Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion

A titan of mecha anime is a complex watch.

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The Lowdown:

Show: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Studio(Network)/Years aired: Gainax (Cartoon Network-Toonami), 1995-1996

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD. Skip to the grading section if you wish to avoid.)

AniB’s thoughts: Love it or hate it, Neon Genesis Evangelion (usually just referred to as Evangelion) is a staple of mecha anime; a well known series that served as inspiration for others that came after it, including Gainax’s other mega hit Gurren Lagann. Loaded with Christian symbolism (i.e. The Magi are NERV’s supercomputers, and the attacking group is the Angels), it is a frenetically paced, emotionally heavy show which now has some even stranger connotations (as the year 2016 already passed now), so it’s a sort of alternate reality to our own. There’s definitely some inspiration from Blade Runner here as well- the mysterious origins of Rei Ayanami is almost certaintly inspired by the replicants from that movie, and the whole idea of what does it really mean to be human? floats around not only from Rei, but also Shinji’s variability of moods, Asuka’s eventual breakdown, and the mysterious goals that SEELE, another organization who usually hands orders down to NERV, has with the Eva program itself.

There’s little doubt that for a first time viewer Evangelion can be a very difficult show to watch, simply because it is overwhelming at times…and even for repeat viewers it can be still be quite the challenge. However, “difficult” does not always translate to better. One  of the major sticking points in this show is the protaganist himself- Shinji. A shy boy with little in the way of spine (unless he convinces himself to do something- then he’s alright) and an inferiority complex that makes Eeyore look positively upbeat, Shinji certaintly turns out to be a character with great depth… but I’m not sure his inability to cope with things for roughly half the show goes over well with everyone. I understand it’s part and parcel with his character- and that as the lead character, he contrasts sharply with everyone else on the cast, particularly Asuka, but I do think I was palpably frustrated at times with his unwillingness to snap out of depressive funks. I understand that Shinji’s the Third Child, fighting Angels in a giant mech in a battle to save the world, but he sure takes a lot of convincing to get from Point A to Point B most  of the time…

There’s also the matter of Evangelion’s ending- Episodes 25 and 26- and the two versions that exist: the original ending in the TV series that I’m talking about here, and The End of Evangelion movie that revises that ending with quite a bit more action (but an equally confusing end.)  First off, I’ll discuss End of Evangelion here, but note my grade below is crafted with only the episodes from the anime series’ original run, so I’m using the original 2 episodes in my analysis. There is a similar thread between both endings- that being the intense psychological resolution of Shinji’s mind- which, true to form is agonizingly slow, considering the kid is still traumatized over destroying the 17th Angel, and truly believes that his self-worth is at an all-time low; that nobody cares about him. For the live action bits- which appear in both endings (the show and the movie), it is my belief that it was an attempt to show a certain “reality of perception”; either way, you’ll probably have to watch said endings (both, mind you) a few times to even begin an attempt at grasping the entirety of what the message was. In both cases, Shinji “resolves” his dilemma, though in End of Evangelion it’s much clearer; the actual real-world result is Shinji maintaining his individual body and spirit (along with Asuka, mysteriously enough), surrounded by the surreal post-apocalyptic landscape in the aftermath of the events that took place, and Lillith’s (the giant white being who absorbed Rei) death, perhaps symbolizing hope can always be found- and that perhaps the two children were the new “Adam and Eve.” As for the ending that’s being graded here, it’s been discussed before that they were on a tight budget and schedule to release said episodes; the end result is something that’s very psychological in nature, but not necessarily satisfying.

Do I believe Evangelion’s slightly overrated for what it is? Yes I do. But I also enjoy some of the ideas it explores,  the rich symbolism steeped in Christian ideas, and a cast on the whole whose interactions are rarely wasted, constantly giving us glimpses into the true personalities of each individual. Regardless of what you think of the show, it’s certainly unique. And if you haven’t seen Evangelion over 20 years after its release…well, brace yourself, because it’s very much its own show. (And that theme song (“A Cruel Angel’s Thesis”) is quite famous – I suspect you’ll be listening to it quite a bit…and it’s been memed quite a lot as well.) With that, on to the grading!


Animation Quality: Traditional 2-D anime. Hand drawn in the classic style, Evangelion’s animation is fluid and detailed; and the battle scenes are impactful. There are some interesting techniques used to convey some more psychologically interesting aspects of the show, and overall, the style has aged decently. The animation also conveys the raw, visceral emotion in the show quite well with the narrative, and it works to great effect. 4.25/5 points.

 

 

Characterization: The show features one of anime’s more well-known protagonists, Shinji Ikari, a young teenager who is the pilot of Evangelion Unit 01, or Eva, for short. Suffering from intense withdrawal and psychological dependence on himself, Shinji’s isolation and exploration of self-worth forms a major part of the show’s emotional core.

Additionally, there are the other pilots of the Evas; Rei Ayanami, a mysterious child whose clouded origins are tied in with her perception of self, and Asuka Langley Soryu, an implusive, loudmouthed prodigy from Germany who in fact, hides her true emotional state tenuously under her public personality. Asuka in particular has strong feelings for Shinji, but with her own inner struggles, these often come out as verbal abuse (and her personality is a complete 180 from the latter.) She also represses painful memories deep within herself- after a particuarly tramautic battle (SPOILERS), she spends the end of the series in a mostly catatonic state.

Misato is the caretaker of Shinji and later Asuka; she balances her true motivation and backstory against her duties as a NERV officer and the carefree person she is outside of her job. Skilled with a gun and with some impressive driving skills, she often is the one who has to get Shinji going when he’s apprehensive or down about something (which is pretty often.)

