NEON GENESIS EVANGELION
Directed By: Hideaki Anno
Produced By: Noriko Kobayashi & Yutaka Sugiyama
No. of Seasons: 2
No. of Episodes: 26
Original Channel: TXN (TV Tokyo)
Original Release: October 04, 1995 – March 27, 1996
If you’ll pardon my citing the likes of Wikipedia, because remember girls and boys Wikipedia itself is not an apt source of information though it can and should certainly be used to track down the original source materials of said information but I’m rambling. Ahem, as I was saying, to paraphrase an entry in Wikipedia, Neon Genesis Evangelion, or simply Evangelion, is one of the most successful and critically acclaimed anime television series of the 90’s and is considered not only as a critique and deconstruction of the ever popular mecha genre, but it in itself a cultural icon that influenced an artistic and technical revival of the industry.
Sadly, it doesn’t help the fact that one must not only watch the series in its entirety more than once but that a great amount of the story can only be found in other materials such as the manga adaptation and informative behind the scenes materials such as the recently released books The Essential Evangelion Chronicle.
Don’t get me wrong, Evangelion is a great series to watch and enjoy, particularly if one is a fan of giant robots and monsters duking it out with each other, but the fact of the matter is that there is so much more that’s going on behind the scenes and right there in front of you… Well, to use my own self as an example, I first watched the series when it was released on VHS by the now sadly defunct ADV Films around ’98 and it wasn’t until a whole ten years later that I was able to comprehend the entirety of the story.
For as much as it is an apocalyptic anime featuring giant bio-mechanical weapons of war against creature close to being beyond our mortal comprehension, Evangelion is also an anime about emotional and mental conflicts and struggles. By the director’s own words, and those of certain other characters in the show, the main character of the series, Shinji Ikari, suffers from what is known as the hedgehog’s dilemma, wherein he wants to get close to others but is scared of being hurt and hurting them in kind to do so. Heck, Anno even goes so far as to say that Shinji has something akin to an Oedipus complex and frankly psychology is too far beyond my field of expertise that I’ll simply end it here.
Unfortunately, with it being a Japanese animated series, the introduction of the show is sung in Japanese and while it certainly rhymes in its native tongue, the direct English translation leaves much to be desired. However, contrary to most other anime that I’ve seen and enjoyed, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” actually fits in with the series as a whole. I shan’t go too much into the translation itself but if one’s curious there is an actual English version of the song found on Youtube.
As to the imagery of the intro, again, there’s far too much to define or explain in a single review but I will say this: nearly the entirety of the secrets and lore of the series can be found in the multitude of images that go flashing by.
The basic summary of Evangelion is that it takes place in the far future of 2015, wherein a cataclysmic event known simply as Second Impact had occurred back in 2000 that resulted in Antarctica being vaporized and causing the Earth’s very axis to be altered to such an extreme that some places, like Japan, no longer experience winter never mind the massive increase in global sea levels.
NERV, an organization based in the city of Tokyo-3, is given the task to ensure that a Third Impact doesn’t occur by way of monstrous beings known as Angels. To combat the Angels, they have created bio-mechanical machines known as Evangelions that, unfortunately, cannot be piloted by anyone born before Second Impact, leaving the fate of humanity in the hands of three very emotionally and psychologically damaged teenagers.
I’d say we’re doomed but frankly, given the truth behind NERV, Second Impact, and even the Angels themselves, we were doomed way before Commander Gendo Ikari, Shinji’s father and one of my own personal top ten evilest of villains, irrevocably damaged his own son to ensure a scenario that would spell the destruction of mankind simply to be reunited with his wife once more.
The opening episode of the series, aptly named “Angel Attack,” sets the stage of a post-cataclysm Japan and the threat that they, and the world, faces in the form of the Angels. We are introduced to NERV’s chief members from the stoically cold-hearted Commander Gendo Ikari, to the chief operations officer Captain Misato Katsuragi whom is not only a survivor of Second Impact, but was the sole witness to what truly occurred down in the south pole.
It is also where we meet Shinji Ikari and… to put it mildly, he is essentially the Japanese equivalent to one Charlie Brown but with a heck of a lot more emotional and psychological baggage to make one’s head spin. Abandoned by his father when he was but a toddler and having witnessed his mother’s “death” mere days prior, Shinji had grown up to be reclusive and withdrawn, developing a strong flight response from difficult situations. As the series progresses, and with some encouragement from Misato whom acts as his guardian instead of his father, he starts to develop some courage and becomes more outspoken and confident in himself.
His relationship with his fellow pilots, Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu is also one of the most complicated and frankly over-thought aspects of the series by devoted fans and casual watchers alike. I have already spoken my piece when it concerns Asuka and Shinji and I’ll save my thoughts on his relationship with Rei for another time.
In “Angel Attack,” we’re shown the basic in’s and outs of how the Evangelion works but, unfortunately, the episode ends before the fight can truly begin and frankly speaking, it’s all the better for it. It’s not a true “to be continued” ending but it is a major cliffhanger to a point that it leaves one hungry for more.
And let me tell you here and now, Evangelion delivers more and more even to this day. For though the series itself is long over, it is recently going through a cinematic revival in the form of Rebuild of Evangelion, a film series that initially begins the same as the anime but takes a major turn off the beaten path towards places that I can’t even begin to fathom how it’ll all end.
If I were to pick an episode in particular as my all-time favorite, and one that can also help serve as an introduction to the show to those whom are only vaguely interested, I’d say that it’d be episode 09, “Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!” In this episode, Asuka moves in with Shinji and Misato and as she, and Shinji, adjusts to living together, the Angel Israfel attacks. Though it appears that Asuka deals it a decidedly swift mortal blow by way of bisecting it, Israfel reveals its trump card by splitting itself into two separate bodies that act in tandem with one other and defeats Asuka and Shinji rather soundly.
It’s only thanks to an N² mine being dropped on it that Israfel is temporarily disabled long enough for NERV to prepare a way to defeat it. Concluding that the Angel has to be defeated in perfect synchronization between two Evangelions, Misato puts Shinji and Asuka through a strict training regimen by spending as much time together as possible to synchronize their actions in order to perform a dualized attack set to a timed dance routine.
Of course, Shinji being the Japanese equivalent to Charlie Brown and Asuka his Lucy… Huh, never made that connection until now… Drat where was I? Oh, yes, with the two of them being all but polar opposites of each other, this one of the few episodes that is light-hearted and comedic throughout whilst still maintaining an appropriate level of seriousness.
It’s not the most action orientated one of the bunch but it is one that really brings to light just how damaged and yet how incredibly strong both Asuka and Shinji truly are. Considering just what is to come for them and the world as a whole… They’re going to need what little happiness they have in order to survive.