You know what goes really well with Giant Robots? Existential Dread!
I had something of an epiphany while doing research for [what I hope will be] a future Anime Mecha campaign.
It came about after reading a post and its follow-up responses on Reddit regarding the very same subject I was thinking of exploring...a tabletop RPG campaign based on Neon Genesis Evangelion. The original poster, the person who started the thread, asked what game system people would recommend to run a NGE campaign. He further stated that he was well aware of the various existing Evangelion RPG offerings and was A) looking for something different and B) curious what others would consider a good match for the setting.
Wait...have I never discussed Neon Genesis Evangelion and its impact (no put intended) on me and the stories I create?
That's just wrong.
(See what I did there? Now it's a Thorough Thursday post!)
For those unfamiliar with Neon Genesis Evangelion...what the heck is wrong with you? How are you even from this planet? I'm not and I still know what Evangelion is! OK, teasing aside, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a Japanese Mecha Anime that originally ran on TV Tokyo in Japan from October of 1995 to March of 1996. The 26 episode series was the product of Studio Gainax and was ground breaking in terms of subject, storytelling, and its deconstruction and deep love for the Mecha genre.
Ostensibly a classic Sci-Fi Mecha scenario in which the Earth is attacked by alien monsters with only a handful of young pilots and super-powered giant robots to defend it, NGE isn't about that anymore than Citizen Kane is about a sled. There are layers upon layers of themes and meanings to Evangelion, including explorations of Mental Illness, Religious Imagery, Spiritualism, Psychology, and Philosophy.
The end of the original series was quite controversial, with popular stories and theories being that they had run overbudget and behind schedule (which was true) forcing them to finish it somewhat abruptly. It spawned two films - Death and Rebirth and The End of Evangelion in an attempt to mitigate some of the ill-will towards the finale and complete the original vision for the series. Later, over a period of 14 years (between 2007 and 2021), four features films would retell the story and add a good deal of additional material.
The Rebuild of Evangelion adds new characters, expands and changes our perspective on old ones, and ends with a very different final act that only came out this month, Evangelion: 3.0 + 1.0 'Thrice Upon A TIme' (the only one I myself have not yet seen).
I was absolutely obsessed with Evangelion when it came out and saw the original 'last film', The End of Evangelion, in a movie theater in conjunction with a Anime Convention I was working at. I once spoke to an executive from Gainax through a translator and he asked me if I like the film and I told him I liked it very much. Then he asked if I understood it. I admitted to being unsure that I completely understood all of it. He laughed a deep, hearty laugh and excitedly said, "That is alright. I did not understand it either."
Finally, I have wanted to run an Evangelion campaign for many, many years now.
There have been at least two official versions of Evangelion tabletop RPGs in Japan (possibly three), as well as at least two or three made by American fans. One of the fan produced American games is actually quite popular, Adeptus Evangelion, and it uses the rules for Dark Heresy for some reason. (Kidding! Not a terrible game but not right for this).
Going back to the Reddit thread, a great many commenters were suggesting on Mecha systems or another, if they weren't touting a generic game like GURPS, Hero System, or (*shudder*) D20. Then, like the Spear of Longinus itself, a reader game through with a statement that pierced the clouds and hit right on target.
I am paraphrasing: "I see so many people recommending Mecha games. These people must not have seen Evangelion. That isn't the focus of the series. It's about people - damaged people - and their relationships with each other."
That is so right, so perfectly stated that it started me rethinking my own approach.
Hold on a moment...Angsty Teens. Check. Each character has a Problem, a Drive, and a Shame. Checks. Relationships are a key element of the setting and system. Check. Scars, physical and mental, are what results from failure. Check. I've got it!
The sequel to the absolutely awesome Tales from The Loop, the game is scaled up in both Player Character age and overall danger level. The game is essentially perfect for a Neon Genesis Evangelion campaign, albeit without the addition of some Mecha rules. Perhaps adapted from my MSV system?
'Cause the thing is, even though NGE isn't really about Giant Robots battling bizarre Space Monsters...
It totally is!
Thoughts? Ideas? Questions? Feel free to share.