There is an unwritten rule in most anime circles that should never be broken: Never start a conversation about Evangelion. The simple mention of the name creates an effect that can (and will) ruin relationships, turn people away from anime, and ultimately just pollute the air with a toxicity that is incredibly challenging to traverse through. Indeed, the franchise is arguably the most polarizing popular anime of all time, with individuals fiercely sticking to their beliefs over how much they love/hate it and their own personal interpretations of the characters. Despite watching it as one of my first anime as an adult like most anime newcomers did, I was disappointed with what I originally took away from my viewing. Truth be told, I really wasn’t super invested into my viewing and finished it as a chore of sorts (since it was regarded so highly). As time went on and I watched more anime, it became a benchmark of sorts for me to one day revisit the franchise and write about it. My desire to write about it grew ever so slightly as time went on and I saw just how much there really was to dive into. The only issue? Well, I’ll admit that for a long time I breathed in a lot of that toxic air from the arguing and shaming that came from the fanbase/haters and it repressed the desire with a heavy feeling of fatigue over the topic.
My suspicions of the degree of difficulty I would have writing this article gave fruition in two very memorable examples of when I was going to write it. The first time was last summer, I was accompanying my friend hunting for some Gundam model kits at our local hobby/anime shop when a very upset man shoved through the aisles and became redder and redder in the face. He kind of looked like a mix of Saul Goodman and Dan Schneider and was dressed in a sweat soaked dress shirt with a tie and a nameplate from what I’m assuming was a nearby bank. In a very forceful manner, he kept pointing to a print out he brought in and was almost immediately hostile towards the cashier (the only store attendant at the time) and it was making her very uncomfortable. I quietly worked my way towards the front of the narrow aisle I was in to sneak a peek at what he was asking for. On the wrinkly paper with fold marks throughout was what I immediately recognized as a statue of Asuka in a swimsuit. Flabbergasted, I watched the scene play out as the manager came from the back of the shop and tried to stand his ground against the man furious that this particular statue of Asuka wasn’t available. After mentioning something about how the manager made him late, the man grumbled off and went out of his way to slam the slow-closing glass door. I vividly remember driving home that night and getting cold feet about writing about the series.
The other noteworthy time I mentioned to a friend that I would be writing about Evangelion is a much shorter example, however just as impactful. We were discussing my writing here at AniTAY when the topic of Evangelion was brought up. I was asked if I had ever written about it, to which I simply replied that I was going to do a Dubs w/ Dil over the Rebuild films but decided against it despite being intrigued by the concept of writing about the franchise as a whole. Almost immediately, I was prompted to say who I thought was “the best girl”, a practice in anime communities I loathe with a passion. I tried to explain that to my friend, but they weren’t having it. I tactfully said “It has been a while since I watched the original series, but from everything I remembered, I think my favorite female character (not ‘best girl’) was Misato.” which was cut off abruptly with the statement “No, you can’t cop out with Misato.” To which I said “I don’t know really. I don’t think about characters like that so I don’t want you to think I’m looking at things that way. I recently watched Rebuild so I’d have to say that I thought Mari was really cool in that one scene where she goes berserk.” to which I received a reply the size of The Count of Monte Cristo that boiled down to “You’re the worst kind of anime fan, you’re a cancer to the community.”
We haven’t spoken since.
So with all of this in mind, if I was going to write about this series, I wanted to do it right to avoid knocking over any more hornet nests than I inevitably would from simply saying “Evangelion”. My fatigue was something that was incredibly difficult to get over, but part of just maturing as an adult is learning to look at things critically and put aside biases and be more of a reflective thinker. I enjoy doing deep dives into challenging films with that kind of approach, so I figured it was time to jump into one of the rare cases where it can apply to anime. I took things into consideration and decided to avoid telling most people I was starting over my watching of the series and the films to stay away from the tug of war that would inevitably happen. I want to make it very clear that I am not writing a persuasive essay here, these are just my thoughts after a deep reflection on what I’m watching. I am also aware that just about any commentary about Evangelion that could be said already has been at some point, so these are just my organic thoughts, observations, and personal takeaways and have not been swayed or altered to fit whatever opinions someone else might have had at some point with the franchise. I don’t watch Youtube anime people, I only consulted friends to get a better understanding of what happened at points (making sure to avoid letting their follow up opinions on said events impact my interpretations), and finally, I wiped my mind from any previous knowledge or remembrance of interactions I encountered related to the franchise throughout my years. As I have had to add in more and more as a reminder, I do not have an editor so I apologize if my grammar offends. I tried to chronicle my thoughts in order of how I came across them, but chances are if you’re reading this far and didn’t already start your novel of a platform you take on all Evangelion discussion in the comment section, you’ll be pretty cool with how I’ll be writing this. Cheers.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997)
- Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone (2007)
- Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance (2009)
- Evangelion: 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo (2012)
*I was incredibly lucky to have a public library that has such an extensive collection of anime readily available for rental on DVD. I don’t even think they fully understand how expensive some of their anime they have is- the DVD set I rented for the main series is expensive. The DVDs, unfortunately, have had some rough wear on them, so I had to Youtube a few scenes that the discs skipped over.
