A Review of Neon Genesis Evangelion

A harsh reality that became apparent deeper into my anime fandom was realizing that some shows become weirdly inaccessible through legal means. Obviously, piracy is a handy option when publishers don’t make them available, but I enjoy owning physical copies of shows I’m particularly fond of. Secondly, I find it strange when certain shows aren’t available available to purchase or stream at all, even when they are famous.

I get it when the niche shows I like go out of print, but universally loved classics being slept on is something else. After being out of print for years, the most recent being a pricey Blu-ray collection, Evangelion has made its streaming debut on Netflix. Since I’ve never actually finished the series, this release was the perfect time to finish what I started. But more importantly, it is a chance to ask what this series still offers viewers today and how it holds up.

I know there has been much discussion about how many new viewers this release will draw in. Some think that anyone interested will have already ventured to watch it online and that all this new release offers is convenience. I mean, I’ve started watching it before and very well could have finished it then and there, but official releases have a way of incentivizing people.

If they wanted to drive up interest from those outside the anime community, they could have put more effort into marketing. Only two trailers were released, neither of which were that great. I usually implement video into my reviews, but instead of the official trailer here is a re-edit using music from the show.

Personally, I would hazard a guess that most new viewers are anime fans who have been aware of Evangelion but never got around to watching it. And in that vein, the premise should be familiar to most in the community.

The series begins 15 years after an event called the Second Impact. Set in 2015, Eva follows Shinji Ikari, a young man recruited to his father’s clandestine organization, Nerv. This organization is tasked with fighting giant monsters called Angels using synthetic mechs called Evangelions. The series follows the members of Nerv in their fight against the Angels while also grappling with their own personal demons.

The greatest barrier to Evangelion will likely be evident in the first six episodes, which in addition to monster fighting is a slow burn character drama. Shinji is not confident and has deep-seeded issues with his father Gendo, who only brings Shinji back into his life to aid in his own goals. He is forced into a position where he needs to fight for humanity and in general struggles to let others into his life.

It is an intriguing character study that explores the main character’s behavior but despite this, the initial six episodes didn’t blow me away. Shinji’s behavior and the interactions between him and others can be frustrating, though understandably and arguably intentionally. It pays off later as the series goes on.

What kept me hooked was an element that permeates the entire series; the grounded action. Eva has been remembered so fondly for how it approaches its broken or world weary cast, but Anno’s vision is one part off what allows the action to be a cut above. In his stories about humans versus monsters, he goes to great lengths to ground the stories in some degree of believability.

In the case of Eva, it is how the grand sci-fi concepts are given more realistic limitations, such as how the Eva’s batteries have a limited life-span once unplugged. Alternatively, the time dedicated to preparing for attacks, the planning, or even throwaway dialog explaining the cost of these operations makes the payoff so exciting.

Shows about fighting larger than life threats are always better when they accentuate the strength of the human mind and spirit in countering them. Episode six, in particular, showcases an awesomely creative assault on an Angel that only succeeds thanks to the masterful execution of its batshit premise.

Episode seven is the first genuine side-story that marks the beginning of a new chapter in the series in which the larger cast starts to be developed. For one thing, the mature cast of characters, highlighted by Misato Katsuragi and Ritsuko Akagi, takes on a larger role. Just as much time is spent fleshing them out the professional and personal stories of these flawed, powerful women. As the series goes on, it’s same for the older male cast like Fuyutsuki and even Gendo.

However no character changes the landscape of Eva like Asuka Langley Sohryu. The part-Japanese foreigner from Germany is the character who arguably leaves the greatest impression in the series for reasons both good and bad to many. She’s a firebrand that’s as loveable as she is a bitch, though your mileage may vary.

She’s just one of many things that completely changes the game by this point in the series. So much of the hype and discussion surrounding Evangelion always paint the show as this consistently dark drama, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

The middle of the series, from episode seven to around 14 is where the series gets really fun. Yes, Eva can be fun, depsite what some articles may tell you. As a monster of the week show, it gets comfortable in that space and delivers some of the most memorable episodes in the series. Each one stands out for anything from the mechanics of the angels, the often comedic interactions between the characters, and of course the action.

A lot has been said about how pre-rebuild Evangelion excelled in conveying believable weight in the giant robots. This is still an incredible achievement and only gets better in End of Evangelion, but the show itself is not always so consistent with this notion. Some fans of Eva I know like to diss on other mecha/ super robot shows for not using that concept of weight. Then I like to point to episode nine when the Evas are doing front flips and synchronized Inazuma Kicks (watch Gunbuster).

