Exploring The Past – Neon Genesis Evangelion (Shinseiki Evangerion, 新世紀エヴァンゲリオン) (1995)

TL;DR – An ambitious series drawing inspiration from multiple religious and mystical frameworks that while pioneering in many respects, completely fails to stick the landing

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, Shinseiki Evangerion). Image Credit: Netflix.

Review

Today I get to finally explore the third pillar of 1990s sci-fi anime with the massively influential Neon Genesis Evangelion. For me, this was almost a form of closure given how much I have watched the other two pillars Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell but I never got to see Evangelion. It was also interesting to see a show that has been massively influential to the genre but watching it with 20 years of extra context on top of it. Well if nothing else, the ending stinger to last year’s Desert Bus now makes sense. With that in mind, let’s dive in and explore Hideaki Anno’s work of gods, and angels, and science, and man.

So to set the scene, in the year 2000 a great calamity arouse across the world when the second impact occurred in Antarctica blasting the icy continent to ruin and melting all its ice causing extensive flooding across the world. The UN authority declared that the cause was a giant meteorite impact, hence common term of it being ‘the second impact’ (okay sort of, but also sort of not, it gets complicated). However, this is all a cover, because what really happened is that a creature of great power was discovered under the ice, this Angel was called Adam and something the researchers did trigger him destroying everything. 15 years later, Shinji Ikari (Megumi Ogata/ Spike Spencer/ Casey Mongillo) is running through deserted streets to a pick-up location. The whole area has gone into emergency lockdown for some unknown reason, and that reason turns out to be a second angel that everyone kind of expected was coming. Just before he is crushed, Shinji is rescued by Captain Misato Katsuragi (Kotono Mitsuishi/ Allison Keith/ Carrie Keranen) and taken to Tokyo-3 where a secretive organisation Nerv has their headquarters. The leader of Nerv is Shinji’s father Gendo Ikari (Fumihiko Tachiki/ Tristan MacAvery/ Ray Chase) who is at best distant, but a more fair description would be icy or even abusive. However, Shinji does not have time to process that because he is announced to be the Third Child, and one of only a few people that can pilot an Evangelion which he has to do like now.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, Shinseiki Evangerion). Image Credit: Netflix.
It is iconic in every way. Image Credit: Netflix.

Goodness, wow, there are moments here which are just extraordinary, with its legacy as being a genre starter very much intact. Those battles, that slowly but surely ramp up as each Angel appears were wonderfully choreographed. It has all the hallmarks of a fascinating setting, with descending city blocks to protect them, building-sized swords to fight with, and more. It was also fascinating to see the different religious perspectives being used and blended together. We have hints of Christianity, Shinto, and also the Kabbalah School of Jewish mysticism, as well as incorporating several schools of psychology. All of this created a fascinating tapestry to set the action around.

At the core of the series is, of course, Shinji and I do now understand all the references to him being whiny. But from watching the show, I don’t think that is quite fair. Instead, you see someone who suffered great trauma in his youth and whose recovery from that trauma was actively hindered or even exasperated by his father. You see the legacy of that abuse and why he is reluctant to help his father, which is fair given that his father is the literal worst. As well as this, we can’t talk about this series without taking a moment to explore the music which while maybe not as influential as some of its contemporaries still had me holding off on that skip credit button when “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” (残酷な天使のテーゼ Zankoku na Tenshi no Tēze) started playing.      

Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, Shinseiki Evangerion). Image Credit: Netflix.
Shinji is a character you really feel for as he is thrust into something he does not want to do for understandable reasons. Image Credit: Netflix.

I don’t think I ever truly appreciated just how influential this series was until I watched it. Indeed, I don’t know if any modern anime has been as influential as this. You see it in those who imitate the style but also in those who go out its way to get as far away for it as possible. Indeed you can see that legacy stretch out from anime and into films with movies like Pacific Rim. However, as I was not watching this fondly remembering the past as some of the series from the time, some of the shortcomings or way in which time has not been kind stood out a bit more.