Where does someone starting fresh even begin when it comes to a series like this? There is so much depth that can fuel multi-hour conversations between individuals working in their interpretations and comparing and contrasting with others. As I was writing my earliest notes, I realized there were even small technical details I was not anticipating being impressive. These things were certainly noteworthy, but I was under the impression for this whole article I would be exploring the themes in the series and how much I liked the characters. My usual flow writing thoughts down feel a little weighed down but the decision, but I really wanted to cover all of the bases of what I enjoyed about this series. Nevertheless, the bulk of my time was spent watching a good chunk of episodes, then taking time to reflect on them.
Well, right off the bat, one of the things I noted that stayed true throughout the entire franchise (but especially the series) was how great the sound was. Massive sounds like explovies, the EVA units brawling, and things going wrong at NERV all sound really crisp, even on a DVD. What is more is that there is a lot of attention placed into ambient sounds throughout, so the audience really gets pulled into the imagery of whatever is going on. While the first example that comes to mind is that of whenever Shinji is having a vision and there are sounds of railroad tracks, this really applies in nearly every scene there isn’t action going on. Scenes where characters are driving in cars have that immediately recognizable sound of a motor smoothly cruising through an empty road. That is critical because there are entire scenes where characters don’t speak to one another for minutes at a time, and it would be so uncomfortable and potentially harder to get into had there not been fantastic ambient sound to massage the tension between characters (see: every elevator scene). I know this all might land on the home releases as much, if not more, than the actual material, but this was something immediately evident.
Going further into the sound aspect of this series while also pivoting into the animation a little bit, I was really into how quirky all of the Angels that attacked were. While the conflicts with some of them didn’t last as long as others, no two Angels were designed the same. Some sounded grotesque in how they walked or sounded, while others, like in one particular case of Ramiel, the fifth Angel, gave a real unique chorus kind of sound as it hovered over Tokyo-3. As the pilots fighting them slowly broke down from the stress and nature of what they were doing, seeing the Angels getting stronger made the stakes a lot higher than the quick resolutions of the earlier fights where the EVA pilots were successful relatively easily.
The Angels were not the only ones that had eye-catching designs either. As someone who is guilty of not reading credits even after they’re translated into English, I never realized there was a credit in the NGE’s for “Mecha Designer”, going to Ikuto Yamashita. At face value this feels a little silly, but then I reflected upon it and compared the EVA units to designs as far back as I can remember (Gundam Wing was the first “mecha” show I can recall) and as recent as this year (the films for Pacific Rim might have mixed critic/fan reception, but those mechas are beloved) and this guy’s work really is worth its own title card slide. I’m hard pressed to find a more iconic design besides the classic Gundam mecha that immediately pops in the mind with “Oh, that’s from (series)“ than Unit 01. Maybe it is the horn, or the purple and green aesthetic choice (which is funny to hear on multiple occasions that Unit 01's colors influence what shoes some of my fellow runners who like anime choose), but there is something about it that holds through the test of time and makes it one of the most impressive designs even to this day. Unit 02 has an effective aesthetic choice (red and orange with an accent of black/tiny green details looks a lot better than I thought it would) as well and while I’m not head over heels for it (those shoulder blade pieces don’t look as easy on the eyes with red as they do with purple), it certainly is unique and memorable. A detail that I absolutely loved about both of them was how their feet had that sneaker look at the bottom of the feet, making the running and turns from the EVAs look a lot more unique.
