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Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995) Anime Review

Episodes: 26 | Total Runtime: 10.5hrs | Studio: GAINAX | Director: Hideaki Anno

Genre: Mecha, Psychological Drama, Apocalyptic | English Dub?: Yes


The 90s saw a surge in popularity for some of anime’s most beloved TV series. Shows like Pokémon, Sailor Moon & Dragon Ball Z captivated younger viewers whilst the likes of Cowboy Bebop & Berserk garnered the appreciation of mature audiences. But one show in particular became one of the most talked-about shows from this decade. It started as an intriguing mecha show, filled with a complex set of characters, tense action sequences & a mysterious plot that threw viewers into the unknown. The show was called Neon Genesis Evangelion; written & directed by Hideaki Anno.


Its approach of dissembling the tropes within the mecha genre was revered for its time. Its display of religious symbolism & psychological elements added a layer of mystique that remains the subject of deep analysis by fans to this day. The show gained further traction in late 2018 when Netflix acquired the streamings rights for the show for a reported $3 million; expanding its reach to new & existing audiences alike. Some have hailed it as a cornerstone in anime production, often listed as one of the greatest anime shows of all time. Whilst others have expressed their dissatisfaction, claiming that there are other shows that were more effective in various aspects.


Today, I’ll be taking a look into this polarising show & deciphering for myself if it’s indeed worthy of the title of one of anime’s most iconic TV series. As a minor note before I dive in, this review will cover my experiences with the remastered edition of show which includes the Director’s Cut episodes from both the Platinum Edition DVDs (BOY, are they pricey...) & the Netflix edition.


OK, let’s dive in!


In the year 2015, alien lifeforms known as “Angels” begin to reappear on Earth, presented as giant entities of varying forms. Their intentions are perceived to involve the elimination of all human life on Earth & harness powerful abilities, preventing them from being taken down by conventional military weaponry. To ensure humanity’s survival, a UN-funded organisation called NERV was formed; tasked with eliminating these Angels using bio-mechanical cyborgs known as Evangelions.


Due to the complex nature of these robots, they cannot simply be controlled by your average Joe or skilled pilot; only select teenage children, who possess the ability to control & synchronise with them. Over the course of the series’ 26 episodes, we delve into the lives of these chosen teenage pilots, backed in battle by the skilled members of NERV’s Tactical Operations Team & adapting to the circumstances they are faced with as they fend off the accelerated threat of the Angels.


The first half of the show naturally focuses on establishing the foundation of its plot & characters, as we witness a healthy dose of the trials everyone faces under these circumstances. The battle sequences provide thrilling & vibrant action that appeals to the eye whilst the interactions of its cast provide entertaining & dramatic situations that continued to garner my attention. Whether it was witnessing the initial progression & squabbles between its characters or learning more about the how & why these circumstances have come to pass, more often than not I felt compelled to watch the next episode at the earliest possible moment.



At the half-way point, it transitions into a more dark & mysterious tone as we learn of doubts behind the true nature of the EVAs & the intentions of particular people in NERV. We learn of past events involving our characters & how this shapes their actions in the present. The presence of an organisation called SEELE, featured in earlier episodes, start to make more of an appearance & increase their insistence in executing a plan known as “The Human Instrumentality Project”. Even the threat of the Angels become more challenging; showcasing more powerful abilities that could debilitate our pilots, both physically & mentally. All of these subplots keep the show intriguing & give added layers to the show’s main premise.


This shift also helps to create an air of uncertainty; that what you are witnessing could turn out not how you would envision it. The show’s level of continuity is also a plus, projecting events that will impact our characters for the remainder of the show. I was also surprised how dark some of the scenes were; some including emotionally-filled moments & gore-infused scenes in battles. It reminded me a lot of the film; Requiem For A Dream, in that the slow decline of its characters became slightly tough to watch, but I couldn’t bring myself to look away.



Unfortunately, the show’s ending is a divisive one when its final two episodes change drastically in both premise & visual presentation. With all of the build-up I witnessed to that point, I felt like I was in store for a spectacular finale. Instead of tense encounters or a final big fight sequence, we are treated to a psychoanalysis of its primary characters; projecting a sort of mental intervention, diving deep into the thoughts & psyche of its protagonists following the show’s events. There were reports that the influence in these final episodes was due to Studio Gainax running out of funds & on reflection, it’s clear in these final two episodes that there is a notable drop in integrity & quality.


