Part 1: A loving embrace
“Just...hang in there....” -Misato Katsuragi
Neon Genesis Evangelion is the 1995 classic and brainchild directed by the legendary Hideaki Anno. It is a juggernaut that garnered fame and influence by challenging art that came before, directly spawning a cornucopia of successors, some of whom managed to become success stories themselves. Few pieces of animation hold such an honor, and monumental works such as this have a ginormous presence in their medium’s landscape, regardless of the fact that each of these select few titles are still around today with new, if less well-received instalments gracing our screens.
Apart from what it became, Neon Genesis Evangelion is first and foremost, a brutally somber, touching, and emotional mech series that challenges the conventions of the genre. It is a story of broken people being thrust into a dangerous situation and forced to confront and harness things they don’t understand, such as their new biomechanical technology and even their own feelings and psychological hang-ups, in a desperate attempt to survive with their sanity in tact. It is horrifying to witness, managing to eradicate one’s heartstrings with such sheer understanding of what demented, somber, and lonely states of mind are being depicted here. Not only does it exhibit how these broken, alone, depressed, and scared people came to be the way they are, but it does something even more important: it tells us that everything will be ok if we make it.
It understands people. It encourages. It wants you to understand too. So, it shows a fraction of the desolate state its characters are in with its main character, fixes him, builds things back up and shows people adapting to their new lives and overcoming hardships, whilst slowly revealing, meticulously peeling the layers of everything out from under us. Then, it tells it all down systematically, dragging everyone through the mud and truly showcasing just how insecure these people are. It calls for and demonstrates introspection, and tells us that no matter what, we must live our lives and accept ourselves. We cannot have our perfect world, but we can try to have our perfect selves, our selves that we, above anyone else, understand and care about. Needless to say, it accomplishes all of this resoundingly and passionately. It was a loving work created by a depressed, mentally stressed director, a loving work crafted by a visionary who understood our pain, and entire teams in Gainax and Tatsunoko Production who sought to make his vision, his message, a reality.
Even with reuse of animation, the show still manages to do incentive things with it, take hold of that reuse, and channel it as a weapon for introspection. With oppressive, moody colors, brutal tones are set that wildly enhance how we are to feel in many scenes. Shots highlighting desolation and especially isolation from beginning to end, even when lingering for far longer than t needs to. The battles roar with intensity, especially in its mind-peeling, emotion-shattering second half. This roar rivals the roar of the Eva Units, fantastically designed bio-mechanical gods of death man hopelessly tried to wield and understand. These specimen who wield the machines, are as fantastically and iconically designed. Everything works in tandem to craft a surprisingly well-produced product on a canvas where anything, even raw emotion and madness are both possible, and allowed. It may cut abruptly on an insanely frequent basis, but such is merely a minor hitch that does little to impede on the visual splendor, especially once the show reaches its climax.
Each episode is accompanied by fantastic pieces from beginning to end that convey so much emotion, from pieces like “Rei I” that show a more desolate and disturbed feeling, to “Angel Attack”, which shows the severity and intensity of it all. By the show understands people, so it knows that bleakness is far from all there is, unlike many shows that are claimed to be mature. The piece “Misato” is the shining example of such music that accompanies the deceptively constant hilarity that ensues on occasion, with episodes such as 7 and 11 being the most predominant examples of this show’s sense of humor. Another shining example of this show’s range would be the triumphant piece “Nerv” that really sells the tense and roar-inducing impact of success after a deadly struggle that can nearly bring the planet to extinction. There are a myriad of other fantastic music pieces crafted for the show, courtesy of Shiro Sagisu. The incorporation of famous pieces of classical music works gloriously as well. Outside those, the show is embraced by fantastic music at the beginning and end. With the opening, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” by Yoko Takahashi, you see an iconic piece of incredibly catchy music tailored to inspiring the main character to rise up. Whilst not a personal favorite, such an iconic song is commendable. However, with the ending theme, “Fly Me to the Moon” by Claire, a personal favorite in both television and full versions, we get a truly majestic and heartfelt melody, from the vocals to the string instruments, to the piano, and the lyrics. It is a majestic song, with all alternate renditions in the show being unable to replicate its beauty, even if a few, more instrumental versions come somewhat close to playing those heart strings.