All of the little details aside, the show itself was incredible. Despite my best attempts to find a more educated way to put it, the bottom line for my experience with it comes back to just calling it incredible. Everything about it feels deliberate and completed with artistry that even a diehard hater would have to tip the cap to. I wasn’t expecting to pick up on all of the details, but everything was a lot easier to follow than I anticipated. Now “easier to follow” is not meant in a belittling way, but rather to note how effective the storytelling is. A big beef I’ve always had with creative works is when they’re hard to follow “on purpose” and their ambiguity is placed to feign genius (and boy do fans bite for that carrot)—this wasn’t the case with Neon Genesis Evangelion. There were details that trusted the maturity of an audience and expected them to connect the dots, but they weren’t presented without context that made it impossibly difficult to work through. This is an important trend I’ll come back to later with End of Evangelion.
Despite being a massive journey that takes many turns throughout, there is a lot to appreciate in how the tone wasn’t really super aggressive for what feels like a good amount of time. There are some graphic moments early on (Episode 2- “The Beast” provides easily one of the staple moments of this series that burns itself into memories) but the punches aren’t to the point that they pummel viewers with the darkness early. There are jabs and hooks to remind that things are pretty grim, but they don’t interrupt the flow of things. One of my favorite episodes of the entire series, Episode 9- “Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!”, did something I didn’t think would happen this entire series- it was fun! Anyone who tries to argue that teambuilding is cliché and shouldn’t be in a story frankly hasn’t paid much attention to how teams are effectively formed. This sort of episode is a refreshing approach that showcases an understanding for what makes a story unique since it could have easily just followed melodramatic beats that most “we have to win or else” team building stories have (imagine if Shinji and Asuka failed to defeat the Angel, argued most the episode, then just suddenly worked together to overcome the challenge without some fun means to the end- yeah, it has been done a million times).
I’ve been saving the most critical piece to the puzzle of Evangelion for now- the characters and the impact of their struggles on the audience. Bar none, this is what I’ve decided is the make-or-break element to the series. If one only watches a series for entertainment and doesn’t like diving into character, or maybe they just didn’t relate to any of the characters, this show could easily come off as just “okay” to “good”. I’d even go as far as saying the story isn’t as good if one isn’t invested in the cast. Characters aside, it has great art, sound, and just the right splash of action that can give even the toughest critic who isn’t a troll by nature enough to give it a 7 or an 8 on a traditional scoring scale. With all of that said, I don’t know how much of that can be chalked up as a demerit to the show itself- maybe it is where a big divide in fans could be? This is a critical time to reiterate that I did my very best to remove biases here and dove into the story and characters without having any notions or connections to characters set by friends in mind.
It wasn’t immediate, but as the story went on, I began to feel endearment for the cast as a whole. There was a ton of chemistry through a wide group of characters that was hard to deny even if some didn’t click with me. Despite being centered around Shinji, the balance of focus in developments for everyone at NERV and his classmates was an admirable show of good writing.
To be frank for a moment, despite being an emotional person, I wasn’t anticipating having chords struck with any particular character on this journey. It is worth noting that when I previously watched this series, I was of the tender age of 20 and didn’t encounter anything that would have set this anime apart from other ones at the time. This time through, however, I found myself seared by two characters in particular that I don’t think I will ever forget about thanks to what emotion the series made me feel. In a sign of good faith, I have gone through the process (reading) of understanding how much of my story I am actually am authorized to share in a blog to accompany the following bit. Whatever I am about to say, please understand I am pushing the details right up to brim to justify the connection I felt. I’d be happy to respond to comments about the matter, but keep in mind I can’t go into further specifics than what I provide. I’ve always wanted to share my story since I thought it would be a therapeutic process, and the opportunity is here for once...I tried to be vague about it before, but it was real vague. So I’m going to go ahead and take this chance. I promise this will be the one and only time I ever mention it.
There are two characters in the story of Neon Genesis Evangelion I connected with, although the two instances were more of a “cause and effect” kind of connection that were out of order of the events of the series. The first was Asuka and her depression that occurred towards the end of the series. The start of her spiral came after failing to complete her mission and only got worse as she suffered another crushing defeat. Finally, the weight broke the bridge and she fell into catatonia.