Despite my critique, the ending does have some redeeming qualities. It does help round off the queries surrounding the subconscious traits of its primary characters; something that I was curious throughout. It also partially provides a warming conclusion to a particular party. Personally, I am very mixed about the ending. It was interesting to watch, but the hit on the animation side coupled with this sudden change in the narrative harmed the ending in my opinion. The End of Evangelion movie would later providing viewers with the real-world events that occurred during these final episodes, but it’s best I save my review of this movie for another time, as it is quite the beast.


Now, let’s a take a look at the show’s cast, which play an integral role to the show’s narrative.



First, we have the show’s primary protagonist, Shinji Ikari; the estranged son of NERV Commander, Gendo Ikari. After losing his mother & abandoned by his father at a young age, he’s coerced by his father to pilot Evangelion Unit 1; which he reluctantly accepts. Due to the neglect he experienced as a child, he holds a grudge against Gendo for his failure as a father figure, yet yearns for his praise throughout the show. He also suffers from low self-esteem & a lack of dignity; being unable to form meaningful connections with people & blaming himself for events that don’t necessarily involve him.


As a character, he is a flawed human being with various psychological issues. In uncomfortable situations, he tends to either succumbs to the demands of the situation or run away; the latter in which he is confronted with on numerous occasions. His role as an EVA pilot gives him the opportunity to obtain a sense of purpose & whilst the show’s events will push him outside of his comfort zone, it opens up the possibilities of being seen as valuable in the eyes of others. Whether he is able to overcome his personal barriers, only time will tell.



Next, we have The First Child known as Rei Ayanami. As the pilot of Evangelion Unit 0, she appears very proficient in her role due to her early involvement with NERV & often showcases moments of endurance throughout. Her personality is primarily reserved & impassive, but one in which we do see her open up more over the course of the show. There is a great sense of mystery surrounding her & whilst her development is of a gradual nature, she remains an intriguing person to decipher throughout the show. However, diving further into her as a character will bring storyline spoilers into the fold so it’s best I refrain from speaking further.


Appearing later in the show, we have the German child prodigy; Asuka Langley Soryu. As the highly skilled pilot of Evangelion Unit 2, she comes off as a formidable force on the battlefield & as a person of pride; both in her personal achievements, her role as an EVA pilot & herself as a person; projecting herself with a superiority complex that sometimes leads to erratic & stubborn responses. Her dramatic interactions provide moments of entertainment, but can inherently grate on the odd occasion. She does come with her own set of anxieties; being unable to accept help from others when needed, a desire to be commended by others & her preference to be seen as an adult, rather than just a child.


She does show similar psychological traits to Shinji, but her outgoing personality presents her as a polar opposite when compared on a social spectrum. The question remains if Asuka will face similar trials during the show’s events & how will she handle them.



There are some supporting characters that I would also like to note. First, we have Misato Katsuragi. As the Lieutenant Colonel of NERV’s Tactical Operations Team, she presents herself in both a friendly & assertive manner when required. Her possession of an accomplished skill set plays a key role in the battles against the Angels; earning the respect of her peers. However her personal life is like night and day; displaying a laid back attitude & often drinking beer. She also lives with a pet penguin named Pen Pen, who is a pleasant addition to the show. As someone who is not afraid to embrace her femininity, Misato also showcases her fair share of anxieties & insecurities; some that begin to flood back when an old acquaintance returns during the course of the show.


As the brains behind NERV, we have Head Scientist; Ritsuko Akagi. Her extensive knowledge in NERV’s plans projects her as a highly-intelligent figure behind the operation of the Evangelions & the research undertaken with the Angels. As a regularly featured character, she helps provide the viewers with value context regarding the EVAs & some key moments of NERV’s past, but there are times during the show when I felt she knew more information than she lead on. A curious conundrum.


Finally, we have Shinji’s father; Commander Gendo Ikari. As noted, he dropped his duties as a father to pursue his work for NERV & as a top ranking official, he oversees everything regarding the Angels & Evangelions, interjecting when required. He appears as a determined individual, often appearing with a cold personality towards his son yet more open with the likes of Rei Ayanami; The First Child. His past does play a central part in his position & his overall attitude throughout. Another mysterious character bubbling away under the surface.



One of the key factors I look for in a great TV show is an appealing & purposeful cast. To say I was not disappointed in this regard would be a fact. Each character, both major and minor, felt suited in their role. Some were entertaining whilst others garnered my interest due to their mysterious nature. Even very minor characters became a familiar face that I welcomed in varying episodes. Some of the characters I did experience an internal battle with during the course of the show. First, let’s point the finger at “That Damn Shinji”.