But the coolest thing about – (no, seriously, watch Gunbuster)

But the coolest thing about the animation is the mechanical animation. I’ll out this section not so much as a review of Evangelion, but a lot of pre-2000’s mechanical animation, because it is masterful. I’m not even talking about scenes of watching all the complex gears and gizmos turning, I’m talking about monsters crushing incoming missiles with hands in painstaking detail.

I don’t think that the later section of Evangelion could be as impactful as it is without this comparitively brighter mid-section. It sets up the rest of the series brilliantly, while also rewarding the viewer’s patience. Moments like Shinji getting praise from Gendo hit so hard because of the time spent in those first six episodes.

Episode 14 and onward shifts the tone once again, now beginning to delve back into character drama, but by this point, it is far more successful now that I am more invested. Shinji’s arc shows such gratifying promise as the series goes on, giving victories more weight, and unfortunace circumstances later on greater tragedy.

The show is unabashed in representing its characters at their weakest. This is also most certainly true of Asuka. When we begin to finally yank back the curtain in the latter half of the series, things kinda click. As the series goes on, she seems to get “worse,” when really, she was always like that. It’s painful to watch someone so seemingly headstrong suffer so much. On the flipside, we have Rei Ayanami.

Anyone remotely familiar with Eva has caught wind of the whole Asuka vs Rei debat and I’ll be honest, neither are particularly great choices. That being said, Asuka has the benefit of being louder and leaving a larger impact, whereas Rei has a more subdued character arc. Typically I find a lot of enjoyment in the latter, but Rei didn’t amaze me in my first viewing.

It’s a shame because, for such an iconic anime trio, I was expecting a bit more from her (maybe just one more episode dedicated just to her. I think that might be another issue with the gradual hype I bought into over years. You begin to expect certain things based on how passionately people have received it.

I intend to rewatch the series soon, as a friend of mine hooked me up with that expensive Blu-ray I mentioned at the beginning. I want to dig deeper into her character and see what I may have missed in understanding her character. Expect a possible adendum to this review in the future. Speaking of not impressed, let’s talk about the most talked about scene from the new dub.

As a gay man, one moment I was interested in experiencing was the emergence of Kaworu Nagisa. For a character who shows up in only ONE episode, his presence has been quite a topic of discussion, given his bond with Shinji. He shows up, has a couple of conversations with Shinji and then is gone soon after. That sounds reductive and I apologize, because he is significant because of how he treats Shinji at the time of the show he is introduced. He gives Shinji exactly what his character needs and does so as a caring, romantic gesture.

However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t underwhelmed. Yes, this is one of the first huge examples of cannon gay representation in anime. That is a big deal, but it is fleeting and on its own merits, it has been outdone by other works in the time since Eva came out. Though I suppose I just wanted more of him, which speaks to some nebulous quality in what is there, doesn’t it.

People have complained endlessly over the translation and I would like to express that I have no complaint about the use of “like” instead of “love.” “Suki” in Japanese means “to like” and the difference between like and love using this word is HEAVILY contextual. To be real, though, the context of the scene- two young men in a bath together talking about their feelings, flustered- is still heavily romantic on its own.

If a guy outright told me he liked me in that context, I’m pretty sure I’d be taking it romantically. The only line I have a problem with is “you are worthy of my grace” and that’s just because the line sounds like garbage. The scene is plenty gay is just as unabashed about it as anything else in the series, which is pretty great for a major show from the ’90s.

Perhaps we should appreciate that before we conflate the complexity of the scene with a single word. Also, if you think the right way to air your concerns is to bully the guy in charge of translating the series, you are trash.

While we are at it, I suppose we should address the (arguably) bigger elephant in the room, that being the new dub and script, which have both gotten people in quite an uproar. For context, when I last started watching Evangelion a year or two ago, I watched it subbed under the impression that people did not like the dub.

Well, either the fans were hiding in secret or I seriously misinterpreted people’s feelings on the dub, cause everyone is pissed now. With time, I wouldn’t be surprised if I began to prefer the old one, but for a first-time viewing, this cast rocked.

I’ve gotta give a special shoutout to Casey Mongillo as Shinji because anyone who can give nightmarish screams for upwards of 30 seconds deserves credit and a lozenge. Ray Chase also stood out for his performance as Gendo, which was surprising given my biggest memory of Chase is his role as Noctis in Final Fantasy XV.

