In the year 2015, the world stands on the brink of destruction. Humanity's last hope lies in the hands of Nerv, a special agency under the United Nations, and their Evangelions, giant machines capable of defeating the Angels who herald Earth's ruin. Gendou Ikari, head of the organization, seeks compatible pilots who can synchronize with the Evangelions and realize their true potential. Aiding in this defensive endeavor are talented personnel Misato Katsuragi, Head of Tactical Operations, and Ritsuko Akagi, Chief Scientist.
Face to face with his father for the first time in years, 14-year-old Shinji Ikari's average life is irreversibly changed when he is whisked away into the depths of Nerv, and into a harrowing new destiny—he must become the pilot of Evangelion Unit-01 with the fate of mankind on his shoulders.
Written by Hideaki Anno, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a heroic tale of a young boy who will become a legend. But as this psychological drama unfolds, ancient secrets beneath the big picture begin to bubble to the surface...
Director Hideaki Anno's depression is what led to the dark themes of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Budgetary problems and parental complaints about content led to the original ending being scrapped and replaced with an extremely limited-animation ending breaking from the main plot. A movie, End of Evangelion, was later made based in part on the original planned ending and in part on Anno's increasing frustration with the otaku fanbase. The series' mix of psychoanalysis, religious symbolism, and genre deconstruction proved extremely influential on mature anime in the late '90s onward. The Japan Media Arts Festival in 2006 ranked it as the most popular anime of all time.
"Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis (残酷な天使のテーゼ, A Cruel Angel's Thesis)" by Yoko Takahashi
#01: "Fly Me to the Moon" by Claire #02: "Fly Me to the Moon (Rei #5 Version)" by Megumi Hayashibara (ep 5) #03: "Fly Me to the Moon (Rei #6 Version)" by Megumi Hayashibara (ep 6) #04: "Fly Me to the Moon -4 Beat Version-" by Yoko Takahashi (eps 7,12) #05: "Fly Me to the Moon (Aya Bossa Techno Version)" by Aya (eps 8,22) #06: "Fly Me to the Moon (Yoko Takahashi Acid Bossa Version)" by Yoko Takahashi (eps 9,13) #07: "Fly Me to the Moon (Yoko Takahashi Version)" by Yoko Takahashi (eps 10,14,21) #08: "Fly Me to the Moon -4 Beat Version (Off-Vocal)-" by [Instrumental] (ep 15) #09: "Fly Me to the Moon (Off-Vocal Version)" by [Instrumental] (eps 16,24) #10: "Fly Me to the Moon (Aki Jungle Version)" by Aki (ep 17)
#11: "Fly Me to the Moon -B22 (A-Type)-" by [Instrumental] (ep 20) #12: "Fly Me to the Moon (Rei #23 Version)" by Megumi Hayashibara (ep 23) #13: "Fly Me to the Moon (Rei #25 Version)" by Megumi Hayashibara (ep 25) #14: "Fly Me to the Moon (Rei #26 Version)" by Megumi Hayashibara (ep 26)
Since so many people have requested this over the years and as there's a new system in place I'm adding my 2009 review for this series which was originally posted on my blog here on MAL. The 2007 one was written in response to the obtuse fans that were here at the time, and it will remain after the review as removing it completely would serve no purpose.
It's also a reminder to me of something important.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most debated animes in history. Some would argue that there are numerous hidden messages in the show, while others argue that it simply
plays up to a certain puerile idealogy of the world. Whatever the case may be, NGE established itself as the hot topic in anime for well over a decade.
NGE first saw the light of day as a manga by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, and was published in Shonen Ace magazine from February 1994. It's purpose was to raise awareness and public interest in the anime version that was to be released in October of the following year.
The anime was directed by the famous Hideaki Anno, and is hailed by many fans as his masterpiece (although there are numerous people who disagree with this point of view).
The animation in NGE is actually very well done considering the time it was made (and the fact that Gainax was running out of cash). The colour palette used for the show was decidely bright in many ways, and at the time it contrasted well with the serious tone of the story.
The characters were well designed for the most part, but the real breakthrough in terms of design were the EVA units and the Angels. NGE pushed the boundaries of mecha design in anime to a new level, something which no other show of the time could achieve. It also wasn't afraid to show an enemy who had no visible relation to humans - something that was a rarity in those days (although Anno had used a similar technique in Top wo Nerae).