As a primary protagonist, I felt Shinji’s role should’ve seen the most development & in some ways, this is true. We see him warm up to other characters over time & start to gain that personal satisfaction he seeks from piloting an EVA. Putting the show’s deconstructive approach in the spotlight, Shinji is essentially the poster boy for this dissection of what a lead character in a mecha show, tasked with piloting a giant robot, should represent & yet he often is presented as scared & a coward. There is justification for this, in the fact that he happens to be one of the very few who can pilot Unit 01 & they chuck him into the deep end on his first day; not to mention his fragile mental state. I believe Shinji’s character is developed sufficiently & the battle I faced was whether I wanted to see a typical progressively-growing character in this spotlight or to see how someone would realistically handle these situations with the weight of his psychological turmoil.

The other character of note is that of Asuka. Her eccentric personality makes her quite likeable at first, but over time we see that she becomes very argumentative & dramatic. Her core principles are something she takes very seriously & as a result, she began to grate on me over time with the way she handles certain social situations. I wanted to like her & there are moments that made me feel like she was growing as a person, but her anxieties would resurface; reacting negatively in situations & it became hard to like her over time. But in one particular episode, everything changed within the span of 4 minutes. This segment remains one of the most chilling segments I’ve seen in an anime show, taken back by what I witnessed. It made me feel guilty for not trying to understand the reasons behind her actions & it earns my praise for catching me out with this realisation.



Another positive I found was the show’s emphasis on its characters mental flaws. Shows can often mitigate a character’s negatives until certain points in show because it might not be appropriate for a particular episode. However in reality, a person’s psychological symptoms don’t necessarily work like that in real life. They can be inherent and can be triggered without notice under certain circumstances; sometimes as a defence mechanism. This approach gave our characters some assemblance of realism in this fictional work, which made me connect with them more despite my general opinion of them. In some cases, I developed a growing sympathy & desire to jump into the show to prevent these moments of distress. I am aware I’m not the protagonist of Persona 4 but when I want to dive into the TV to try and save someone, I know that I’m invested.


Let’s not forget forgot the copious amounts of subtle references; including foreshadowed images, religious symbolism & the fact that Director Anno was suffering from depression during the production of the show, which is perceived to have indirectly impacted the show’s events. It does a great job in sprinkling these references as a way to startle the viewer into a curious mindset. Whilst the premise of these references has been confirmed by the studio to add this level of mystique to the show, it’s opened up a dialogue of deeper analysis that has seen numerous connections made by fans. If it’s coincidental, it’s even more eerie on reflection.


The only tentative points about the subtlety of some of the moderate plot points is that there were a few times I overlooked certain details either because they were too vague or the spectacle of the show overshadowed this plot points. As a result, I found that the show does require a level of concentration & thought provocation, in order to fully understand the plot & general premise of the show. I admire the show for presenting a Pandora’s Box-style enigma for me to decipher, but I would objectively say some parts were a little too vague on an initial viewing to acknowledge & I feel a bit more exposition in certain areas would’ve helped the show for more casual viewers. That doesn’t mean that the show can not be appreciated in a casual way, as the action and drama are still fruitful to enjoy as a piece of entertainment without the viewer feeling like they have to become Sherlock Holmes to appreciate it.


There‘s just a lot going on under the surface & if you choose to dive deeper into the show (through repeated viewings and/or via the existing analysis by fans - like I did afterwards), I found that my curiosity will not only give me a better knowledge of the show’s premise & why its events transpire, but seeing the show again with this knowledge only enhanced my future viewings. I would still recommend watching the show without this expectation for the first time, as I found it to be cathartic to personally reflect on my varying perceptions of the show with future viewings.



Overall, the narrative was thrilling. The uniqueness of its characters, coupled with the level of progression & attractiveness in its episodes, kept me seeking out the next episode & I admired how certain actions (both minor & major) would impact its characters for the remainder of the show. The numerous religious & psychological elements notably add an extra layer of mystery & when mixed with the show’s deconstructive traits, it’s a very potent story for a show that spans over 10 hours.


Even after 25 years of the show being aired, I don’t want to be that guy to reveal major spoilers in an article (which is why I have been quite vague in places) but I hope I’ve provided a strong representation of how much I appreciated the varying narrative elements of this show; one that turns in unexpected directions, provides an experience for both the causal & meticulous viewer, delivering an enthralling experience in either regard.



From a presentation standpoint, the show typically used the standard Cel animated style for its time. When it matters most, the scenes are well detailed and full of life; specifically the battle scenes. Even some of the calmer shots of the city, bathed in the sunlight, were simply gorgeous. Studio Gainax did the best with what they had at their disposal, but there is evidence of cutting corners in places which stand out but not primarily in a negative sense. There are times where the animation is limited or just using a still image for that frame. Two examples of this are a train platform scene & an elevator scene that show a still image for nearly a minute with background noise. Plus there’s the limited movement of certain characters with the use of either silhouettes or covering up the face partially. Overall, it didn’t harm the presentation in my eyes (with the exception of the ending episodes are a notable step down animation-wise).


