leading them to create an eccentric ending that, in a stroke of irony, brought the series the massive fame it has today. The ending of Evangelion, controversial and debated to hell, was said to include many religious symbolism with a very, very deep philosophical message behind it. While in truth, Anno – the creator of Eva – just want to include some cool imagery as well as transmit a very simple message: Life can be full of pain and misery, but it is still beautiful and precious and worthy to live it to the fullest.

Even so, the discussion around Eva is mainly around the mental issue that Shinji and every other characters struggle with. Thanks to the vivid graphic that the tv series and the EoE movie suggest, the tone of the series is all but bleak and depressing. It is understandable since Anno himself was struggling at the time with his own issue, and that reflected upon the series. Although, it is also true that if it weren’t for those “parallels”, the franchise wouldn’t be as huge as it is today. But what if Evangelion is just a straightforward coming-of-age mecha story with a more uplifting tone that focus on development and overcoming one’s weakness? A story where Shinji and gang didn’t retreat to their own shell but continuously fighting and defeating their own weaknesses with a more mature mindset. And that is where Evangelion ANIMA comes in.

Evangelion ANIMA is a series of Light Novel written by Takuma Kageyama and Ikuto Yamashita. Takuma wrote the story for the first volume and Ikuto the rest. You might be familiar with Yamashita-sensei, since he is the one and only Mecha Designer for the Evangelion series. Yes, a mecha designer is writing the story for Eva. As such, he had a different perspective when it comes to the series, in terms of how Eva and its pilot can influence one another. Takuma-sensei laid the groundwork for ANIMA to become such an insane story that it even surpassed the movies in terms of ridiculousness.

ANIMA took place three years after the end of the Mass Produced Evas’ invasion. Although, the outcome of that battle is different from the Death and Rebirth movie, in that the Eva-01 wasn’t the center of the Ritual, but the Eva-02 and Asuka instead. And contrary to the movie, Shinji found the strength within him to stand up and he – with Eva-01 – defeated all 9 MP Evas and rescued Eva-02. The World Tree in the sky was smashed to bits, and the Human Instrumentality Project was ended by Shinji’s own hands. This is basically a 180 from the EoE conclusion, where Shinji completely resigned to his fate. Furthermore, there are various “changes” to the story – such as Kaji is still alive. Simply put, Eva ANIMA is an alternate timeline, with most of the important events identical to the tv series, but it diverged into a more positive history. Now, three years after the failed 3rd Impact, Shinji and NERV has to face new threats once more.

So why is ANIMA different from the rest of Evangelion? Firstly, we have to consider the characters. Shinji – our main protag – definitely is the one that changed the most. At the prime age of 17, he’s more confident in himself, more sociable with other NERV personnel as well as his school mates. He was event elected as Class Representative in place of Horaki. And that’s not a small feat. The boy that always used to curl up with his head bury in his headphone has now become a dependable and reliable pilot. He and Asuka are the best combo that NERV Japan has ever have.

Yes, you didn’t read wrong. It was Asuka that became Shinji’s best partner. Not just him, but Asuka has also changed a great deal. She isn’t the narcissist that she once were. Although she’s still a tsundere, she’s much more strict on herself rather on other people. Getting saved by Shinji has made her see him in a new light. She’s more humble and strives to better herself, with Shinji as her goal. Sounds crazy isn’t it? Not like the fiery German we know at all.

Although, the only that hasn’t changed is Rei. She’s the only chosen Child that has been stagnated for 3 years, with little to no mental growth. As a clone of Yui, she fears that she has no identity of her own, and her insecurities are all piled up under her unchanging mask. Which is why Ikuto and Takuma presented a different direction for her: splitting her in four. we now have not just one, not just two, not just three, but FOUR Reis. An extra three clones have been created using her DNA, and they are now asleep in orbit within their Eva-0.0s, acting as watchdogs over the world. It is a maddening concept, but I promise you, the first few paragraphs will explain things clearly and intrigue you into this new world.

Aside from the character, Eva ANIMA also tackle the symbolism aspect of Evangelion. And boy oh boy there are A TON of those in ANIMA. But, just like the tv series, they are just there for plot details and do not carry a significant philosophy with it. The Sodom and Gomorrah tale, the Virgin Birth, the Great Flood and the Ark, and more. There are so much religious references in ANIMA but they are just there to be cool and intimidating. They are used as a means to emphasize the insanity of the situation, not deliver a message that require 10 paragraphs of a thousand words to decipher. Ikuto surely know Anno’s intention when he included those references in the anime since they worked closely together and Ikuto did consult Anno about the novels. It is a clever way to incorporate the things that “made Eva what it is today”.

Furthermore, ANIMA really focuses on the technological explanation. We actually learn some very neat details about the towering meat-mecha, especially how they can walk, run and jump without instantly sinking into the ground with their massive height and weight. Well, since Ikuto IS the mecha designer, he knows about the Evas’ inner workings more than anyone, and he know how to expand upon the existing lore and give the Evas a more grounded explanation. Making them seem less liek god-machine and rather just some advanced creation of humanity. Even so, the Evas aren’t 100% explainable, the rest of the mumble jumble is attributed to A.T Field and Eva magic for the most part, since A.T Field for the franchise is basically magic. It does what the plot requires.

Some of the challenges of approaching ANIMA is that, well, it’s a Light Novel. And that means a great wall of text. For a story involving giant robots beating the crap out of giant monsters, this visual-impairment might be detrimental. However, there are occasional visual aids to help us “imagine” how the scene play out in our heads. Plenty of illustrations are scattered through out each volumes. Average about 4 – 5 per vol so it’s not terrible. Furthermore, we have a ton of Evangelion graphic materials to help us get a grasp on how the Evas move about. The anime, the Rebuilds, the other movies are excellent reference materials if you want something to stimulate your imagination. The way they describe the action are very descriptive and easy to imagine, Ikuto using some very concise sentences really help. As for dialogues between the characters, we can pretty much play it out in our heads with their voices even, but maybe a bit more mature since they are older now.

Evangelion ANIMA certainly doesn’t “feel” like Eva story at all. The characters have the same name, their speaking manners are the same and you can see a sliver of their old selves in them, but they have shredded most of the shells around them when starting the story. It was meant to be a more “grown-up” story that doesn’t dwell deep into the psyche of the mind and the heart as other Eva stories. It’s a balanced mix between inner and outer development that actually let the characters hold the steering wheel and drive themselves closer to the answers they seek. While destiny and the world around them twists and turns to corner them, they always break through to arrive at their own answers, which is a very different and unique aspect of ANIMA. Overall, I really recommend this light novel series if you want to see a “fresh take” on the series. You can even say it’s on fanfiction level of writing since, well, it fixes all of the character’s emotional inept and make them something more, while also presenting a new world, a new threat and new concepts that is just as ridiculous as any other Eva medias. It also play it straighter to a mecha story than a psychology drama. Basically Eva but without the depression and more fun and awesomeness.