The animation in the show is generally very fluid, and although there are some notable flaws, they don't actually impede on the enjoyment of the show.
The sound in NGE is very good in general. The VAs in the japanese version are very good, and are able to deliver a greater depth of emotion than their american counterparts. The effects used are also quite good but never really stood out as much, partly because of the overwhelming visuals, and partly because they were generally stock effects. The music is generally good throughout the show, with a mixture of classical and other styles scattered here and there.
One of the most memorable things about the music in NGE is the theme tune. Anno had originally wanted to use Borodin's Polovetsian Dances as the theme music for each episode, but was overruled by TV Tokyo, who felt that this would confuse and alienate the audience. Instead he settled on what has become one of the most played anime theme tunes in history - A Cruel Angel's Thesis, which was performed by Takahashi Yoko.
This is the area where NGE failed as an anime. Prior to making NGE, Hideaki Anno had suffered from depression for a while, and the characters in NGE were created in such a manner as to reflect his struggle against mental illness. Each of the characters is flawed in different ways, something that was unusual in anime at the time. Given Anno's talent as a director, this should have led to some interesting, and highly original, character development. Unfortunately the show failed in this area because of one key factor - Ikari Shinji.
For many people like myself, the main issue we have with the show isn't the story, or the animation, or the sound. It's the characters, and in particular, Ikari Shinji. In creating him, Anno and the rest of the production team lost focus on the other characters. Shinji is not your typical hero in that he isn't, courageous, or handsome, or intelligent. In fact, Shinji consider's himself to be worthless. The issue I have is that the show focuses far too much on Shinji, almost to the extent where the other characters were simply plot devices for his devlopment, and not enough on the characters around him.
That's not to say Shinji is a bad character. He's not. The problem is that one can only stomach so much unjustified self pity (which unfortunately most of it was in his case), before wanting to slap some sense into the person in question. It's been pointed out to me that Shinji wanted to kill himself because he thought he was worthless, and that he should be pitied because of the bad hand he was dealt. I'm sorry but that argument doesn't wash with me. If someone truly wants to kill themselves then they will, so Shinji didn't really want to die. In addition to that, I know quite a few people who have been dealt the worst hands possible, yet they do not whine and complain about it (and many of these people did consider themselves to be useless/worthless at one time or another - yet they suffered in silence for the most part). What Shinji wanted was for people to pity him and tell him he wasn't worthless, and while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it was over-used in NGE (to the point where I wanted to put him out of his misery - and not because I pitied him). The fact that Shinji's character has a tendency to ram his sense of worthlessness into the faces of the other characters is what put me off, as that type of behaviour is usually for attention rather than a cry for help, and because of the show's focus on Shinji, you can imagine how much I wanted to hit him afterwards. It wasn't that I didn't understand, it was just that they failed to depict him as an object of pity, and instead he came across as a whining, self pitying, attention seeking, and generally loathesome person.
As for the other characters, in particular Rei and Asuka, they did get a certain amount of development throughout the series. Unfortunately though, their characters, as well as the rest of the cast, were overshadowed by the mammoth amount of development given to Shinji.
I actually quite enjoyed the concept behind NGE, as it made a nice change of pace. I did, however, have some issues with the convenient deus ex machina of Unit 01, as well as a number of other "coincidences" that were scattered throughout the series.
The story itself isn't all that original, and it has clearly borrowed elements from other sci-fi stories. What made the story seem to be original was the inclusion of psuedo-religious and psuedo-philosophical concepts, as well as the inclusion of "Fruedian" psychology. These formed core elements of the story, so what would have been a standard "save the earth" scenario became a dive into the psyche of the characters. The basic plot is borrowed directly from Space Battleship Yamamoto, and the idea of "young" people protecting the earth was used by Anno himself in Top wo Nerae.
Unfortunately the story breaks down in several places. Anno tried to make a show that merged all perspectives into one single view, and while he managed to achieve this in some measure, he failed because he focused too much on Shinji, to the extent that no other options were ever considered.
Here's what I mean. NERV is a quasi militaristic outfit, and as such, would generally have backup options available to them. The convenient deus ex machina I mentioned earlier effectively removes all chance for anyone else to come to the fore - except for Shinji that is. If the viewer is to believe that an organisation such as NERV was supposed to protect the earth, then they would at the very least, look for other options, especially considering Shinji's character flaws. This would effectively mean that they would have at least some combat veterans or trained soldiers who could handle the EVA units. The use of teenagers as the leads in the show was simply so that it would appeal to the teenage audience.
