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.
I hope I haven't upset you all too much.