About five years ago now, I took on a job that was incredibly difficult. I was given little to no training, and what I was given was not clicking with me. Unfortunately, situation dictated that I had to be thrown into the fire and a lot was put on my shoulders. I was given the expectations and workload of someone four or five positions above me, and to this day I have not had a workload the same as what I had those first two years of my job (and I’m in a position five higher than what I had then). Try as I did, I suffered a lot of failures and was reprimanded harshly for them. It was to the point that I couldn’t leave my apartment without someone on the street approaching me and saying something to the extent of “You’re that idiot who messed everything up” (I really wish I was exaggerating). You see, what I was doing at the time involved hundreds of thousands of dollars and the livelihoods of families...so when I kept messing up, the hits came harder. An investigation would later show that leadership did not take the proper steps in working me through the mistakes and that the actions taken by those over me were reserved for people who committed criminal crimes and not simple administrative ones.
I’m not trying to shift blame on others, but this completely broke me. Once confident in my own abilities, I second guessed nearly everything I did and it spiraled me into a depression that I couldn’t break out of. The psychological abuse got to the point that I just gave up and I had to come get dragged out of my bed after laying in it, staring off into blank space for days in a row. Everything about my incidents were supposed to be given proper steps to provide help, but whenever I (reasonably) slipped further, the only action being taken would be to push me further down.
I found a haunting parallel to how Asuka was put out in the middle of a fight with an Angel just as a motionless body with no will to fight- her EVA motionless but it obvious she was trying her hardest to try to do something to no avail. I would drop my head over top of paperwork and sob and shake uncontrollably (despite joking around with AniTAYers that I cry watching things a lot, it was really uncommon for me to tear up over anything). It only got worse when my mother’s medical record was getting used against me to try to stir my pot-I remember one time being physically pulled into an office, shouted at to sit down, and told “we can’t stop because mom is sick” and “your mom would be ashamed of how awful you’re doing”.
Eventually, my statistics I had slowly built back up and I had high enough accolades to request a transfer formally...but the damage was still there. Until recently I couldn’t admit it due to such a negative stigma behind it, but I developed non-combat PTSD that still finds its way back to me. No matter how okay someone says they are, when something as intense as that happens, a lot of it is out of control when the after-effects want to pick up. So I couldn’t just look at the depressive spiral that Asuka took without it resonating strongly with me.
The second half of all of that came in what I found in the character of Misato. As the “effect” part of cause and effect, I went about a year without saying anything to anyone and just kept to texting those closest to me. After being removed from the situation, I was deployed and given a much different job than the one I had previously had before. People called me incredibly outgoing and sociable (something I had not been called since I was a child), and I found myself a lot more drawn to being a compassionate person. My work was on a level that was matched by none, and I quickly ascended roles and positions. This was not all glitter, however, as it became very clear after a few incidents that this fire was lit by some fierce insecurities over what happened to me. I’d press a lot harder than I should have to get things done or I’d go out of my way to get a particular process done that I was scrutinized over before, even if it meant ruffling feathers.
One time I was in a group that got stranded in a small stone post in the middle of a nasty snowstorm. Some of us were getting hypothermia and a couple of our youngest people in our group started to cry. I took off my outerwear and jacket and gave it to them for warmth and spent the night in a t-shirt, brutal cold winds and all. When we were all rushed to the hospital after someone found us the next afternoon, the younger members gave me my things back and thanked me and hugged me in tears. I was so numb to everything emotionally that that entire night came nowhere to the level of stress that I had felt in those two years prior...I remember being so oblivious to it at the time, but that had to be the first major red flag.
If someone hasn’t already checked out of this story to say “everyone has insecurities, get over it dude.”, I just want to point out the reason I’m saying this is to say the character of Misato resonated with me so much because she was a character that became very professionally driven and compassionate (particularly to people she felt had similar skeletons) because of a burning hatred that was instilled in her heart from experiences. In many ways, all of the good that I’ve become is matched by a flame like that, and it is entirely where I get the Kokoro in my screen name. Episode titles like the one from Episode 12- “She said, ‘Don’t make others suffer for your personal hatred.’” hit me like a freight train and the kind of self-deprecating drunken outburst Misato has in Episode 15- “Those women longed for the touch of others’ lips, and thus invited their kisses.” sounded nearly identical to the ones I’ve had. I think without the burdened weight of her past, however, there is no way that Misato isn’t the endearing mentor character she is, and that she gives something more in a mentorship role because of it (think about all of the mentors in anime, how many of them are shown flawed?).