Another area where the story breaks down is in it's use of religious symbology. Many fans believe that what is shown in NGE is taken directly from religious beliefs, in particular Kabbalism, Judaism and Christianity. While the names used in the show may be true to those religions though, in many cases the manner in which the reference is used is actually based on Anno's own definition, rather than the religious viewpoint (something for which Anno has been heavily criticised).
In truth, The religious symbology used in the show was only really used to give the series an edge over other "giant robot" anime (i.e. Macross, Gundam, etc), and all of the various interpretations since have been ascribed to it by the viewers rather than the creators (something which is very well documented).
One big plot hole that I noticed, and one that should have been obvious to most people as well, was Shinji's isolationist attitude, and Gendou's reaction to it. It's obvious to any who've watched the series that Gendou feels little sympathy towards Shinji, however due to that convenient plot device using Unit 01 I mentioned earlier, Gendou needs Shinji to pilot the EVA unit. So, what you effectively have is the leader of a militaristic organisation who feels little for others, and a teenager with supposed mental instabilities. This being the case, why wasn't Gendou forcibly dosing Shinji with meds to make him more compliant? If your purpose is to protect the earth and it's people from attack by extremely powerful beings, and you're basically a selfish person with your own agenda, then conscience or paternal instincts don't come into it, you simply do what's necessary, no matter what anyone else says.
It's interesting that the whole "psychology" angle is only really supposed to apply to Shinji, isn't it? Characters like Gendou have been "toned down" because their actions would have drawn too much attention to themselves, another convenient plot device.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a tough show to rate. According to Anno, if you're a normal, well rounded person then you won't learn anything from the show. While this may be true in some cases, the things that one can learn from the show are juvenile at best. Many of the older fans of NGE have a tendency to view the show through the rose tinted lenses of nostalgia, and while this is not a bad thing, it inhibits the ability to view the show objectively. Many of the younger fans, on the other hand, are fiercely loyal to the show, and have a tendency to react harshly to any criticism of the show. The unfortunate side effect of this is that the show has gained a certain notoriety that it could have done without, and many people who watch the show for the first time, do so with certain preconceived notions already embedded in their heads.
NGE is one of those shows that could have been great. Unfortunately the glaring flaws in the plot, coupled with the lack of develpment amongst the other characters in comparison to Shinji meant that I, at least, only found the show to be mediocre. NGE was a let down for me as I am a big fan of Top wo Nerae, the show that is effectively the older sibling to NGE (and is considered by quite a few people to be the superior show).
I'm not going to suggest anyone watches the show, as that is a decision you should make for yourself. Likewise the choice of whether you love it or hate it is something that only you can decide. The only thing I can say about the show is that, when watching it, be as objective as you can.
NGE is no Top wo Nerae by any measure, but it is a classic. Unfortunately, it really isn't Anno's best work, and the rebuild is making the same errors all over again.
And here's the review that originally graced this page. It's a bit bilious and lowbrow, but it served it's purpose - which contrary to what you may think wasn't to simply to upset the "hardcore" fans.
Okay, I'm REALLY going to upset a lot of you out there with this review.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most mediocre animes I have EVER seen.
I watched this when it first came out, and I wasn't overly impressed with it to say the least.
The story is okay. The idea of earth being assaulted by unknown, quasi-supernatural/technological beings is one that has been handed down through the years, the most famous example being The War of the Worlds (which wins hands down by the way).
The animation was actually one of the few plus points for this anime. The art style and use of colour made this attractive to many when it was first released. The sound was also of a high standard, and the catchy J-pop intro jingle was forcibly lodged into many peoples craniums.
Now we get to the good part - the characters.
Ayanami Rei was okay as a character, but what on earth possesses everyone to raise Ikari Shinji to almost godlike status? The guy is biggest loser in anime (with the exception of Makoto for School Days - Nice Boat), and one of the biggest losers I have even seen in ANY story since Thomas Covenant. I honestly found myself wishing he was a real person so I could smack some sense into him. I've heard it mentioned that he is the most realistic character in the anime, and I have to wonder what planet the people who say such things were born on. I mean honestly.
