Following from my last review of Macross Plus, I reckoned I’d stick around in the mid 90’s for a short while and tackle an equally famous beast of the Anime world. Leaving 1994 behind us we travel ahead a mere year to 1995 and the release of the original Neon Genesis Evangelion anime. (This review isn’t of the more recent re-release if you are wondering)
Admittedly, in my early days as an anime watcher I had only known this series by name. It was clearly famous, given the amount of times I had seen it mentioned back in the early days of the ‘modern’ Internet (or World Wide Web, as we were prone to calling it back then). Finally, thanks to the UK SciFi Channel’s late, great Anime block, I was given my first chance to see ‘Evangelion’, once a week - every week for quite a while.
SciFi channel’s Anime block had become something of an eye-opener for me back in the day, as it had given me a steady stream of new Anime shows I hadn’t heard of or even knew how to get. Prior to gaining access to the channel, I had to mostly scour my native Dublin for any ‘Manga Presentation’ DVD I could find, and so my Anime knowledge was pretty limited by the time I got around to watching SciFi’s Anime Block.
Much to my fortune, I tuned in for the first time just as the premier episode of Evangelion was being aired. My curiosity for the show was about to be satisfied, and greatly rewarded.
For those who don’t know, here was the basic idea behind Evangelion:
Through a mysterious global disaster known as ‘Second Impact’ humanity has been forced to rebuild and fortify itself against waves of monstrous creatures known as ‘Angels’. Japan appeared to be the main focus of their attacks, and as a result of Tokyo’s destruction, a new fortress city by the name of ‘Tokyo 3’ had come into being.
Within Tokyo 3, an international UN agency named NERV was headquartered and charged with developing defences against the Angel threat.
Amongst the fighting we were introduced to our first main character, Shinji Ikari.
Shinji was and still is an extremely well known character in the genre. In fairness this has been true for most of the characters in this series, but Shinji takes the biscuit for being so damned depressed half of the time.
It was a given that he had every right to be depressed, since his life pretty much included watching his mother die horribly, his father abandoning him, and spending much of his formative years living with his teacher (I always found this to be weird). But on the flip side of things, it turned out that he was a candidate to pilot NERV’s newest ‘Giant Robot’ aka Evangelion, and that he would be paired up with a pair of girls and an attractive young woman as his guardian / mentor. For many an anime fan, this sounded like a pretty awesome way of spending one’s teenage years…alas Shinji didn’t agree, and would spend much of his time being depressed about something. He was a excellent character, don’t get me wrong, but there were times I wished I could just reach into the TV and give him a slap across the head :D
The attractive young woman I mentioned is the next main lead I want to introduce. As a para-military officer of NERV, Misato Katsuragi served as an operations manager for the Evangelion project and also for Tokyo 2’s defences. Also, following her boss Gendo Ikari’s refusal to take in his prodigal son Shinji, Misato stepped in to house and take care of the young guy. Although it was very kind of Misato to do this, it appeared that Shinji would be mostly taking care of her, given that beyond her professional life Misato was a high-functioning alcoholic with many ghosts in her closet.
None the less, she was by far my favourite character of the lot. I especially liked it when her mothering instinct came to play when Shinji’s life was in jeopardy or even apparently lost. They depicted these scenes really well and made me care about the fate of these two characters.
Another teenage character was also around prior to Shinji’s arrival. This was a girl by the name of Rei, who was already working with NERV on their prototype Evangelion. She always seemed distant, unhinged and kind of ‘sick’ all of the time. Her personality and character history are kept a quiet mystery throughout much of the show. Shinji actually develops a bit of a crush for her too, which turns out to be not cool at all. (You’ll find out why if you watch the show).
To balance off Rei’s apparent meekness, we were shortly introduced to the third and final teenage member of the pilot team: A redheaded German menace by the name of Asuka Langley Soryu.
Asuka injected a much-needed edge into the team, and her brass ‘in-your-face-I-am-the-master-of-the-frigging-world’ attitude just made you love to hate her. Asuka actually loved her job too, so much so that that she had permanently worn her Evangelion head transmitters as hair-bobbins. The other two teenagers didn’t seem as enthusiastic. Also, being of Japanese, German and American origin, girl was the embodiment of a culture clash. She was also quite upfront about her feelings and would sometimes try to play upon Shinji’s. More often than not, she would tease him horribly.
Being teenagers, the trio were also attending a typical Japanese high school. Therein we are treated to the usual menu of high school knocks that a lesser anime would probably spend most of its time serving out. We are introduced to their friends, and the semblance of a ‘normal’ life for the kids…that is, whenever there wasn’t an Angel attack.
That brings us back to the main driving force of the show. The Angels, who were mysterious and seemingly alien monsters, would take turns in attacking Tokyo 2 during any given episode. Each episode would present a new Angel, often with a unique and ingenious design that would require force, teamwork and quick thinking from the NERV team to defeat. Very often victory was achieved, just in time, with the scars of battle lingering for the remainder of the show.
I fear that if I go any further into the details of Evangelion, I will risk ruining it on you if you have not actually seen it. Instead, I will move onto the reasons why the show was such a classic.
I felt that there were 4 reasons why Evangelion worked so well.
First, we had excellent characters and relationships between them. Everyone was fleshed out very well and we are given every opportunity to ‘know’ him or her throughout the anime’s 2 seasons.
Second, the animation itself was superb, and if CGI was ever utilised it wasn’t very apparent. Everything looked like the very pinnacle of cell-animation skill.
Third, the music was incredible. Much like I mentioned in my Macross Plus retrospective, I believe that good music can make any good show into a classic. Evangelion pulls this off from the uplifting intro, to the bombastic ‘Angel Attack Theme’. All of it was pure excellence, with Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ thrown in for good measure.
The final reason, was the excellent story telling. Evangelion on the surface looked mostly like a fusion between you typical Giant Robot anime and a High School anime. But this was just a facade, as Evangelion was nothing of the sort. Instead we are given an action adventure filled with intrigue, mystery and an awful lot of betrayal. The happy beginnings of show filled with light jokes and occasional fan-service, are slowly pulled away and by the second season we had found ourselves in a much darker place.
After its two-season run, Neon Genesis Evangelion had one of the most perplexing endings I have even seen in anime. That is was story within itself, with drama extending beyond the anime into the real world. The end result for Evangelion was a two-part feature film, which is exactly what I’m going to cover in my next review.
Until then, shine like a legend!