Gendo Ikari is Shinji’s father; a cold man and the director of NERV, his only goal in life is to achieve the ends of NERV as he sees fit (and he has a very specific goal in mind), and the destruction of the Angels. Gendo will do anything to see his aims through, and as such, his relationship with Shinji is distant and cruel at best.

The rest of the cast is a good supporting role; while the characters of the show have deep emotions and issues, it can become a little overwhelming with the amount of melancholia and hidden insecurities exhibited. The cast is at their best in interactions with each other, as it reveals their core personalities very clearly. 4/5 points.

 

 

Story quality: The story of Evangelion is surprisingly simple: 15 years into a post-apocalyptic world, humanity’s last hope is the organization called NERV and their Evangelion project- a series of fighting robots bio-engineered to work only with child pilots- to prevent doomsday from entities only known as Angels, which have unknown origins and incredible powers. It works well enough, but the show is ultimately more focused on the characters and their struggles, using the story as a framing device (and an excuse for giant robot fights. No complaints there.) 3.25/5 points.

 

 

Themes: Evangelion is a deep journey into the human minds and motivations of its cast, and what the circumstances of their lives actually mean to them. It’s also a standard-bearer of the typical post-apocalyptic trends such as loss, and destruction, and generally weird decision making… At any rate, the character analysis itself can be either the most engaging or daunting aspect for a viewer, but it is Evangelion’s defining trait. 4.25/5 points.

 

 

Don’t insult the viewer: Intensely psychological, Evangelion is not the best for an easy watch. There are also plenty of brief moments of nudity and innuendo, but most of this makes sense or is played for a quick laugh (and the humor is well-appreciated in this style of show.) There’s also plenty of strongly visceral scenes involving “blood” and the Eva units themselves. 4.5/5 points.

 

 

Total Score: 20.25/25 (81%). A staple of the mecha anime genre, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a curious show and an veritable spectacle. Not particularly recommended for people under the age of 15, it’s an intense watch that covers a broad spectrum of emotions and can be a difficult to view show for some of the reasons outlined above.


Like this review? Want to ask whether Asuka or Rei is best girl (because I don’t care?) Write a comment!

Author: anibproductions

I am the founder and writer of AniB Productions, currently a fledgling blog with a focus on animated shows from both the East and the West. Love Buffalo sports, good political discussion, and an interesting conversation wherever I go.

4 thoughts on “Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion”

  1. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch this one, however classic it may be. I value a good conclusion, even if it’s sad, but from what I’ve heard, I doubt I’ll enjoy the ending of this. I do love the theme song, though; I’ve got a version with English lyrics on my iPod.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes, the theme song is very catchy, and it’s held up well over the test of time (which can’t be said for everything that came from the ’90’s, nostalgia goggles aside.) The conclusion of Evangelion is…uniquely different. I’m not the biggest fan of it myself, so your concern is quite valid…In many ways this is a love/hate show; the grading objectively suggests that leans far more towards “good” than “bad” though.

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  2. You know, I’ve been seeing Evangelion called overrated since at least the early to mid-2000s. At some point you would think that after being called overrated for more then a decade it would come around to being called underrated, but I guess this not really the sort of show that lends itself to being called that.

    I know Shinji has always been a major contention for a lot people in this series, but his persistent depressive state and whiny behavior never bothered me too much. Given the kind of environment he had to function in, it seemed pretty reasonable to me that he would act that way. It’s not like he had a particularly strong support system in his friends and colleagues, who were all varying shades or messed up. To be honest, the kind of people who who say that Shinji should just “grow a spine” should probably Gurren Lagann or something else since this clearly not that kind of show (even though the show itself really doesn’t offer more then that as a solution for Shinji).

    While the movie ending is probably the more conclusive one I’ve grown to like the TV ending more as time goes on, mostly because it comes across as more creative then the strangely hackneyed feeling apocalyptic ending of The End of Evangelion.

    I guess if nothing else it shouldn’t be underestimated how influential the series was. It’s not a very big exaggeration to say that anime would have been very different without it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks again for the in-depth thoughts! Evangelion no doubt is incredibly influential, and I absolutely agree anime would be in a different place without it. As for Shinji, it’s not really a personal problem with the character, rather, it’s more how I perceived him, while imagining how others would as well. (I’ve also watched Gurren Lagann which you mentioned; Simon is actually very similar to Shinji in several ways; the main difference being Kamina and Team Gurren becoming the support system Shinji never had at any point, and considering Gainax was behind both shows, it makes a lot of sense.) I do think he receives a very interesting, highly psychological character arc that requires some nuance to understand, but I also believe there’s nothing wrong in suggesting that his moods outwardly during the show tend towards depressive (and considering his character again, makes sense, but can still become tiresome.)
      As for the endings, I’m not personally a fan of either, but I do agree about the creative angle. Apparently the show-runners were pressed for time when they created the TV ending, and while it might be unsatisfying to many people, “creative” is an apt descriptor, and there’s still something to appreciate there in what they tried to do (which was Shinji’s mental resolution.) The TV movie does give a more definitive conclusion to the entire cast…though I’m not sure it’s entirely satisfying either (and “hackneyed” is the word you used; it’s definitely applicable).
      Ultimately, Evangelion’s influence is undeniable, but for what it is relative to its place in the anime world, it’s overrated. It’s not bad (as my grade indicates), but mentally, it naturally has a high bar to cross. Once again, great insights!

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