Post writing note: So while I promised to keep close friends comments away, when I consulted them after I finished writing this, it was no surprise that both of those characters were exactly the ones that were expected of me to connect with. I don’t regret writing any of it either, because if there is one thing that I have learned since writing this and looking into other articles written over it is that this show brings out incredible emotional stories from those who connect with the characters. I’m happy to have my own added to it.
This finale to the series really gets artsy fartsy, and at times I found it to be a little excessive, but the I think after hitting as many pluses as it did to get to the point the film is at, it is okay to take those creative liberties. The maturity of the storytelling is still there (albeit deliberately more unstable), but there is enough to get a viewer from point A to point B without having to look too much into it. My favorite sequence had to be when Misato went to pull Shinji out of the hole he was in right before NERV exploded. Some of the best English voice acting you’ll find could be found in that scene, particularly where Allison Keith (Misato) just shouts back at Shinji as he tries to slip away from the situation. I remember jumping since I wasn’t expecting the reaction to be so strong, and had to actually replay the whole scene due to the impressive delivery (If you bet that I would go ten paragraphs or more without mentioning a dub, congratulations, you won).
It gets weird on purpose, and the music is odd, but there are some gaps that are filled in the story that are nice to have details covered. I’m not entirely sure it is worth watching without having seen the series immediately before it, but the film gives a couple extra bites of nice juicy content that the series already was well off without.
Going into these might serve to be the most difficult to give my thoughts on without outside forces pushing. For as long as I have known the franchise, I know there are some really harsh opinions about the films that all but declare them to be a steaming pile of garbage. It is important to note that I have not done some extensive homework into every fan theory or opinion about these, and that my thoughts probably will not be in agreeance with a lot of folks. I wanted to look at these films without any other thoughts except what I picked up on from watching what I have until this point. I took a few days off from viewing after I finished End of Evangelion to collect myself and take care of other things, but then I jumped right back in while everything was fresh in my mind.
The first of the Rebuild of Evangelion film series, I found this entry into the legend of Evangelion to be not only the least invasive to the original series, but also a promising look into what it would be like to see classic stories retold with more modern technology. Almost a 1:1 retelling of the first six episodes of the series, there really weren’t any waves I found here. The only real adjustments outside of ambitious visual sequences I noticed were subtle adjustments to the characters. Most of the cast stays true to form, but more stoic and difficult to read characters such as Rei and Gendo are given tweaks to their personalities to be a little easier to understand. The audience is given a little bit more speaking and discussion from Rei while there are some extra bits thrown in for Gendo’s reasoning for his actions that weren’t present at the stage of the story 1.11 is telling. While there must be frustration from changes like this since one of the details that made the series what it was could be found in how diverse the cast was and how uncommon it was (and to some extent even still is today) to find individual characters that were most effective in their silence than in speech, it is pretty easy to see why there had to be tweaks in the film series. The way I see it, the film series could serve as a shorter, less in-depth story that married an outstanding premise of a series with the modern (or as modern as one would consider 2007) practices of anime at the time—this was simply one of those things that needed a little work to fit into a more modern mold. I don’t find it game breaking, but then again I could certainly see it as an itch people had to scratch.
As this film series goes on, we get progressively closer to the inevitability of it zigging instead of zagging and a whole new journey being underway instead of what was left behind in the series. Building upon what I was getting at with 1.11 blending the old with the new, there are many changes made to 2.22 that set it apart from the old telling of the story. We’re given much more personality out Rei as her bond with Shinji grows, while there is a very different version of Asuka presented here. Once clamouring for the spotlight, this Asuka feels a lot more awkward than the previous stories’ version of the pilot. Instead of the freefall she takes after failing, there is a depression that she already has before failing to eliminate an Angel on her own that peaks afterward and lingers until she embarks for what would be the last time the audience sees her in the film. It isn’t the same kind of intense ride through a tailspin like the series had for her, but given the flow of the movie, it fits in well.
