The manga Shinji Ikari Raising Project does a lot with a pretty simple concept – what if we take the small slice-of-life rom-com anime vignette from the last episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and expand on that to its own series? Generally, it succeeds at that concept, with some solid humor, though with some missteps later in the series that gets things kind of awkward.
The manga follows Shinji, whose parents Yui and Gendo have moved to Tokyo-3 to work at the Human Evolution Research Lab. However, for various reasons related to their work, Shinji is not able to live with them at their house, and instead has to move in with his homeroom teacher, Misato Katsaragi, while Shinji’s cousin Rei Ayanami moves in with Yui and Gendo. Fairly early on they get another transfer student, Asuka Soryu Langley, whose mom Kyoko is also working at the lab, and Asuka ends up having to move in with Misato and Shinji. Fanservice-heavy romantic comedy hijinx ensue!
No, really, that’s it. There generally isn’t anything sinister going on at the lab. SEELE occasionally pops up to through a monkey wrench with whatever’s going on at the lab, usually leading to a degree of mild peril, along with a shout-out to the original series (whether it’s one of the classic Angels showing up, or a re-skin of a plot like the NERV Power Outage episode). But otherwise the plots could fit easily with any other wacky semi-Sci-Fi anime from the ‘80s or ‘90s, like All Cultural Cat-Girl Nuku-Nuku.
That said, this does mean the book has a degree of missed potential. One of the core themes of Evangelion was the importance of communication, with every tragedy out of that show being born out of a failure to communicate. Hideaki Anno followed that up by keeping communication as the core theme of Kare Kano, with the two leads admitting their feelings for each other very early on, and the various romantic comedy arcs being born out of that.
Here, there’s nothing really like that. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is generally pretty good – especially the characterization. The Three Children are generally more well adjusted versions of their original series selves – Shinji and Rei are somewhat both shy and introverted, but not because of trauma – it’s at more conventional levels. Asuka is similarly slightly more of a standard Tsundere, not because she’s trying to prove her worth based on her dead parent, but because she wants Shinji to spit out that he likes her and she’s too stubborn and proud to say it herself.
Probably the biggest shift is the parental figures. Aside from Yui and Kyoko not being absorbed by Eva Unit-01 and dead (respectively), Ritsuko’s mom Naoko is also still alive, and all of them are generally involved in the plot. Ritsuko and Naoko are still involved with SEELE with varying degrees, and come up in the “Plot” chapters, but otherwise they have a minor degree of involvement.
And then there’s Gendo. Gendo is almost the polar opposite of his anime counterpart. Where Eva Gendo is cold, distant, calculating, and cruel, Shinji Ikari Raising Project Gendo is a ginormous goof-a-doof (thanks to Reverse Thieves for introducing me to the term), who truly wants to show the world that he is the World’s Greatest Dad, even if he embarrasses the crap out of his son in the process. This leads to probably some of the best comedy in the manga – admittedly born out of the assumption that you have some familiarity with the original series version of the character.
However, the consequence of all the narrative focus being on characterization and creating sitcom scenarios for comedy, without anything to say, is that the book basically ends up being pure junk food. I don’t want to say it’s cotton candy, as it occasionally wants to give you something to bite down on – the problem being that what it presents there is the other of the manga’s missteps.
Specifically, that misstep is the fanservice. As the manga goes on, the fanservice becomes more and more overt, and the male gaze becomes more and more aggressive. The book is set at an unspecified point in High School, so it could possibly be set in the senior year when everyone turns 18 and the male gaze gets less gross (but still kinda gross), but that doesn’t make it not a problem.
Without tap-dancing around this further, a lot of the fanservice comes out of some form of “sexual slapstick”, like what I went into in the We Never Learn and What Are You Doing Here Teacher? Reviews. Basically, you get a lot of shots of Shinji tripping, falling, and then landing headfirst in a female character’s bust or crotch. Shinji then gets hit by Asuka, and we move on to the next bit. Generally, the way the joke is played is that either Asuka is upset because it’s happening to someone who isn’t her, or because it’s happening in public (or when it happens in private, she doesn’t object and hit Shinji until someone walks in because he doesn’t back off fast enough).
The problem with this is, in no particular order, first that the fanservice gets spectacularly more thirsty. First it’s just characters regular clothing, then they’re in their underwear, and then he manages to accidentally get their underwear off (or they’re nude at the time). The male gaze also heavily escalates as well. We start with just shots with bust in center of frame, then we get shots with female characters leaning forward where the camera leers down their clevage, before going to shots showing their posterior and in some cases going up skirts with, well, in some cases the labia majora and even sometimes the clitoral hood defined. Similarly, early on the manga introduces a public bath inside NERV. The fanservice there goes from using steam to obscure genitals, to soap obscuring the fine details, to full on upper-body nudity.
It feels like had the manga gone on just a couple more volumes, we’d enter straight-up eromanga, and I’m completely shocked that there are no Shinji Ikari Raising Project erodoujin out there, because this is a manga where “Shinji accidentally has sex with Rei or Asuka (or both) because they tripped” is a scenario which could happen.
What particularly makes that an issue, compared to the earlier works I mentioned, is the comedy is focused around visibility of the fanservice outside of the intended romantic partner. The jokes in We Never Learn are around the characters realizing the Person They Like saw them naked, but nobody but the parties involved know about this. The jokes in What are you doing here, Teacher? are around a risk of discovery that never happens, combined with an improbably convoluted scenario. Here, the jokes are about public embarrassment by ones peers and mentor figures, which makes things more unpleasant.
So, ultimately, in spite of some really strong comedy, some very good characterization, and a really good start, it’s hard for me to recommend the manga because of just how very, very thirsty it gets by the end of the series.
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