Shinji is a quiet teen just trying to make his way through school. His parents are gone, so he lives with an old pal of his dad’s. He has a couple of good friends and a crush on Rei, a girl from school. That’s what ends up getting him into trouble. When Rei starts spending time with a weird new kid, Shinji, jealous, follows them after school one day, only to find himself in the middle of a battle with something that isn’t human.
Shinji is reluctantly dragged into a world of highly-trained teens fighting an unexpected enemy: Angels. Each teen has an Eva, a weapon that is a manifestation of her or his will. Now Shinji has one, too, but he’s not sure he’ll be able to use it. Does he even want to fight this battle? And how much of his life is connected to this secret Angel-fighting organization? His whole school? His parents?
This shonen series is both fun and funny. There’s some slapstick, and there are laughs to be found in normal-teen Shinji’s interaction with the other three members of his team: weirdly-disconnected Rei, mean-girl Asuka, and friendly-but-strange Kaworu. The characters sometimes get emotional, as when Shinji reflects on his lonely upbringing and when the fate of Asuka’s parents is revealed, but mostly the tone is light. Angels do take over people’s bodies, which causes those people to die, but this doesn’t generally happen to characters the readers know and the main characters don’t spend much time being sad about it. We see glimpses of tragedy in Asuka’s and Shinji’s backgrounds, but the focus is on the characters in the present: moving forward, making friends, and fighting the good fight.
A proud author’s note at the end of volume three reads, “There’s some pretty excellent fanservice in this third volume – Asuka’s booty short/thigh-high striped socks outfit… barefoot Kensuke being seduced by a bosomy Angel/avatar; and just a tasteful smidge of nudity.” The nudity is on one page and two characters are shown from behind in a nonsexual context, no naughty bits visible. The “seduction” doesn’t actually involve sex, it’s more of a mind-control situation. Still, this kind of explicitly-defined fanservice—and the occasional panty shot through all three volumes—is a little weird given that the main characters are all in middle school. They look older, but my understanding is that Japanese middle schools generally go up to ninth grade. This means the characters are probably no older than fifteen, and though their actual ages are never given, their behavior backs this up. Other than a few vaguely lewd comments in one volume and Shinji’s innocent crush on Rei, there is no romantic or sexual content.
The art is clean and active, the characters distinct, and the fight scenes are easy to follow. Battles are action-packed without being gory; even combat scenes are full of character interaction, teamwork, and emotional responses rather than pure violence. Characters are expressive, with plenty of room for humor as well as drama. The supernatural elements—Eva, Angels, and more—are shown sparingly enough to retain their weirdness value, standing out among the many scenes that take place at school or in other normal settings. This effectively grounds us in Shinji’s seemingly everyday world, giving the fantastical elements a real punch when they appear.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: Campus Apocalypse is a four-volume series. Since I only had the first three, I can’t comment on the ending, but those I did read are highly enjoyable. Lots of action, but also lots of engaging character development and plenty of humor. Shinji is a loyal, decent guy, doing his best as he stumbles through crazy situations, becoming a hero without meaning to do so. This was my first experience with any element of the Neon Genesis Evangelion canon. I know that there are a number of series and different continuities associated with the franchise, but Campus Apocalypse can stand alone as a fun series for shonen fans.