Home > Anime, Hideaki Anno, Reviews > Introduction: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Introduction: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Eva, Eva, Eva. I guess it would be you, for my first series review. Oh, Evangelion. You crazy diamond. Sure, there are anime that are as well known as you, Evangelion, but I’ve yet to find one that evokes more internet flamewars. Oh, Haruhi came close with Endless Eight, certainly. But you, Evangelion. You’re just special, aren’t’ya.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, for the entirely uninitiated, is one of the most notable anime series ever created. Remember, this is the internet age where everything is notable and nothing is, so if it were today, you could take that with a grain of salt. However, Eva first gained its notoriety from 1995 to ’97, when all you got was airtime on Japanese television. People had to talk about this series in person, which I imagine must’ve been hella awkward. The internet was around back then, and I’m sure the fanboys still flocked to it to talk about the last two episodes, but then, I’m putting the horse in front of the cart.

Evangelion is a giant robot series made by Studio GAINAX, directed by Hideaki Anno. It is the series that made Anno a household name–at least, in households that got anime televised within their walls. It’s a giant robot series, which is actually a genre in Japan, awesomely enough. What happens in your general giant robot series is that kids pilot giant robots called “mecha” for the local military or anti-enemy force. That is the basic outline of the genre like a bunch of guys with disparate talents getting together to pull a job is the outline of a heist movie. The kids use these robots, which are usually between 60 and 150 feet tall, to fight what can be aliens, other humans with giant robots, space monsters or Eldritch abominations.

What’s unusual is that in Japan, this is a broader canvas to tell your story with than the sitcom is in North America. Your series can be a comedy or a drama. It can have a cast of thousands or a cast of two. Sure, most of the time it involves questioning if moral authority can really be established by who has the bigger robot, but just as often, it runs with the assumption that it is. As such, Evangelion ends up being a unique kind of giant robot series. Oh, but first: There are two types of Giant Robot series; Super Robot, where the robots bond with the pilot, have feelings and are magic, and Real Robot, where the robots act like they would in the real world. Incidentally, the first Real Robot series was a deconstruction of the Super Robot series being made at the same time. We all have the message? Okay. Get ready for some buzzwords.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a dark, heady, psychological, paranoid, frantic, emotionally wounded deconstruction of both Super and Real Robot tropes, while also deconstructing tropes from the first Real Robot series, Mobile Suit Gundam. We all get through that okay? It’s about a shy fourteen year old boy by the name of Shinji Ikari, who has been abandoned by his father, Gendo Ikari. Before the start of the series, he’s been contacted by Capt. Misato Katsuragi, operations director at NERV. The series starts with their meeting and Shinji becoming a pilot at the barked command of his father, who has spent his life away from Shinji developing the Evangelion, humanity’s last line of defense against the indescribably alien monsters called Angels. Also piloting alongside him are a stoic girl who seems to be unaware of her own emotions, Rei Ayanami and a hotheaded, rude and fierce rival girl named Asuka Langley Soryu. Along with NERV scientist Ritsuko Akagi and man with ill-defined job Ryoji Kaji, these young pilots will defeat the Angels and save humanity from Third Impact–a fancy term for the apocalypse.

Just by reading that paragraph, you are now better acquainted with the series starting these reviews than I was before I watched the first episode. I think the plot synopsis I got was something akin to “kid fights in a giant robot to save humanity”. That’s not a plot synopsis. That’s a plot sketch. That’s a rough attempt to first put the plot into words. So I was absolutely lost. I didn’t know what was a reference to Mobile Suit Gundam and what was invented for the series. This was the first anime I’d ever seen. As I’ve said before, it’s throwing someone who’s never heard of a superhero into Watchmen and having them come out of it thinking that’s how all superheros are. That’s what happens. Not only that, but someone who had no idea how to read a comic book. I thank Chad for trusting me to swim in the deep end of the anime pool. That being said, I floundered for the first … actually, I only really got comfortable at episodes 25 and 26. I’m pretty sure I had no idea what was going on all the time until those two episodes. Chris Salman, prepare to hate me, but those were the only two that made any kind of sense.

This anime is notable for a few things. First is the high level of angst involved in the proceedings. This ain’t no weak American angst, either. This isn’t “mommy never loved me”, this is “mommy died when I was eight years old, leaving my dad to abandon me to make giant robots”. This is “my father died saving my life during Second Impact and I’ve sworn revenge against the Angels that did this” angst. These are real characters, with real feelings in a real world where they have real consequences. Next is how damn scary it all is. This series scared the pants off me. It has the most visceral and gory mech battles I have ever seen. Every fight is a big physical and emotional event for everyone involved. It’s fantastic.

And lastly, the final two episodes of the series are entirely metaphorical. I’m not making this up. They’re forty-eight minutes of metaphorical character arc resolution tacked on to the end of the series while the rest of the plot is left up in the air. Don’t worry, The End of Evangelion covers the physical events of the ending. The last two episodes are what that ending is, reduced to bare emotion. It’s amazing what you can do with the budget tugged out from under your feet.

All in all, that’s what Neon Genesis Evangelion is. I think you’re properly primed up. I think I’m adequately psyched.

let’s DO THIS THING

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  1. gwern
    September 13, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    > The internet was around back then, and I’m sure the fanboys still flocked to it to talk about the last two episodes, but then, I’m putting the horse in front of the cart.

    The Eva Mailing List, incidentally, was founded in 1994, before any episodes aired; the Japanese newsgroups like japan.anime.evangelion may date even further back.

    • September 13, 2010 at 12:32 pm

      Right, right right right, the first volume of the manga was released a year before the series, wasn’t it?

      Also, that is SO COOL

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