Neon Genesis Evangelion is probably familiar to most of you. It’s a well-known series from Gainax written by Anno Hideaki. It’s also an anime I never got all the way through before now. I tried several years before I wrote my first review when I was watching a bunch of anime because they had Hayashibara Megumi. I got through Nuku Nuku, Blue Seed, Saber Marionette, the Slayers, Love Hina, Bakuretsu Hunters and some others. Evangelion was the only series I couldn’t get through. The characters annoyed me more than any cast I’d ever seen and the story was pants. In the end I got to that episode where Shinji and Asuka have to time their attacks using DDR, and no I don’t know which episode that is numerically, and the sheer stupidity of that plot point resulted in my looking up the plot summaries for the remaining episodes to see if it was ever going to improve and promptly dropping it.
My ignoring the franchise ended last year when I was asked to review the film, End of Evangelion, which was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. In fact, I would rather watch one of Michael Bay’s films than re-watch that. Now, I’ve been asked to go back and watch the series in its entirety and give it a chance. Honestly, I’m not looking forward to it. That being said, some of the series and films I’ve re-watched from that time period have turned out to be much better or worse than I remember. So, Evangelion could end up being better than my memory indicates. I certainly hope so because otherwise this is going to be painful. Let’s take a look and see.
In the far off year of 2015, fifteen years after the second impact cataclysm, mankind finds itself under siege by beings called “Angels.” Our protagonist, Shinji, is assigned to pilot a giant robot called an Eva and fight against the angels. Otherwise, a third impact could come and destroy everything. Unbeknownst to him, the organisation he’s working for is keeping secrets that could be more destructive than the angels.
Now, you might think setting the initial event that kicks off your story a scant five years in the future, the series started running in 1995, is absolutely moronic and just serves to make it horribly dated very quickly, but it has to be set in 2000. You see, Anno was making a satirical statement about the fact that government agencies used to lie. I know, shocking.
Some might also call the writing weak for minor details like the angels having no real motivation, the NERV organisation being more transparently evil than a Captain Planet villain, the narrative grinding to a halt halfway through and never reaching any kind of real resolution or the ending in general. The people who say this just don’t get the deeper meaning behind all of these factors. The angels have to be depicted as having no motivation because giving them motivations would make NERV’s transparent evil too obvious. NERV has to be transparently evil because government agencies used to lie. The story has to grind to a halt to illustrate that life doesn’t always have neat resolutions. You might argue that a narrative needs a sensical resolution but that’s just nitpicking.
In a world where most media tries to have characters who are endearing, complex, realistic or some combination thereof, Evangelion makes the bold decision of having characters who are none of those things. These are characters who are all of a quarter-dimensional. Sure, in a series like Highschool of the Dead or Crime Edge having characters that basic would hurt the narrative, but Evangelion pulls it off ingeniously. You see, Anno adds depth by giving virtually every character severe parent issues. You might think that sounds absolutely horrendous and annoying, but it’s not. It’s ingenious.
I will grant that the art is not great, even by the standards of its time. That being said, there are some very clever artistic choices. Like making most of the angels look like rejected super sentai villains. There’s also the daring decision to show fourteen year old girls naked. It might sound pervy, but it is very essential to the underlying themes.
Hayashibara Megumi and Ogata Megumi are two of the greatest actresses ever to grace the industry. Hayashibara Megumi might even be the best voice actress in any language ever. In addition to these powerhouses, Evangelion has Miyamura Yuko, Mitsuishi Kotono, Ishida Akira and several other talented people. With such a talented cast, Evangelion made the intrepid decision to have none of them act. It might sound like inexcusably bad direction, but it’s very important to the themes that each actor only gets allocated one or two emotions. The music is pretty good.
The ho-yay factor is a 2/10. There’s a little bit between Shinji and Kaworu.
For the one person out there who didn’t pick up on the sarcasm in the preceding paragraphs, I’ll say it clearly. This is one of the worst anime I’ve ever seen. The writing is horrid, using several elements that could be good if very well written but with all of them being handled completely incompetently. The characters are less than one-dimensional, thoroughly unlikable and downright obnoxious. They neither act nor talk like anything remotely resembling a real person. I apologise to everyone, myself included, who has an actual depressive disorder since so many people offensively excuse the terribly written Shinji as just “being depressed.” The art would be middling, even with the ridiculous looking enemies, except for the gratuitous teenage nudity because the artists are pervy assholes. They got a stellar cast, which went entirely to waste. About the only positive element is that the music is actually pretty good.
Now, I know someone is going to tell me I didn’t get the “deeper meaning” behind the pretentious twaddle, so I looked up what Anno had to say about it. Which is that there is no deeper meaning in Evangelion. So, why exactly do people think there’s a deeper meaning here? Allow me to explain.
Finding meaning in something like Evangelion is a type of Apophenia, or seeing patterns and connections where none exist. The fact is, a lot of people see things like random religious symbols or the moments inside what passes for a “mind” in Whiny, Blank Slate or Anger Issues, as proof that there’s a hidden meaning. So, they look for what it could be and they find something that satisfies them. If you’re looking for a deep meaning, you will find it, regardless of whether or not there actually is one. It doesn’t matter if a series is meaningless, simple and straight-forward, random or downright stupid.
As an exercise, Let’s revisit Kill La Kill, assuming that it has a deeper meaning instead of just being a dumb action series. The series is actually a cautionary tale about the misuse of, and over-reliance on technology. It makes the brilliant move of using clothing, one of the most basic elements of our modern society, for this endeavour. It presents a nuanced approach, having clothing used both for good and ill. I could point to scenes like Mako and her family being corrupted by opulence only to discard their clothing and emerge as a noble poor family again. Sure, you could probably poke holes in this idea if you’ve seen the actual show, but the point is that it’s ridiculously easy to construct your own meaning, especially if you’re convinced that there is one.
The final rating, 1/10. To paraphrase a writer with actual talent, if the word “hate” was engraved on every atom of my body, it would not be a billionth of the hate I have for this series. It’s downright atrocious and it was painful to sit through to the extent that you could force people to watch it as a method of torture. Next week, All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku. I need to read some Alan Moore to try and fix the damage the idiocy inherent to this pile of rancid fecal matter did to my brain cells.