Why do I get the feeling that I might be walking into a potential minefield with this review? Neon Genesis Evangelion is a 1995 Gainax-produced original series directed by Hideaki Anno that’s noted for its deconstruction of the mecha genre and its philosophical analysis. It’s considered to be a legendary anime series by fans and its immense popularity actually saved the anime industry back in the 90s while spawning an entire franchise. At the same time, it’s also a very controversial series for reasons that we’ll get to in the review that has spawned nonstop internet debates. Wherever you stand, there’s no denying Evangelion’s influence on the industry and subsequent series that came after it. Hell, there’s even Evangelion references outside of anime. So what do I think of the series itself? Well, let’s get into it. This is Neon Genesis Evangelion.
In a post-apocalyptic future, humanity is under attack by a malevolent race of aliens called Angels. Bio-mechanical mechas called Evangelions are created in order to fight back against the Angels. We follow Shinji Ikari, a fourteen year old boy who’s recruited by his father Gendo Ikari, who commands the organization behind the Evas, to pilot Eva Unit-01. For the longest time, I was fully aware of this series’ existence and the memes behind it. I just watched the entire series on Netflix this year and… there are both positives and negatives from this series and I’m going to start with the positives. The animation’s great. It’s that distinctive 90s look, especially in the backgrounds and character designs, but it has aged pretty damn well compared to most anime of the time. The action sequences are also pretty damn good whenever they happen. I like the idea of deconstructing the mecha genre and exploring the psychosis of the characters involved. There is a lot of story potential to be made out of this. The voice acting is also pretty solid, for the sub at least. I tried to watch the English dub and I couldn’t sit through it because it was dogshit. Also, the music is excellent. Not just the score from Shiro Sagisu, which perfectly creates an atmosphere of uncertainty, but also the opening song A Cruel Angel’s Thesis. It’s one of the best anime openings in history. On paper, Neon Genesis Evangelion could be one of the greatest anime series of all time. But there are problems that hold it back, at least in my eyes.
And this is where we get into the negatives. Let’s begin with the characters. A common theme with the characters in this series is that the majority of them are very flawed and broken psychologically. Shinji gets a lot of crap for being whiny and self-deprecating. While his sulking does get annoying at times, there is a reason why he is the way he is. The dude lost his mom as a kid and his father (who we’ll get to later) doesn’t really care about him, putting the mission first. Plus, he’s fourteen and living in a world where aliens are constantly attacking. Anyone would be scarred if they went through the same shit. He’s not the worst character in the series, not by a long shot. This brings us to Asuka Langley Soryu, the prideful and arrogant pilot to Eva Unit-02 and a constant pain in the ass. Asuka reminds me a lot of the tsundere types with how much she berates Shinji and not get any real pushback from anyone, reminding me why I never liked tsunderes in general. Her constant holier-than-thou yapping and condescension got on my nerves every time. Rei Ayanami is the soft-spoken pilot of Eva Unit-00 and has no personality at all. It’s revealed that she’s actually a clone created by Gendo out of the DNA of his deceased wife, which creates all sorts of disturbing implications surrounding their relationship. While we’re on that subject, can we talk about how Gendo might possibly be one of the worst fathers in anime? He’s no Shou Tucker, but he’s up there. The dude abandoned his own son when he needed him the most and when he is there, he’s only using him to pilot the Eva and kill the Angels. The only character who comes close to likable, for me, is Misato Katsuragi, the commanding officer for Shinji who’s also his caretaker. Moving on from the characters, the series takes a turn around the 16th episode from a story about saving the world from the Angels to an individual character study and a lot of existentialism about the human condition. This was where the series was starting to lose me because it became nothing but dull, dreary pretentiousness with action sequences in-between. Anno apparently became interested in psychology when a friend gave him a book on mental illness and this affected how the series came to its conclusion. Plus, the constant Judeo-Christian religious imagery and use of Biblical names gets WAY too heavy-handed, though I heard that it was purely an aesthetic choice that the creators thought look cool more than any deeper meaning. Drinking game not to play: take a shot every time you see a cross.
Now this leaves me to the final issue: the ending. The last two episodes of Evangelion has been polarizing to everyone who saw it. At this point, Anno went eyeballs-deep into the psychoanalysis pool and the train just goes off the rails. Not helping was budget and scheduling issues, which resulted in the last two episodes consisting of the characters sitting and talking about their issues and animation that’s made up of still images, abstract imagery, simple sketches, and even photographs and the series ultimately ends with Shinji deciding to be himself and is greeted with cheers and applause from everyone he knows. Yeah. People were so unsatisfied with this ending that Anno received death threats (which is bad; don’t do death threats, people) and along with Gainax, he wound up making Death And Rebirth, a film that recaps the entire series and it lead up to the other film that they’ve made, End Of Evangelion. Boy, is End Of Evangelion a trip. I don’t think I have the mental capability to explain that film, so I’ll just leave it there.
And that was Neon Genesis Evangelion. Despite the good animation and stellar soundtrack, this series is held back by its unlikable characters, too much navel gazing, and a messy ending that left a lot of unanswered questions. I completely understand why this series has a fanbase, but I personally didn’t enjoy the series and I don’t see myself watching it again. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Check it out if you’re curious. All 26 episodes are on Netflix right now. Next time, we’ll be talking about Megalo Box.
One thought on “Anime Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion”
I mostly feel the same way. I actually blogged about this the other day; the religious symbolism — which didn’t seem tied to any important plot points — and the ending are what ruined Evangelion for me.
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