I watched all of Eva in dub this time, so I can’t speak to how much the subtitled version deviates, but I get the impression it deviates more, begging some questions about the translation process used. Rest assured, comparing the script to what I remember of the story from my past viewings of the sub, I can hardly say the difference in meaning was drastic enough to bother me.

If I could think of anything that could have been improved, it might be some added nuance to Asuka’s lines. Given that she is a tsundere, there is a softer part of her that comes through at times, and die-hard fans of Eva I know have expressed disappointment at her in the Netflix release.

I personally can’t decide if it is at the fault of the script of the performance by Stephanie McKeon (her first role according to behindthevoiceactors.com). I enjoyed Asuka, knowing that she is supposed to be a brat, but I think I can understand why this version of Asuka might be harder to watch for some.

Less important, at least in my opinion, are the gripes being voiced about the ending theme. This release did not use any of the various covers of “Fly Me to the Moon.” In the original show, the way the ending used the song was symbolic of the characters and stories in certain episodes.

That’s a really cool component of the show but in the grand scheme not something I was too attached to that the subtraction stirred much anger. To be honest, I pressed skip on the ending each time. Hell, they kept the opening the same and I skipped it all 26 times (because I’ve heard it too many times, I’m not saying it’s bad – I’m not a monster).

I will always be far more impressed with the overall soundtrack by Shirou Sagisu, who has graced many of Anno’s projects, to great effect. The man knows how to elevate sequences of drama to a level of operatic majesty that are as beautiful as the accompanying imagery is unsettling. Additionally, he created songs like Decisive Battle, which will always be one of the greatest battle themes ever composed.

So perhaps it is time to discuss the end of Evangelion, and I mean both the TV series’ infamous ending and the film of the same name. The former should probably be discussed first. Directly after the much-discussed episode featuring Kaoru, the final two episodes of Eva are weird and come about quite abruptly. They are also, in my opinion, fucking beautiful.

To me, Evangelion is a series about WHY we keep on living. Hideaki Anno was known to be grappling with depression and that depression was even said to have mythically birthed the entire series, though I consider that to be an exaggeration. If anything, I think Anno may have become more depressed as the series’ conclusion drew forward, and then he created the ending almost like a motivational message to himself.

Ultimately, the series proclaims that when catastrophe strikes, humans join together and fight to find a way to survive. Even if they aren’t sure why, even if they find themselves detestable, they will keep fighting. People have often reacted to Eva rather hyperbolically, acting as though it is this super confusing, “too deep for me” fever dream, but it really isn’t.

Anno channeled his heart and soul into an ending that states rather clearly what it wants the characters and the audience to learn. The fact that Anno himself may have been the one who needed it the most just makes it more poignant. It reminds me of my darker moments when I was younger, constructing and writing fantasies to remind myself what was important.

The End of Evangelion, the cinematic “true ending” expresses the same message but does so in a manner far more concretely tied to the rest of the story. It is also beautiful, showcasing far more of Anno’s directing and giving us one of the most legendary fights in the series, with cuts by legend Mitsuo Iso.

If there is any point in which the series does begin to get more confusing, it is only this film, as I had to remind myself what certain characters’ motives were. The ending of the film is also arguably more abstract than even the two episodes that concluded the series. The ending can be interpreted a number of ways, but aside from some motivations, I stand by what I said about the series not being overly confusing.

What is Evangelion is 2019? It might be easier to start with what it isn’t. It is not overly confusing and makes what is important rather clear. It is not just a depressing character drama. It makes time to be a fun and creative mecha series.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is still a great series about why we keep on trying even when when our bodies would rather we didn’t.

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Evangelion: Death (True)2 (a recap movie), and The End of Evangelion are available for legal streaming through Netflix

Leave a comment below telling me what you thought of Evangelion and let me know what other shows you’d like to finally get released on streaming or Blu-ray.

Also, Netflix, if you’re reading this, now that you have brought Evangelion to the platform, maybe you can do us all a favor and bring Hideaki Anno’s directorial debut, Gunbuster to Netflix too. Throw in the sequel Diebuster and you’ll make me a very happy boy. Not to spoil my post-japan plans for this blog, but we might have to educate people on one of the most slept on anime series of all time.

Anyways, get ready for my review of Mob Psycho season two in two weeks and check out the season one review when you get the chance. Thank you very much for reading and as always, I’ll see you next time.

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