Okay, rant over, here's why this character is THE MAIN REASON why this anime was mediocre. NERV is a military organisation whose SOLE objective is the protection of the planet, by whatever means. This being the case, WHY THE HELL is Ikari Shinji the main focus of the story? He doesn't want to pilot an EVA, and doesn't want to fight. Any self respecting organisation WOULD HAVE FOUND SOMEONE MORE WILLING AND MORE ABLE to do the job. There's such a fuss over how special Shinji is, but surely with 6 billion people on the planet there would be someone better equipped for the job.
But I understand the anime only had so much budget so they couldn't really conduct a global search.
The most believable character is Asuka Langley Soryu, as her reaction to Shinji's ineptitude and cowardice is similar to that of any reasonable person.
I'm not going to mention enjoyment as I've already made it clear that this was mediocre at best.
This wasn't Hideaki Anno's best work by far. Top wo Nerae (Gunbuster), was a far superior sci-fi anime, and the characters were MUCH more believable. The story for Top wo Nerae beats Neon Genesis Evangelion hands down.
As for his other works, watch Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou (KareKano or His & Her Circumstances). Hideaki Anno proved his talent with this anime, and Top wo Nerae, so I can only assume he was suffering from dementia when Evangelion was written.
A suggestion if I may, to end this rant. If you want emotion, trauma, passion, a great story, and all the rest, then watch some of the following animes:
Flanders no Inu (movie)
Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid
NHK ni Youkoso!
Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou
Top wo Nerae
Grave of the Fireflies
There's a lot more that fit the bill. Watch them, then re-watch evangelion and see if it has the same feeling it did before (I would advise removal of the fluffy pink clouds of nostalgia in your head before rewatching).
Some of you are probably wondering why I wrote this review if I dislike the show so much. The reason is simple. I'm sick to death of seeing the show aired on the various channels that show anime, and I'm even more fed up with the fact that newcomers to anime are indoctrinated by magazines and other people into liking this piece of tripe, especially when there are far superior animes out there that rarely get mentioned anywhere.
I'm going to end this review here. I'm not going to tell you all not to watch this. I just hope that this review makes you consider what actually IS good in anime.
Hugely experimental and wonderfully unique, Evangelion is a roaring success.
The basic, initial, plot goes thus: a 14-year-old boy named Shinji is called to NERV (an organization charged with defending mankind from extinction, no less) by his estranged, seemingly cold and calculating father. There, his fathers' first words are an order to pilot an immense robotic machine, the titular Evangelion, and fight against the monster that's attacking Tokyo-3, the city under which NERV has it's headquarters. These illusory 'monsters' are called Angels and are seemingly invincible - traditional weaponry, even in the year 2015, has minimal effect upon them. Only the
Eva 'biomechs', which can be piloted solely by certain selected 14-year-olds can stop them. This [i]is[/i] merely the basic, initial premise of the series. As it goes on, everything gets a lot more complicated; There's a metric ton of mystery, suspense, twists and turns in Evangelion's plot, all routinely thought-provoking and intensely interesting.
The characters are excellent. This is an important point as the series is more about them than about the Angels or NERV. Shinji Ikari is one the most believable and genuinely sympathetic character ever conceived in anime. Though some would complain that Shinji is overtly emotional and annoyingly so. But, really, no one wants Shinji to become the 'Hollywood hero' and save the day with a smile on his face - no such human could ever really exist, and studio Gainax understand this and apply it perfectly to the series. Shinji's mental struggle is dealt with effectively by Hideki Anno, through the use of complex monologues and largely successful experimental cinematic techniques. Asuka and Rei, the other chosen children, are both polar opposites and ingenious characters. Both develop a great deal in a very interesting way throughout the series, and this character exploration and growth is at the heart of Evangelion.
The design aspects are wonderfully unique - the Evas themselves are strikingly colourful and the Angels are attention grabbing and memorable with many towering over Tokyo-3's skyscraper. The Angels appear in many different forms (one Angel takes the form of a gargantuan, blue diamond while another is too small to be seen with the naked eye and acts as an organic virus, crippling NERV's computer system) which helps Eva avoid the repetitve "Monster of the Week" format and keeps the action aspect of the series consistently fresh and enjoyable. Judeo-Christian references are famous (or rather, infamous) in Evangelion and despite widespread condemnation, I am of the firm belief that the symbolism is never obnoxious, and always evocative and visually shocking. It must be noted these references are usually fairly shallow, but they make you sit up and take notice of the deeper meaning in the series as a whole. Animation is crisp and clear for the platinum re-mastering that I watched, and I hasten to add that this re-mastering is only version of Eva worth buying. Visuals are regularly stunning and scenes from this series will surely stay with you forever. The regular provocative imagery is often times shocking and sometimes awe-inspiring. The image of a crippled Rei, bleeding and covered in bandages in the first episode provides the first real shock of the series. Such imagery contrasts with the visual gags present throughout - a toothpick container obscuring Shinji's nether regions in episode 2 being one of the most memorable.
