Neon Genesis Evangelion has been known to divide audiences. And despite its love for giant robot battles and generous use of fan service, Neon Genesis Evangelion is unarguably one... of the most influential sagas in modern anime. In the history of anime no series has sparked more debate than Evangelion. For every viewer who's enthralled by its mix of classic anime action, convoluted philosophy, psychological angst, and religious imagery, there's another who finds it pretentious and ponderous.
If you are unfamiliar with Neon Genesis Evangelion and have yet to watch it for the first time, you're in for a real treat it truly is an emotional roller coaster. On the surface, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a basic mecha series with a host of teenage pilots controlling monstrous beasts called Eva’s. The lead character is a reluctant hero trying to live up to his father's expectations while saving humanity at the same time.
Story: The story of Evangelion primarily begins in 2000 with the "Second Impact", a global cataclysm which almost completely destroyed Antarctica and led to the deaths of half the human population of Earth. The Impact is believed by the public at large and even most of Nerv to have been the impact of a meteorite landing in Antarctica, causing devastating tsunamis and a change in the Earth's axial tilt (leading to global climate change) and subsequent geopolitical unrest, nuclear war (such as the nuking of Tokyo), and general economic distress. Later, Second Impact is revealed to be the result of contact with and experimentation on the first of what are collectively dubbed the Angels: Adam. The experiments were sponsored by the mysterious organization Seele, and carried out by the research organization Gehirn.
In the year 2010, Gehirn had accomplished a number of its scientific and engineering goals and corporately changed into the paramilitary organization Nerv which is headquartered in Tokyo-3, a militarized civilian city located on one of the last dry sections of Japan; Nerv's central mission is to locate the remaining Angels predicted by Seele, and to destroy them. However, Nerv has its own secret agenda, as directed by its Machiavellian commander Gendo Ikari: the Human Instrumentality Project, which, according to Gendo in episode 25, is the task of uniting all human minds into one global spiritual entity. Associated with Nerv is the Marduk Institute, which has the task of selecting the pilots for the Evas, the most capable being children conceived after the Second Impact (14 year olds). The institute consists of Commander Ikari, and Nerv's chief scientist Ritsuko Akagi; supporting the two are 108 companies which are all revealed to be ghost companies.
Story does start off quick with a bit action in the beginning. It then becomes quite dull with how the main character acts. But by the time Asuka makes her first appearance, the show has kicked into high gear for a stunning run of near-perfect episodes.
Characters: The cast of Characters in NGE are varied, and through the course of the series the majority of them are emotionally ripped apart and left for dead. NGE holds back nothing. For most animes, a flaw of a character is usually ironed out before the end. But NGE is different. Weak characters show moments of strength, but ultimately remain weak. Arrogant characters show moments of humility but ultimately remain egotistical. Such is the nature of the series - the characters definitely go through challenging experiences that test their flaws, but they do not seem to overcome them. One reason for this may be that the challenges the characters go through in NGE are treated as though they were realistic stressful conditions that mentally damage the characters since there is always bad collateral damage even with success.
Art & Animation: While the animation looks a bit dated by today's standards, NGE is still a powerful cerebral onslaught and an audiovisual force that won't soon be forgotten.
There are just so many things Evangelion does right that elevate it beyond pedestrian anime. The world is so alive and well-developed, right down to the smallest details (like the way cars run on batteries instead of gasoline, as one would expect in a future following global disaster that would limit access to fossil fuels). Even the minor characters, like classmates Toji and Kensuke, are remarkably fleshed out. The way Misato's mature (but dysfunctional) relationship with Kaji contrasts with the teens' awkward, tentative steps towards romance is brilliant. In other words, Evangelion pulls off the remarkable trick of feeling tantalizingly real, an exceedingly rare accomplishment in anime (and animation in general).
Sound: NGE is a show of extremes. Ranging from scenes of palpable, visceral power that inspire shock and awe, to the most quietly serene, surreal, and beautifully touching moments. These scenes are woven together as fine and eloquently as the Beethoven Symphony they play in episode 24 itself. And like that symphony, even though the parts are outstanding, the whole is much greater than the sum.
Enjoyment: Without spoiling the show for those of you new to join, the replay/enjoyment value on this one is off the charts if you enjoy complex dramas and well written anime shows. Further, in the thirteen years this one has been out, you can trace almost every anime show using giant robots, psychological thrillers, and hidden cabals within society running things from behind the scenes back to this one. Sure, it builds on shows that came before it but it was more of a revolutionary step in terms of overall complexity and quality than it was a smaller evolutionary step; leading fans to discuss its nuances over and over.
Overall: Evangelion is definitely in a class by itself, and it is required viewing for any anime fan. Not just another giant robot/sexy teenager anime, Evangelion is a trendsetter and a pillar of creative achievement. While it won't answer many of those lingering questions you might have in the end, it does set up the finale, End of Evangelion, a movie that presents a more coherent ending which makes a lot more sense than the last two episodes did.
Make it a priority to watch this and see for yourself what NGE means to you. After you do, make sure you watch the movie, End of Evangelion.