Manga-ka: Osamu Takahashi
Publisher: Dark Horse
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: July 2009
Synopsis: “Stunning, hot-headed Asuka Langley Soryu has been friends with Shinji Ikari since they were little. And she always sort of assumed they’d stay together – until the day the beautiful, brilliant Rei Ayanami showed up in class! When Shinji starts to get curious about Rei, Asuka needs to figure out if she wants to be just friends with Shinji, or something more. But why are so many people keeping an eye on these relationships – people like homeroom teacher Misato, school nurse Ritsuko, and Shinji’s mother – NERV’s chief scientist, Yui Ikari…?”
An alternative universe take on the classic Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji Raising Project is a mixed bag of new ideas for old characters. Stripping them of their mechs and mental-drama, Shinji and co instead battle the trials of waking up for school on-time, reminiscing their childhood, avoiding those pesky trip-into-boobs potholes and momentarily questioning what their loving parents do for a living.
Fiery Asuka continues her role as volatile tough-girl but her attitude is tempered by her obvious crush on returning-lead Shinji, who remains dutifully unaware of his childhood’s friends misplaced passion. Rei makes her appearance into this series as a mysterious transfer student with a masking smile and generally friendly disposition. To stir things in too-classic anime fashion, Shinji soon discovers that Rei is staying with him and his family under the reasoning she’s a distant relative. Note that this obvious excuse to have Shinji waltz in on Rei naked is promptly taken advantage of. Drama ensues! Well, alright it doesn’t, but it really should have.
Semblances of the old plot remain but they read more like quirky ‘hey-did-you-see-what-we-did-there’ moments than genuine parallels to the original. Shinji, living at home with his loving Mother and Father, wakes up each day to the routine of school, friends and the temperamental but obviously-enamoured Asuka. Rei appears, smiles, makes Shinji kind of flustered and Asuka gets jealous – throw in a bunch of other NGE characters in supporting roles such as teachers, nurses and faculty and you have yourself Shinji Raising. Rinse and repeat.
By the end of the book the story shifts to some more familiar territory of labs, pods and plug-suits but the tone remains notably light-hearted despite the attempts of portraying some more life-threatening events. It’s a promising note for subsequent volumes though, offering the potential for more interesting subject matter.
All of this isn’t to say that readers of Shinji Raising Project should be hoping it just turns into NGE, for that would defeat the purpose, the story as a whole is as dry and dull as the most cookie-cutter anime, manga or dating sim story. Girl likes boy, boy doesn’t get it, childhood friends, transfer student, summer festival, beach-time romps, sprained ankles that lead to piggy-back rides – reading Shinji Raising Project will likely feel less familiar as a Neon Genesis Evangelion story and more as a shallow representation of a hundred anime story clichés.
Years of doujinshi and fandom may also leave some readers in constant need of reminder that this scenes are not leading up to porn. Then again, come the end of this far less than impacting first volume, a couple sex scenes couldn’t have hurt. At least the artwork is nice, a style that compliments the original designs well while still offering a softer look that will appeal to those who enjoy the revamped subject matter.
All in all however, NGE: Shinji Raising Project is thus far proving itself a mere shallow hull of its source material. Whoever’s idea it was to take the angst and violence out of Evangelion and replace it with happy school days and childhood-crushes seems to be missing the point – or at least isn’t hiding the fact it’s merely utilizing popular characters to sell copies. While an official alternative take on a popular franchise is an interesting notion, it’s disappointing to read one that tackles the concept in a way that could not only bore its pre-existing fans, but also risks alienating any potential new ones. Attractive artwork and decent publisher packaging simply can’t hide the story’s impressively achieved level of mediocrity.