ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 11/16/09
I have found myself mentioning and recommending an anime called ‘Neo Genesis Evangelion’ (NGE for short) on this site almost every time the subject of anime comes up. I have just realized that I should probably write a little article about the show, and why I think some people should watch what's undoubtedly one of my favorite anime series of all time. (I also need to warn people that the subject matter is not for everyone. There is no overt nudity - but there is fan service- the violence is not too over-the-top, but it would be rated PG or PG-13 by our standards. Oh, and it did have a short run on adult swim.
The themes of NGE have to do with religion and the human psyche and - for this reason - some religious people might find it offensive. So be warned: I will try not to give away too much of the plot but there will be some spoilers.
On the surface, NGE is just one of the many Mecha shows that have come out of Japan over the years. It has the standard stuff: giant robots, teenage pilots and the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Through 25 episodes and two movies the story of the pilots and their Mecha unfold.
It starts like most Mecha anime, with our main character - 15 year old Shinji Ikari - in a city waiting for his ride when out of nowhere something attacks the city. The city is Tokyo-3 and the attack is a giant monster and all is normal for this type of anime, even when his ride - a twenty something Masato Katsuragi - shows up in her sports car and picks him up. During the drive to Nerv HQ we learn that Shinji’s father had sent for him and that he is the head of Nerv an UN sanctioned organization.
Nothing out-of-the-ordinary. The animation is good for the mid 90’s when this show was made, and for most of the first episode it follows the tried and true giant robot plot of dozens of shows that had come before it. The dysfunction starts when Shinji is brought to the Mecha EVA unit 01. He is told that he has to pilot the robot and fight the monster. Again this is not to far off the beaten track for Mecha shows, but the way it happens tells you something is different.
Shinji refuses - in a very whiny irritating way - and his father (who is on a catwalk some fifty feet above him) is abusive and dismissive of Shinji and orders the lead pilot of the test unit to come and pilot unit 01. Shinji is not going to be the brave gung ho pilot that saves the world as in most anime of this type. The test pilot is Rei Ayanami, and he's on a hospital gurney with an IV and has bloody bandages on her limbs and head and is in serous pain and can'tt walk, let alone pilot an EVA! Shinji decides to pilot the EVA and thus starts our journey through the world of NGE.
The Earth of NGE is a post-cataclysm world where we are told half of all human and animal life was destroyed in an event called second impact. The public story on second impact is that a meteoroid stuck Antarctica in the year 2000 melting the ice cap and changing the tilt of Earth’s axis. The story starts in the year 2015 with Shinji’s arrival in Tokyo-3. We are also told that the monsters that attack one every episode or so are called Angels and are trying to start third impact that will destroy all life on Earth.
As the story progresses we learn that almost every thing that is said is a lie or cover story for the truth. The show makes heavy use of Judeo-Christian iconology and the show is more and more religious in tone as it goes forward. But the religion depicted is not your standard stuff learned in Sunday school and is written by a non Christian. All -and I mean all - of the many characters in this show have serious personality flaws that are a major part of the story.
As I said, there is no overt nudity in the show, but the sexual themes are adult. There are few likeable characters and the people and the world at large is pretty dysfunctional. And if you watch the 25 episodes, you will most likely hate the ending.
So why is this show something you would want to watch?
Well it deals with the human psyche and spiritual matters in a way that is both disturbing and very deep. The use of music in the last few episodes and the last movie is pure genius. Watching the 25 episodes and the two movies shows the end of the world and the fracturing of reality in a unique and fascinating way. You will either love this series or hate it but if you watch it all the way through you will not be able to have a neutral reaction to it.
Of course, If you're lazy, you can just watch the movies the first ‘Death and Rebirth’ has a recap of the series in its first half and its second half is the beginning of the final movie ‘The End of Evangelion’. If you do thatm however, you will miss the emotional impact of the fight with the 17th angel on Shinji and part of the finale.
Talking about the Finale: when the series ended its run on TV in Japan there was an outcry about the end of the show. Many thought that the end sucked and did not make sense there where even death threats to the network. The first movie has been thought of as a big FU to the fans or a place holder till the final movie could be finished with the real ending. In my view - and this is backed up by some interviews by the creator Hideaki Anno and Kazuya Tsurumaki - both ending happen together and that both are the end when taken together because reality had fractured for each person but that has been debated on the net for years.
If you're interested in tracking it down, they are releasing the series now with the video and audio cleaned up and some of the animation changed. I have the original show on DVD as seen on Japanese TV and dubbed in English.