Super-deformed parodies of popular anime IPs are nothing new. Indeed, they’re actually quite common. As to the question of why, my personal theory is that it’s a great way to sell even more merch and media, while also weaning a younger audience on an IP that they might be too tottish to take in till they’re older. I know that when I was a wain, I was far too young to be watching some of the more mature iterations of the Gundam franchise (and to be quite frank, I wasn’t all that interested). But the lighthearted and goofy antics of SD Gundam Force appealed to me greatly, and made me curious to check out other Gundam shows.
As such, it made perfect sense for Evangelion to get its own super-deformed parody show, given how popular and iconic it is. And given my own experience with SD Gundam, alongside the stills of Petit Eva that I’d seen before diving in, I had a general idea that I was in for a fun, lighthearted romp. I mean, what else could the show be?
To my genuine surprise, there are actually hints of something far darker lurking under the surface of Petit Eva. When the show starts out, the world is surprisingly barren and lifeless, inhabited only by our protagonists and the occasional Lovecraftian entity. And even as more color and charm pops up in the world, there’s a sense that this world is being made by the characters as they explore it, rather than existing independently to them. Also, even when the episodes are simply lighthearted zaniness, the soundtrack might sound more sinister than is appropriate, and the background image for the end credits will consistently be a frightening visage, eyes wide with mad intensity and mouth quivering with a thirsty hiss.
There’s also a strange obsession with bodily waste and eyes, which, while not as disturbing as the end credits or soundtrack, does lend the show an air of unreality. The first episode begins with Shinji being shat on by a giant bird until he becomes a shit monster, and there’s a running gag where the boogers of Eva Unit 01 (in this universe it’s a normal, human-sized robot who dresses like a school delinquent) have magic, Angel-defeating properties. Random buildings and places have human eyes (in the shape of the SEELE sigil), indicating that they’re sentient on some level, and nobody really notices or cares. It all adds up to an experience that is fun and lighthearted, but has just enough of an uneasy undercurrent that you can never fully enjoy yourself.
That being said, there are some really great ideas Petit Eva provides, which I wish more Eva media would take notes from. Firstly, while I’ve seen plenty of Eva works where the NERV staff moonlight as teachers at Shinji’s school, this is the first I’ve seen that comes to the (to my mind obvious) conclusion of making Gendo the principal of said school (Fuyutsuki of course being the vice-principal). It also doesn’t try to have its cake and eat it too by having the teaching be only a side hustle, with NERV and the school remaining separate entities that just so happen to share staff. Instead the characters are all centered around the school and classroom shenanigans, with occasional afterschool forays in more adventure-oriented episodes. Also, I love the idea of multiple Reis going around and interacting with each other, each having their own distinct personality and idiosyncrasies. More of that, please.
Then, to my great surprise, with Episode 16, everything suddenly… changes. The uncomfortable undercurrent ceases, the episodes are cut to half the runtime, and the art style is updated, leading to the series finally becoming the lighthearted zany vignettes that I initially expected. Of course, with this reworking of things comes the shedding of several characters, including the multiple Reis I loved so much. Also, the new Gendo is implied to be romantically interested in Rei (at the very least it’s clear that he’s sexually interested in her) and no God please no. No thank you sir, I don’t want it. Take it away from me. This “gag” rather sours the final batch of episodes for me.
And yet, as with the previous 15 episodes, while I could never fully enjoy myself, there’s enough charm and levity to make Petit Eva an overall fun and funny experience. If you’d like to see a softer, gentler version of Eva, I don’t know if this will be that for you. There’s still enough of an edge to make it distinctly Evangelion. But it’s certainly a more cheerful version of Eva than you’re likely to find in most places. So if that’s what you’re into, I say check it out. As for me, I think I’m gonna try something a little more serious next time.