To begin with none of the female characters, except for maybe Misato, are written in any other way but pining for other men. It happens over and over again, to the point that it is the only define character traits for some of the characters. It is honestly really frustrating to watch at times because it undercuts a lot of the drama. Indeed, the shifting tone is another of the ways that it does not quite work. This is a show where all the world is put on the hands of one person with all the stress that comes with it, but then there is also a sentient penguin that lives in the fridge. Now can you make that disconnect work, yes, did they, no I don’t think they did.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン, Shinseiki Evangerion). Image Credit: Netflix.
Gendo, what an ass of a human. Image Credit: Netflix.

Of course this all leads to the end of the series, which I think even to those who have loved it from when it was first released will admit that it is controversial, to say the least. I know the story is that it was the intent of the filmmakers to end it that way, but the rumour is that they ran out of money. Watching it all the way through I can kind of see where the latter is coming from because even before the end you could see that they were cutting costs with characters talking off camera, or the frame being cropped so that the lips were not being seen so you only need to use a still image. For me, part of my education was studying philosophy so it was kind of interesting to see it all play out like that, but I am not sure you could call it a satisfactory ending.   

In the end, do we recommend Neon Genesis Evangelion? Well I am at two minds of that. If you were around that time, then there is a good chance you have already seen it and then you already know if a trip down memory lane if for you or not. If you have not seen it, I would recommend it for its historical value alone if you want to see one of the defining anime and mecha/kaiju works. Though it is a hard watch at times and has not aged well so if you can’t get through it, I would completely understand.         

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you seen Neon Genesis Evangelion yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.    


Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Neon Genesis Evangelion
Directed by
– Hideaki Anno
Written by – Hideaki Anno
Created by – Hideaki Anno
Production/Distribution Companies – Gainax, TV Tokyo & Netflix
Original Japanese Cast – Megumi Ogata, Kotono Mitsuishi, Megumi Hayashibara, Yūko Miyamura, Fumihiko Tachiki, Yuriko Yamaguchi, Motomu Kiyokawa, Kōichi Yamadera, Hiro Yūki, Miki Nagasawa, Takehito Koyasu, Akira Ishida, Tomokazu Seki, Tetsuya Iwanaga, Junko Iwao & Megumi Hayashibara.              
Original English Cast – Spike Spencer, Allison Keith, Amanda Winn-Lee, Tiffany Grant, Tristan MacAvery, Sue Ulu, Guil Lunde, Aaron Krohn, Brian Granveldt, Kendra Benham, Jason C. Lee, Kyle Sturdivant, Joe Pisano, Kurt Stoll, Carol Amerson & Amanda Winn-Lee.           
Netflix English Cast – Casey Mongillo, Carrie Keranen, Ryan Bartley. Stephanie McKeon, Ray Chase, Erica Lindbeck, JP Karliak, Greg Chun, Daniel MK Cohen, Christine Marie Cabanos, Billy Kametz, Clifford Chapin, Johnny Yong Bosch, Benjamin Diskin, Abby Trott & Monica Rial.         
Episodes Covered – Angel Attack, The Beast, A Transfer, Hedgehog’s Dilemma, Rei I, Kessen, Dai 3 Shin Tokyo Shi, A Human Work, Asuka Strikes!, Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!, Magmadiver, The Day Tokyo-3 Stood Still, She Said, ‘Don’t Make Others Suffer for Your Personal Hatred’, Lilliputian Hitcher, Weaving a Story, Those Women Longed for the Touch of Others’ Lips, and Thus Invited Their Kisses, Splitting of the Breast, Fourth Children, Ambivalence, Introjection, Weaving a Story 2: Oral Stage, He Was Aware That He Was Still a Child, Don’t Be, Namida, The Beginning and the End, or ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’, Do You Love Me? & Sekai no Chuushin de Ai o Sakenda Kemono           

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