The music is, much like the rest of Eva, superbly memorable. It excels at setting the right mood and tone, using inspirational trumpets to highlight Asuka and Shinji's success in battle, and nuanced reflective tunes to convey the character of Rei. The OP is among my favourites of all time and you'll not tire of hearing it throughout the 26 episodes of the series.
The final two episodes are controversial (more controversial than the rest of the series at least!) because they are both the peak of experimental Eva. While I certainly wouldn't call them "bad", they are frustratingly unsatisfying as an ending. Thankfully, the subsequent movie release titled 'End of Evangelion' rectifies this with bombastic aplomb. EoE - which essentially tells the story of what happens in eps. 25 and 26, but this time outside of Shinji's mind - is truly magnificent, and definitely lives up to the sky high standards set in the series, and perhaps even exceeds them. As well as being one of the greatest anime movies ever made, EoE gives the series an extraordinary conclusion.
I haven't even mentioned the dub, the pacing or the sound effects, but rest assured that they are all of a fantastic standard. Overall, I think this series deserves it's iconic status - it's easily one of the absolute best TV series (anime or otherwise) that I've ever seen. Every single episode is nothing less than a masterpiece and an utter joy to watch. I whole heartedly recommend Neon Genesis Evangelion. It is imperative that you watch this anime!
Evangelion is widely considered one of the most influential anime created in the 1990's, if not of all time. It is extremely well known for it's brave attempts to turn the mecha genre on it's head, it's deep character development, and it's unorthodox storyline. Created by acclaimed studio Gainax, and written by both praised (and sometimes hated) writer Hideaki Anno, Evangelion has been called a masterpiece by anime fans. Does it deserve this praise.
Story: One of the most well known aspects of Evangelion is it's story; it is simply unorthodox, as it does the process of not feeding all of the story the viewer;
it drip-feeds it, giving the viewer only half the story, or sometimes giving scenes without any context. For some anime, this would be a disaster waiting to happen, but in the case of Evangelion, this is done almost consistently masterfully, holding back information on such subjects such as SELEE or The Angels. Many have critisized the holding of frames later in the series, but taken into the context of the fact they were running out of money to make the show, is is understandable.
For many fans, their major criticism of the anime is the handling of the ending, which many consider far too 'out there' and simply crap. I too, am not a huge fan of the ending, but taking the ending to the TV series, inside the context of the 'true' ending movie, The End of Evangelion, the ending can make a lot more sense, and thus I enjoy it far, far more. To stop me from ranting on for ages, Evangelion's story is a master stroke in writing, one which has been a hard feat to replicate.
Art and Sound: I was introduced to Evangelion through the in-progress tetraology of films, The Rebuild of Evangelion; due to this, I became used to the cutting edge graphics employed for the higher-budget films. And to be honest, yes, the TV series art is beginning to show it's age 20 years on; however, this does not detract from the series in any major capcity, as the art compliments the anime extremely well.
The sound is also fantastic, and a very high-point for the show. Excellent music is employed to showcase the fights against the Angels, and for darker moments such as the internal struggles of the main cast of the show. Some of Beethoven's music is featured later in the series, which coupled with the emotional impact of the scene, produces one of the most excellent scenes in anime history.
Characters: By a massive leap, the highlight of the series. Evangelion features in it's story the struggles of the main characters, to devastatingly wonderful effect. Weak, timid, daddy-issues Shinji, to powerful, arrogant, egotistical Asuka, to the quiet, mysterious Rei, and the dark, apparently agnostical Gendo, Evangelion develes into the mind and motivations of these characters, showcasing exactly what makes them tick, and this is what gives us some animes most regonisable and wonderful characters.
