Well, a month and 16 681 words later, it has come to this. It’s now time to give my opinion on Neon Genesis Evangelion that counts for all of the series. Are you nervous? I’m nervous. Okay. Here goes, as spoiler-free as my review of End of Evangelion yet serving the entire series. I guess I should come out with it now–Neon Genesis Evangelion is damned brilliant, and if you don’t think so, you’re wrong. People have said that 2001: A Space Odyssey and Watchmen are worthless dreck before. If you can’t recognize the utter brilliance that is Evangelion, you don’t know what genius looks like.
It’s a complex character study of depression, loneliness and the physical and emotional manifestations thereof. Not only does it do this with utmost respect for the conditions and personality flaws of its characters, it does this while also functioning as a top quality Super Robot deconstruction. It juggles more narrative hats than can be believed, given its 26-episode runtime. It works on the narrative level, the subtextual level and the metatextual level to deliver a multi-layered and complex story worthy of being ranked among the best ever televised. All that, and it gave us the wonder that is The Jet Alone.
It’s been said that when you see Evangelion for the second time, it’s like watching a brand new series. As it’s the only long-form story I have ever completed twice, I can say that this is true. A good story will reveal several layers of meaning and improve your understanding of it through several viewings. Evangelion likely works best watched at least twice. It’s a complex plot where the director, Hideaki Anno, hasn’t taken time out to coddle you through the tricky parts. You aren’t meant to actively play catch-up with the people on the screen–you’re simply meant to sit back and absorb the information coming through. The second time through, Evangelion doesn’t feel disjointed or confusing. It feels like everything is right where it should be, and the cogs are turning within cogs to bring the series to a stunning conclusion.
Character-wise, this show is an excellent document of characters with complex backgrounds and motivations. Starting with lead Shinji, a shy and self-effacing boy who can’t bear to pilot Unit-01, but does so because he wants others to praise him. In the hands of others, this motivation would come off as selfish or immature. While Shinji may not be the most mature boy on the planet, he is normal. And in showing a normal person being forced to undergo repeated stress and trauma that would hospitalize any of us, it’s revealed without acknowledgement in the series itself that there is much more to this boy than we see.
Misato, his guardian, is also a bundle of neuroses and complexities. Her attitudes are the result of her issues with her father, a man she hated who sacrificed his life to save hers. She has never learned to be a mother, and thus attempts to interact with those around her as a woman first. This is best showcased in her relationship with Shinji. The scenes those two share throughout this story are loaded with a subtext that would be called plain wrong if they emerged as text. It’s amazing.
Shinji’s fellow pilots, Rei and Asuka, continue the trend of subtle and complex characterization. Providing legitimate, real-world reasons for their stoic and hot-blooded (respectively) behaviors, these two characters–despite fantastic origins–are firmly grounded in reality. They are people who feel real, instead of bodies slotted into archetypes in a series. That I feel the same empathy for both characters, despite the valley of differences between them, speaks wonders for both the writing and the setting.
This is not a happy series. If you want a simple and uncomplicated story where the good guys and the bad guys are well-defined, look elsewhere. This series specializes in deep psychological trauma and unspeakable horrors from beyond our dimension. And the mech fights with said unspeakable horrors are highlights of the series. Even from the second episode, all the way to the finale movie, the action sequences are laden with a visceral and horrifying edge that grabs you by the intestines and pulls for all it’s worth. Sure, frames were spared from other sequences, leaving a lot of conversations in silhouette and single frames held for upwards of thirty seconds at times, but when the fights start, you know that the frames were well spent.
Indeed, I have never seen action this brutal and guttural. It’s nearly profane in its refusal to be tame or safe. The action complements the emotion by staying as dark and fatalistic as the rest of the series. Blood rains upon everything, creatures are torn limb from limb, and the feeling of it all is communicated expertly. It’s horrifying not because it’s animated in great detail or goes for any cheap shots. It’s horrifying because not once does this series pull a punch, and not once does this series let you pause for breath. When the fighting starts, don’t you dare look away. This is the physical manifestation of the mental anguish of the characters.
Finally, this series wins above all others in its post-modernist tendencies. Anno-sama does not coddle you when the story gets tough. He expects you to be right there with him when he abandons the narrative to gaze into the deep recesses of the minds of the characters. And when he looks into their thoughts, he looks deep and he looks hard. These sequences give over to a kind of emotional storytelling I’ve never seen anywhere else. The meaning cannot be expressed because it is locked into the images and sounds presented. There is no other way it can be expressed by any human being.
This series is certainly not without its faults. Its budget cuts are legend, forcing the series to abandon its ambitions at the very end and deliver something entirely else to its audience. Its pacing problems will likely haunt it until the Rebuild series is finished. There are whole episodes that can be cut in the first two arcs without losing any meaning or quality. In fact, it may be an improvement.
But you know what? When something is this defiantly different, this definitively else, it’s incredible no matter which way you slice it. Re-watching Evangelion has taught me one thing and one thing only: This series is brilliant, and if you don’t think so, you’re wrong. FOUR STARS