When introducing a child to anime, there are plenty of bright, cheerful and exciting shows perfect for youngsters of any age -- but the first option that comes to mind probably isn't Neon Genesis Evangelion. The classic series is occasionally surreal and disturbing as it turns mecha anime tropes on their head with a group of young pilots recruited to fight strange creatures called Angels. Evangelion follows Shinji Ikari, a teenage boy who we witness trying to deal with his dark existentialism. This is certainly not the type of series you'd expect to crossover with Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion.
Shinkalion is an anime aimed at children that started in 2018. It is a spin-off of the Plarail model train line, and rail franchise operator Japan Railways Group sponsored it. The series followed young Hayato Hayasugi, who learns that his dad is part of the Shinkansen Ultra Evolution Institute -- an organization that uses transforming robot trains called Shinkalions to fight evil monsters called Kitoralzers. So, what happens when these two very different franchises combine for a strange crossover?
What sets Shinkalion apart from other similar shows is how as it developed, it slowly became a train anime version of Nintendo's Super Smash Brothers franchise. It's jam-packed with loads of cameo characters from various franchises piloting unique Shinkalions, including Hatsune Miku and Hello Kitty. However, the most confusing remains Shinji from Evangelion.
Shinji first appears in Episode 31, "Launch!! Shinkalion 500 Type EVA." In this episode, Hayato goes on a day trip to a stretch of track. This area is one of the only places where bullet trains can hit top speed, and Hayato, being a massive train fan, wants to get some pictures. However, due to the heat, Hayato passes out for a moment. Suddenly a train coming down the track wakes Hayoto up -- but it isn't a regular bullet train. It's the 500 Type EVA, a train clad in a design closely resembling Shinji's Evangelion Unit-01.
Hayato then realizes he is outside the city of Tokyo-3, the setting of Evangelion. As he enters the city, Hayato encounters Hikari Horaki, another Evangelion character. Hikari and her sisters turn out to be just as train obsessed as Hayato, and they go with him to watch the bullet trains. During this trip, Hayato encounters many Evangelion characters, most of whom are voiced by their original actors, including brief cameos from series icons Asuka and Rei.
Hayato inadvertently stirs confusion when he mentions taking a bullet train home to Tokyo -- which isn't possible in Evangelion -- causing Hikari and her sisters to mention parallel universes. Suddenly, a monster that looks like the Angels attacks. The two worlds start to blend as the Shinkansen Ultra Evolution Institute replaces Evangelion's NERV -- though with notable NERV aesthetics.
The strangest part of the entire crossover is how unusually cheery Shinji is as he arrives in the 500 Type EVA, joining Hayato, who boards his Shinkalion. This is a complete departure from the Shinji we know from Evangelion, but it's an understandably necessary change to make given Shinkalion's target audience. Still, the 500 Type EVA sequence transforming into its robot mode as "A Cruel Angel's Thesis" plays triumphantly in the background is certainly a reference for older fans who are either enjoying something light-hearted or viewing with children.
After defeating the monster, Hayato goes to say goodbye but reveals he realized this was a dream. He wakes up back at the train station he was visiting, where it turns out the intense heat caused Hayato to get heatstroke and faint. However, the photos he took in Tokyo-3 are still on his camera, suggesting that this wasn't a dream.
The movie Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion the Movie: The Marvelous Fast ALFA-X That Comes From The Future further proves Shinji and Hayato's encounter may not have been only a dream. In the film, Shinji returns to help fight both Snow Godzilla and a group of aliens attempting to take over Earth. Their second meeting suggests that Hayato's trip was more than a mere dream and an actual excursion into a parallel universe, as Hikari and her sisters had mentioned.
While the idea of Shinji appearing in something like Shinkalion seems weird on paper, Hideaki Anno -- Evangelion's creator -- loved the concept as he is a big fan of trains and had also collaborated on a real-world Evangelion bullet-train. Plus, seeing Shinji happily fight monsters in Shinkalion is a nice bonus for parents who grew up with the legendary anime. Not to mention the commendable amount of Evangelion references they could fit into the episode while keeping it suitable for Shinkalion's age demographic.
While Neon Genesis Evangelion is many things, family-friendly isn't one of them -- so let's hope parents hold off a few years before showing their younger kids where Shinji originally came from.