Heart strings...emotions… all get played with immensely, particularly with the oft misunderstood cast. From the desolate and fragile Shinji Ikari who picks himself up when he needs to even when he runs away, to the insufferably egotistical and fragile Asuka Langley, and more, we receive a truly colorful cast. Misato Katsuragi, an absolute bundle of joy and comedy despite her ties to her father that make her connection to Shinji all the more powerful. Rei Ayanami, a constantly shaping conscious who seeks to release herself and wonder about life and death. The rest of the surprisingly fleshed out and grounded supporting cast of adults and each with their twistedly brutal moments and fates, such as Kaji, as well as others who are fortunate enough to survive seemingly contently. We have a fantastic high-school friend duo that has yet to be topped in Toji and Kensuke, the hilarious penguin Pen Pen, on top of the fantastic adults who remain grounded as they are unraveled piece by piece with foreshadowing littered throughout. We get a sense for who they are, why they are what they are, and who they like in what sense. No one is a monster despite how lovable or hateable they are, even Asuka and Gendo; everyone is complex human. The more we get to know them, the more we get to witness, the more we get to understand, even if we may forget the names of some of them, and loathe at least a few of them as people. Everything culminates into the end, into the ultimate, tragically, nay, criminally detested two-part finale of sheer introspection.
Said introspection is majestic. Even outside of how accidentally prophetic it became of terribly cliched school anime, the two part finale is a work of genius. It shows everyone tearing themselves apart as they unravel who they truly are, what their desires are, and everything that made them who they are. By the end, Shinji realizes that there are many possibilities in the word, and that the perfect world cannot be one of them. So, instead of trying to make a perfect world where he can be loved by all in a peaceful environment free of real pain, he should love himself, interact, take the chance and truly live. He should better himself and understand himself just like anyone else. He must embrace himself if he wants to be embraced. Everyone should strive to do the same.
The presentation of this introspection is raw, raw and seemingly scattered. Interwoven with so many other moments of characters digging within themselves with the help of their perceived versions of others, and with impeccably inventive use of other moments, cut together with new dialogue to match the disputation for the characters’ state of mind, much like prior episodes such as 16 and 22. It uses crayon drawings, pencil drawings, marker drawings, 8-bit pixel renditions of scenes, all to illustrate a point that Shinji finally realizes and accepts. It isn't a disaster of production, it is an understanding reach to pull out a realization and tell a message, in which it goes where no series has in terms of visuals. It does so wonderfully, sometimes with immense fluidity and transitions, other times with purposely jarring static moments with incredible shots, often cutting to one another in quick succession. It is the culmination of everything Evangelion. It is more human than most pieces of art could ever hope to be, and it deserves all the respect it can get.
It may be raw; it may be gut wrenching, it may showcase people who you cannot stand, it may try to get you to infer more than you should, and it may leave you floored with everything it does, particularly in the second half. From beginning to end, it grabs you by the wrist and rushes away with you to explore. It may be a tiresome watch, or an enthralling watch. It may leave you with questions that like it or not, are meaningless for most part, minus insignificant details and loose things that require the most adamant of searching to understand and accept. It may move too fast and just ram you with far too much at once, or leave you with just enough to stew over, for too long or long enough. No matter what, it wants to tell you something important and showcase hell, depravity, grief, denial, and sorrow to illustrate its point. It does so lovingly, shouting it loud with sheer understanding. Remember that, even if you take nothing else from the show.
With everything being said, thank you. Thank you for being there as I reach 100 reviews on this site. Thank you to everyone who ever read any of my content, especially those who enjoyed it and/or wanted to see me improve. Lastly, thank you, Neon Genesis Evangelion, not just for the lession, but for being so profound, so human, more than most works of art can dream of. I accept it all, and if you haven't done so already, now it's your turn. Accept its embrace; you'll get your closure soon.
See you in part 2.