I am certain entire essays have been written on why certain charcters tick, and that's another reason so many of these characters are so wonderful. Fans are so devoted to their favorite characters (personally I am partial to Rei and Gendo), and this creates a wonderful feeling when learning about these characters and then discussing this with other fans. Generally, Evangelion employs some of the most human characters in anime, showing us that the heroes of anime aren't always strong, both mentally and physically, or not even in control of their lives.
In closing, Evangelion is one of the strongest anime ever produced. It employs powerful characters, a deep, deep story, and art that has only just began to show it's age. What makes the show's longevity even more powerful is that even now on sites such as EvaGeeks people are still analysing this series, trying to know everything about it. I hope Evangelion will live on in the hearts of it's fans, who'll continue to appreciate it's deep, metaphorical story. I hope that Evangelion will always remain an anime that will be treasured, for all the ages.
Mod Edit: This review may contain spoilers.
People have been fighting over the merits of Neon Genesis Evangelion since its conception, engaging in an endless bloody war to decide whether or not the series is a masterpiece or overly-pretentious filth. Writing a review for Evangelion is pretty much just adding fuel to the fire, giving one side or another some extra ammo with which to demolish the opinions of the opposition. For that reason, I've decided to do something different with my Evangelion review. I'm actually going to write two reviews, one heralding Evangelion as a masterpiece and the other condemning it as mediocre bilge. I've
put my full effort into both of them, trying to make each compelling. I believe that both reviews get down to the essence of why people either love or hate the show, and the goal is to let anyone pondering whether they should pick up this giant of the medium to really understand what they're getting into and whether or not it sounds appealing to them.
Without further ado, I present Neon Genesis Evangelion: Critic & Fanboy.
**The following review will explain why Neon Genesis Evangelion is overrated garbage.**
Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most popular anime of all time. It's shaped the entire medium for decades, inspiring countless other shows through its characters, story, and ideas. Many people have called it the "greatest anime ever made" and a "triumph". Its protagonist, Shiji Ikari, has been on the top of many character lists, and its ending is infamous. Most times when someone starts criticizing Evangelion they are promptly told that they just "don't understand what it's trying to achieve". Well, let me begin by saying this: I understand exactly what Evangelion was trying to achieve, I just think that it executes this attempt very poorly. Evangelion is a mecha show, yes, but it's really about the internal struggles of the characters: most noticeably depression, fear of rejection, and sense of self. It's attempting to criticize the anime crowd by telling them that they're filling their lives with hollow escapism as a substitute for meaningful human interaction, but it's also just trying to tell people in general that they have value as an individual and whatnot. But before we get into how it fails in this regard, let's talk about the more superficial stuff. Let's talk about the plot.
See, Evangelion seems to have the idea that if it's "meaningful" enough it doesn't matter if it doesn't have a well put-together story. If it discusses important ideas, its story can be a mess. Well, half of this is true: the story IS a mess. The premise assumes that only 14-year-old children can pilot giant robots. Why? Never touched on. Okay, so any 14-year-old in the world will do, right? Nope, it has to be the guy who's spearheading the whole project's son, who is also conveniently unwilling to do it. Why not find someone more willing and trained? Well, because his synchronization rates are off the charts, of course. Sounds like an awful lot of insanely contrived nonsense to me. To top it off, Shinji's dad hates him to make sure he has issues with opening up, although this is never explained either. It seems like if the fate of the world was going to be entrusted to my son, I would want to, you know, make sure he was emotionally stable even if I didn't like him. After setting off this ridiculous premise the show devolves into bland monster-of-the-week with minimal development for about half of its run, throws in some totally meaningless religious symbolism, bends the world around Shinji's problems more than SAO bends around Kirito, and then proceeds to turn all of its characters into tools for its single-minded purpose before ending with a slideshow of photographs of lamps and concept art with dialogue over top.
See, here's the thing. If I wanted someone to explain to me the philosophy behind the hedgehog's dilemma or to tell me that I needed to open up to other human beings, I could just consult wikepedia or go see a therapist. The reason I'm watching a TV show instead is because by using a story with elements that get me invested and characters that I can relate to it allows me to understand what I could have learned at face-value anywhere. I learn because I care. Evangelion, however, forgets this. It seems to think that if it just spews enough philosophy at the viewer that that will do the trick. Why should I care what the show is telling me? Because here's the thing: the ending isn't gibberish. It does mean something, it means something very specific. But it still fails completely because it fails to convey that in a way that engages the audience or demonstrates it through the use of a story. It abandons the story and gets all up in your face instead, and this ruins the impact and renders everything its saying unimportant.