As for Rei, this version of her (no pun intended) is much more proactive and expressive through the acts of the story than the series had her be. By making her hit more orthodox beats in anime dramas (slowly coming along to another protagonist, taking risks to show changes in character etc.), I think there is a completely different experience that plays out. Not to be confused with being a negative effect on the story, this Rei feels just as deliberate as the previous one and helps make some very memorable scenes involving her.
What might be the most fascinating aspect of this film is how much it doubles down on adapting to the times by giving as much focus into making a sleek modern action film as it does making a character drama (arguably even more focus on the action and even less on the drama). Nothing embodies this polarizing decision quite like the addition of the character Mari. In many ways, Mari is the prime evidence to what is added to the film series and the cost of having it. She is a character with a ton of guts and is given to an already diverse cast along with exhilarating action that serves as a welcome addition. Meanwhile she gives detriments in how she is presented in a very fanservicey way (something not done in the original series) and given a loud mouth that doesn’t radiate with deep meaning. There is a cost for having an intriguing piece added to the fray that I’m sure off-puts most, but if the film series is going to the beat of its own drum and commits to telling a story unlike the series already known, I don’t see the harm in trying something fresh like adding Mari.
This is the one that knocked me on me butt. I didn’t really know how to feel about it, and I reflected for a good hour or two on it before finding the right words to say. If it were on its own (or at least just given alongside the first two films), I dare say it would be easier to formulate a solid opinion relatively quickly, but I was baffled on what to think about a story that decided to take a very different turn than anything else in its franchise and was unapologetic about it to tout. The characters themselves feel drastically different and I’m not entirely sure it is for artistic purposes. The entire story centers around Shinji inadvertently causing Third Impact and everyone having demonized feelings towards him over it, but I was bothered the entire time by how the previous film concluded. For example, Misato tells Shinji while he is initiating Third Impact to essentially do it because it is what he wants, not others, and yet she seems at odds over the fact he actually did it all throughout 3.33. The more I dwelled on it, the more I ended up actually appreciating the depth that was snuck into this film. It was like somewhere deep down, Misato didn’t fault Shinji for doing exactly what she said he should do, but rather resentment for the cost everyone (including him) had to pay just for him to try to get what he wanted (Rei).
Perhaps on a much shallower note, I found the action in this film to be some of the most fun out of the whole franchise. The visuals weren’t “greatest ever” kind of territory, but I was thoroughly impressed by the ambition behind the sequences themselves. I rarely audibly say anything watching anime, but when the humans took a bunch of Angels and swirled them around their ship over and over again until they were able to crush them into one pile and blast them away, I audibly said “Alright, that was pretty cool.”
In many ways, I think 3.33's impact will come down to what we get from 3.0+1.0, the sequel on the horizon. Either it will come off as genius with subtleties that beckon for a back-to-back showing of it and 3.0+1.0 or it will be nothing more than curious “what if” scenario with some interesting action sequences. It might not have been entirely necessary especially because the timing of everything at the end of 2.22 just doesn’t really add up that well (even by the pacing the other Rebuild films were going at), however I find it hard to resist the upside of a fun post-apocalyptic mecha action movie. More than ever, it demands attention to be placed on the idea “this is not Neon Genesis Evangelion”, but it is fun if one can remove the comparison to the series.
Overall, I find the Evangelion franchise to be one of the best I have seen. When I previously visited it, I felt like it was a chore of a watch and didn’t take much away from it. However, after becoming well versed in anime and film study alike, I found there to be to love here. No two people are going to have the same opinion about every aspect of the franchise without outside intervention due to personal takeaways and the sort. The main series on its own I daresay is a masterpiece (I made sure to give a little time to weigh my thoughts to avoid recency bias) and everything else that follows is “very good” if not “excellent”. I think if someone is iffy about jumping into the water, they should give the main series a whirl or if they find it a tough sale, at least the Rebuild films (especially the first two). My only warning for beginners would be to avoid asking around too much, because they’re going to have more required reading than an AP English class as a result of the responses.
Thanks for taking the time to read my article about Evangelion. I put a considerable amount of time into researching and writing this article, and I want to thank the AniTAY community for their involvement and love as I wrote this. I hope you (the reader) have a wonderful day!