Giant robots, religious references and hard to answer questions: The brilliance of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”

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Gainax

Jackson Kiino-Terburg, A/V Editing Team

Hideaki Anno’s “Neon Genesis Evangelion” stunned audiences with an action-packed, surprisingly deep and philosophical story. 

The deeply troubled Anno struggled in his life with clinical depression in a time period not very accepting of mental illness. This led him to create a show where the characters are deeply reflective of his own inner psyche, with Anno even saying that specific characters in the show represent aspects of his personality.

“Evangelion” is a post-apocalyptic psychological fiction Japanese animated TV series, which originally began airing on October 4, 1995, and finished on March 27, 1996. It broadcasted on Japan’s TV Tokyo, a highly viewed TV channel. Despite not instantly becoming a hit in the first few episodes, it would later be hailed as one of the best series of all time. 

Even though the series has attained critical acclaim overseas, it has still gone largely underappreciated in the United States. Although the series’ release did cause a spark in interest in Japanese media and culture in the late 90s which has been growing ever since, the form of entertainment is still mostly niche.

However, just as “Evangelion” helped bring Japanese media to the west back in 1995, it’s now bringing it out of the shadows. Previously, the only way for a fan in the US to watch this show would be to get an English DVD release of the show. However these DVDs are quite rare and often sell for over $200, but now that’s all changing.

Netflix has recently been the first streaming service to get rights to host the show’s original 26 episodes and two movies. However, they didn’t just stop at buying the rights to the show, Netflix also completely redid the show’s English voice acting, meaning that the lines in the English version of the show were re-recorded by new actors and put over the old animation. They also remastered some of the animation and audio. This means that right now is the best time ever to get into “Evangelion.”

“Neon Genesis Evangelion” is considered by many to be one of the most influential pieces of media to come out of Japan in the mid-1990s. It has impacted many subsequent pieces of media.  In the movie “One Hour Photo,” a piece of “Evangelion” merchandise is used as symbolism to foreshadow the events of the film. There is also a reference in the 2005 animated film “Robots,” which also features Robin Williams. This is not a coincidence as Robin Williams had publicly stated that he was a big fan of “Evangelion.”

An even more interesting case came from the 1951 film “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” An episode of “Evangelion” is named after this movie, and in the 2008 remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” there is a reference to “Evangelion” in the first few scenes. 

However, “Evangelion” isn’t by any means outdated. It’s still a blast to watch, it’s action-packed, comedic at times, sad at times and more than anything a sci-fi adventure of a lifetime. Also, if deeper meaning is what you like, “Evangelion” has enough questions about life and what it means to exist to make your English teacher rave.

For a new fan of the series, watching order can be confusing, with the TV show mixed with some movies. The watch order goes as follows:

  • “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (1995) original 26 episodes.
  • “Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth” (1997) an optional, mostly recap movie.
  • “The End of Evangelion” (1997) the true end of the series, watch after the original 26.

“Evangelion” takes place in the futuristic year of 2015, 15 years after the disaster known as the “Second Impact” where a giant being named “Adam” touches down over the South Pole. These beings are called “Angels” and have a supernatural power called an “AT field,” allowing them to withstand the power of almost any human weapon. 

All of the Angels in the show are named after Angels in the Old Testament of the Bible. This causes a mass melting of glacial ice, resulting in mass flooding. In the wake of the billions of deaths resulting from the flooding, war breaks out, killing even more people. After all is said and done, half of the global population is wiped out. Humans are eventually able to contain Adam; however, they fear the return of more Angels in the future.

In the show, the main character is a 14-year-old boy named Shinji Ikari who has been abandoned by his father at an early age and is then raised by his teacher. Shinji is then contacted by his father when another Angel touches down to attack humanity. Shinji’s father wants him to join the secretive organization he is in charge of called “Nerv” to pilot humanity’s last hope at surviving the Angel’s attack: the 50-foot tall humanoid robot called an “Evangelion” which are also capable of producing the AT field.

The show features Shinji and fellow pilots Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu fighting and defeating many Angels. Things start to look up for the crew, as dispatching Angels becomes second nature. However, the show later takes a much darker twist. Episodes 18 through the movie “The End of Evangelion” are not for the faint of heart. They leave the viewer with hard questions like “What does it mean to be human?” “What is self-worth?” and “What motivates people to keep going?” Watch as the world of Evangelion all comes tumbling down.