Well then, what does the show accomplish? Sure, it has some nice action sequences, but these come at the expense of a lack of budget later in the show. The soundtrack is pretty standard, with some of the pieces even being pretty blatant ripoffs from other places (one person once showed me how one of the battle themes is nigh identical to a 007 song), and all we're really left with to convey what the show is trying to convey is the characters.
The characters from Evangelion get a lot of praise. Many consider them to be the greatest cast of all time. Shinji Ikari, wonder boy, has been tugged around as the epitome of male protagonists, and others like Asuka and Rei laid down the foundations for their archetypes. Let's talk about all three, one at a time.
Rei - Rei is a failed experiment. She was originally created by Anno (the director) as a way to demonstrate to the Otaku fanbase that their best girls and waifus were actually just emotionless unresponsive dolls that would never provide them with anything real. The sentiment is one thing, but the fact of the matter is it doesn't matter what Anno wanted to convey, what matters is the result of what he created. Rei actually became the very thing she was created to destroy, and was one of the most popular waifus ever made. She reinforced the idea she was meant to take down. Rei is an absolute disaster.
Asuka - Asuka is very nearly the origin of the tsundere. The trope may have existed before her, but she defined it and made it popular. The problem is, Asuka really isn't that well-written. It doesn't matter what ideas she was used to expressed, the fact of the matter is that the consistency of her character is weak and by the end she, along with many other characters, has been converted into a tool to be used by Anno to make his points. She ceases to feel like a person of her own, and exists only to reinforce the ideas conveyed by Shinji.
Shinji - The man himself, attacking Shinji's character is considered pretty taboo. However, in truth, Shinji is simply pretty mediocre. His character exists to repeat the same few ideas over and over ad naseum, and he receives very little characterization outside of this. By the end of the show almost everything we know about Shinji can be boiled down to "he's afraid of rejection", "he has daddy issues" and "he struggles with self-value and sense of self". While this is great and all, there's more to people than just their deep-seated issues and Shinji fails to display that.
So with all this in mind, what on earth sets Evangelion apart? What has kept the fanbase so alive and vocal for these twenty years while nearly everything else made around the same time has fallen into obscurity? I believe the answer is pretty simple: intensity. The ideas in Evangelion aren't unique. They're in plenty of other anime, portrayed in more well-developed and creative ways, but Evangelion drowns all of those out by being really goddamn loud about what it's saying. Its characters are screaming, crazed people. Its production is a wildly fluctuating mess. Its emotional intensity is unmatched, and it uses this to grab peoples attention and cause them to feel as if it is "raw" or "real" when really it's just very noisy. Neon Genesis Evangelion may be one of a kind, but that doesn't mean that it's some sort of incomprehensible masterpiece. It just means that its a broken, twisted thing that takes some pretty straightforward ideas and yells them until people pay attention, rarely managing to convey them in any powerful way. It's preachy, poorly-constructed, and will hopefully gradually fade into obscurity so that people stop having to feel as though they're obliged to watch it only to be told that they don't "get" it.
**And on the flip side, the following will explain why Neon Genesis Evangelion is an inspirational masterpiece, worthy of standing the test of time.**
Neon Genesis Evangelion: the words that can spark conflict amongst anime fans almost instantaneously, like pouring water on sodium. Many people believe that this medium giant is overrated, outdated, or simply not a very good show. Some people even deeply loathe it, frustrated with its convoluted presentation and rabid fanbase. Personally, however, the show is one of my favorites. I believe it continues to be relevant for a reason. I believe that Neon Genesis Evangelion has achieved what no show before or after it has managed, and perhaps what no visual medium has ever accomplished.
Neon Genesis Evangelion manages to truly capture the feelings of doubt, isolation, existential dread, and desire for human connection that come with being alive. It manages to express them in a way that is powerful enough to replicate the monumental weight that these matters place on us, and it manages to provide a simply, bittersweet yet beautiful answer to them.
The first thing you should know about Evangelion is that at face-value it isn't perfect. It has pacing issues, budget issues, and cracks in its plot that plague it all throughout its run. It seems to change moods quickly in its first half, and it doesn't always seem to care about all of the threads of its creation. However, I firmly believe that a polished version of the show would not be as effective. It's because it's so messy that it manages to draw you in. That messiness is relatable. The world is a confusing, difficult place, and so is Evangelion. Likewise, as it progresses into its second half and the internal struggles of its beautifully-crafted characters begin to swell up inside them and consume them, the show shifts its focus to accommodate this because that's what it feels like to the characters. The internal battles they are fighting are all-consuming things, far more important than what is happening at NERV headquarters, and the show demonstrates this by allowing the inner workings of their minds to consume the show itself and show you first-hand how much this matters to them.