As noted at the beginning, my review is based off the remastered edition of this series. When the show was originally broadcast back in 1995, the presentation was not as polished as we see in certain versions today. One of the main problems of the original broadcast was the jitter of the slide prior to jumping into a new scene, which could grate on a viewer over time. This was luckily fixed when the studio decided to remaster the episodes with enhanced visuals & audio. In addition, the remastered versions contain Director’s Cut editions of Episodes 21-24; containing additional scenes for added backstory & context.

The remastered versions are the recommended way to watch this show from a visual & audio standpoint, which are present in the Platinum Collection DVDs & Netflix versions. Although the former is quite expensive (the set can cost between £80-£150 based on condition), there’s a hilarious Easter egg of Spike Spencer as Shinji breaking the 4th wall & ranting about the ending of the show in the credits of the final episode. Gold.


Speaking of audio, there is a flurry of orchestral pieces that give the show a dramatic feel; enhancing battle sequences & key scenes. The most renowned tracks of the show are from its intro & outro. A Cruel Angel’s Thesis remains one of the most loved openings to an anime; a blend of trumpets, guitar chords & bongos, complimented by the singing efforts of Yoko Takahashi. For the ending track, we have a number of renditions of the classic 50s track; Fly Me To The Moon. It acts as a calm & effective palette cleanser between or after episodes. Unfortunately, the Netflix version was unable to license the song, opting for a different choice which caused a minor sense of anger amongst fans. This seem like an appropriate time to go into the voice acting & the varying available dubs.



Although the show has been translated in many different languages, there are three audio versions available for the primarily English viewer; the original Japanese audio, the original English dub & the Netflix dub. All of them have their perks.


The Japanese audio is naturally suited, given that this was recorded prior the show’s broadcast & I am very favourable of the cast’s performances with highlight moments in places. The original English dub (also known as the ADV dub) is my preferable choice, primarily due to some performances I felt were delivered more effectively but others felt a little off. It does start a little bumpy at first, but this evens out after a few episodes. The performance of Tiffany Grant as Asuka was a notable positive in this version & I found it hard to see Asuka voiced as anyone other than Tiffany. Plus I sort of prefer Spike Spencer’s performance of Shinji here. He may sound more whiny, but I kind of liked that in a weird way.

The Netflix dub I’ve only seen once & my impression was that it felt more in-line with the tone of the original Japanese audio. There are some moments that felt a little off, likely because I’ve become used to the ADV dub, but I still commend the performances of its modern cast. This dub did gain some notoriety for some changes in the localised translations, but I didn’t feel it was inferior or inhibited my experience personally.


To summarise, all audio performances are generally positive in my eyes but if you would prefer to see the series via its original translations, you may feel less inclined to choose the Netflix dub but as stated, I didn’t feel a big difference when watching in either form.


FINAL VERDICT


Neon Genesis Evangelion is a unique television experience. The show is not perfect by any means, as there are some parts that work against it; such as some convoluted elements in its plot, the disappointment in its final episodes & the partial limitations at various points in its presentation. But there are enough positives & elements that I admired which kept me invested; such as the constant sense of mystery in its subplots, its unique personalities, all wrapped up in a fusion of an action-packed drama with glimmers of visual & audial beauty that were a joy to watch & allowed me to express a range of emotions throughout.


The show lingered with me a few days after watching it & following a further viewing with a little bit of extra research, I was able to see the show in a new light; one with my full appreciation. The show can still be viewed casually, but I loved how my perception of its events changed with each new viewing. It is worthy of note that The End of Evangelion movie is an essential part of the experience & must be watched immediately after; due to how it links in with the show.


To answer my earlier question, I do believe Neon Genesis Evangelion is an iconic anime TV show. Whilst it may miss the mark in certain places & require certain parameters to fully appreciate its narrative, it displays a distinctive level of depth & lore, providing an escapade of action, drama & thought-provoking entertainment that will certainly stir the mind for days after watching it.

POSITIVES

+ A unique dissection of the mecha genre

+ A sense of mystery & unpredictability, especially in the 2nd half

+ Vibrant cast of characters

+ The music (especially the opening & ending tracks)

+ Solid voice performances across the board


NEGATIVES

– Noticeable moments of limited animation

– Requires deep analysis to fully understand its plot

– Underwhelming final episodes

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