The entire show manages this, actually. It takes such simple internal yet universal conundrums and inflates the scale of them, making them feel larger than life in the forms of giant, gruesome robots and bizarre alien beings. The plot becomes insane and messy, with schemes and scale intensifying constantly to keep up with the messiness of the character's minds. Evangelion takes these all-important ideas and it shows that, using its rather cliched premise to demonstrate that it understands just how huge these issues feel to people. It does this in a way that nothing else does, drilling down to the cores of its characters and its audience and digging up the things that seep poison into their hearts. Evangelion lays people bare, it strips them down, it shows them that it understands them and then it tells them what they can do.
By people, of course, I mean both the audience and the characters, but since I can't give you an analysis of the audience allow me to take a moment to talk about the characters. There are three central characters that make up the cast, playing off each other perfectly: Rei Ayanami, Asuka Langely, and Shinji Ikari. Each of them serves a distinct purpose in the narrative and I want to take some time to talk about each of them.
Rei - Rei is the doll character, a stoic figure lacking emotions that has been repeated over and over again since her conception in all manner of shows. In Evangelion, however, she serves a very specific purpose. Rei demonstrates to Shinji what he is. Because she's a doll, she responds in whatever way she is treated, and showing her kindness will elicit kindness in return. Essentially, she is a mold-able personality, a person that will be whatever you want them to be for you. Through Shinji's interactions with her she demonstrates both that the concept of such a being (oftentimes taking the form of a significant other from a TV show in our world) is disgusting, and that Shinji will not be able to find the sense of acceptance and connection that he desires from her. She's not accepting Shinji because of who he is, she's accepting him because she'll accept anyone.
Asuka - Asuka is practically the origin of the modern tsundere archetype, with the unfortunately truth being that it's an archetype that was mastered at its conception and has not been challenged since. Asuka provides two very important facets to the series: firstly, she's a character to foil Shinji and reject him. She's a very distinct personality of her own, and her coldness towards Shinji stems from who he is. Shinji is forced to confront the harsh reality that if he opens up to her she will likely hurt him, and has to decide whether that is worth it regardless. On the other hand, Asuka is an amazing character in her own right. She struggles with many of the central themes of the series herself, loathing herself for not being good enough and trying to discover who she is when the aspects that she decided defined her come crumbling down.
Shinji - I've already mentioned him a hundred times in this review, but here he is: Shinji Ikari, the naked heart of the human race. Shinji pretty much is Evangelion, and most if not all of the show's messages are conveyed through him. Over the course of the show he becomes more and more withdrawn into his own mind, struggling to come out of his closely-guarded heart and actually express himself to the world. He wants to be wanted for who he is, not because he's useful, or because he's any person. He wants to be cared for because he's himself, because he's an individual, because of what makes him him. It's something that every human on this planet desires, and no one demonstrates it better than Shinji Ikari.
As the show culminates into a surreal journey into the minds of the characters, some people complain about the convoluted nature of the execution or that the ending of the show is only pretending to be meaningful. I assure you this is not the case. It may be jarring, yes, but if you pay attention you'll find that you're observing the most important decision in the world being made. All of the literal world falls away, because in comparison to what is going on inside the minds of our protagonists such a world is unimportant. That is the world through which one can express one's self, but Evangelion is more concerned with what is one's self. Evangelion is concerned with what makes you you and me me, and why the two of us talking and conveying our thoughts and becoming closer is the most important thing in the world, not in spite of the fact that we can never truly know each other but because of it. It's an infinitely important idea, and Neon Genesis Evangelion takes it on like no other.
If you haven't seen this masterpiece yet, I can only urge you to watch it. After all, you are a person, and Evangelion is about people. It knows them. It understands them on a level that nothing else does. It draws you in with its gritty, alluring story full of mysteries and its utterly unique mecha designs, it captivates you with its constantly creative enemies and lucrative fighting techniques, and then it shows you what it means to be human. It's one of a kind, and I can't encourage you enough to give it a try.