Because as a kid growing up in the 90s, Evangelion was almost unreachable.
Pirating episodes on AOL Dialup, purchasing the VHS tapes with our parents’ money, or catching the one-off when it presented itself…those were the scraps that this anime behemoth left us with.
Because of this, Evangelion quickly dropped off my radar.
“I’ll watch it at some point,” I said, fully aware it’d take an act of God to get me to subject my baked-beans-brains to this level of mindfuckery.
The act of God came in full force when Netflix announced their botched dub, so I made it a point to zombify myself, and see if the series held up.
Not only did I sit through all 26 episodes of the original Evangelion anime dub, but I also sat through the three rebooted Evangelion movies, and the End of Evangelion film as well.
I then let all this gestate for a few days, and have now arrived with my bold, honest hot-take opinions about the entirety of Evangelion (sans manga).
You may disagree with me, even violently so, but know that I gave Evangelion scientific consideration when penning this honest review, so there’s meat and merit here.
I’m going to separate this review into 3 distinct posts, because there’s just way too much to cover: The NGE 90s TV show. The End Of Evangelion animated film. And the rebooted feature films, that explore a retelling of the initial story.
Let’s begin where the story begins.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: The 90s TV Show
For the uninitiated, let’s start by making the plot of Neon Genesis Evangelion stupidly simple: The world of Evangelion suffers from quasi-biblical world-botching catastrophic events known as Impacts.
The First Impact is when an alien known as Lilith smacked into earth, via a black moon, and basically started all of mankind. Cool beans, Lilith.
Lilith has a counterpart, Adam. Adam makes aliens called Angels, Lilith makes humans. Boo, Adam. Also your design sucks.
Adam and Lilith are not supposed to show up on the same damn planet, but it looks like Earth is special, because he dug himself all up into one of the poles.
The Second Impact happened when humans tried to make contact with Adam, thusly making another disaster.
The Third Impact is something that certain powers and people are working towards over the course of the series, and in order to make that happen, Adam and Lilith need to make contact.
This contact will either completely obliterate all life on earth, or smoosh them all together into shared consciousness. I still am not sold on which that is.
How this contact actually happens really doesn’t make sense over the course of the media I digested, because the way it goes down changes up depending on what you see / read.
It’s either because of some spears (see spear below) flinging at Lilith (not below), or a certain mecha smacking into Lilith, or because a certain main character is a dipshit.
What comes down during this fuckish attempt to make The Third Impact Actually Really Happen are Angels, which results in teenagers piloting quasi-organic mechas to fight said Angels.
Because Angels are dicks, basically.
The 90s anime, instead of explaining this concept in a way that makes a lick of sense, shoves the viewers into the driver’s seat with the main character, and thusly we’re a proxy for his own confusion.
Evangelion follows the psychological drama of various very, very traumatized people, making this a character study on psychology with a sci-fi backdrop.
Inherently, this is awesome, but in execution, it creates noise between which is most important:
Lore, Cast, or Plot.
The 90s anime decides on Cast, but also shoves Lore all up in our faces, and completely disregards Plot by the end of it.
This is what makes this series so ripe for analyzing, but it also makes it convoluted as hell.
Here’s the focal cast of Evangelion, in a Nutshell:
Shinji Ikari (brunette boy next to red haired girl) has a shitty dad (Gendo, glasses) who cannot give him love and affection, but is more or less forced to pilot a certain mecha (Eva Unit 01) because He’s The Only One That Can Do It.
This boy is Depressed, Stressed, and Repressed.
Gendo is trying to turn humans into primordial soup with a project called the Human Instrumentality Project, because something something shared consciousness. He’s a cold, unfeeling, calculating, malicious twat.
Ritsuko (blonde lady) is in love with Gendo and is also a science genius / computer haxxor. She’s also wasted character potential.
Asuka Langley Soryu (red haired girl) is an Eva pilot as well, and about as emotionally scarred and fucked up as Shinji is. She has such a fractured sense of ego that any slight (or perceived slight) to her person results in sarcasm, vitriol, and violence.
Rei Ayanami (blue-ish haired girl next to Shinji) is a clone of Yui Ikari (Shinji’s Mom) and keeps being reclonned each time she dies because something something Eva Mecha Pilot.
Misato Katsuragi (blushing woman staring at guy) is the most developed of the cast, and tries to both mentor, protect, send to war, and help all the teen mecha pilots.
She has an amazing level of character development, especially considering the show is basically about Shinji and his choice to face his problems and take responsibility for his life, or run away like he always does.
Ryoji Kaji (dude Misato is flirting with) is some kind of spy-something, or agent-something, but also Misato’s ex. Turns out he’s a pretty solid bloke, which sucks, because he dies.
Kaworu Nagisa (gray haired boy on far right) is actually an Angel, but also probably the only person besides Misato to give two shits about Shinji.
The reason for this is that he was born to care about him, to kick off the whole ‘primordial human soup shittery’, but that doesn’t make his ‘affection without expectation’ any less valid. He dies, which sucks.
The various plot points that happen between point A (Shinji is now a mecha pilot) and point Z (Shinji basically made everyone into crazy-soup and fucked the world up) do more to explain the characters than they do the actual story arch of the show.
Technobabble runs amok so badly that I had to make a Star Trek joke while watching this.
Both anime and video games do this to the point of sin and I wish Japan would give it a rest already.
Various scientific and psychological ideas were thrown around to create the glossy veneer of depth, while also not dedicating enough time to any of them to be sticky.
My hot-take: the original Neon Genesis Evangelion anime should have actually been several seasons long to account for how much was packaged into it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this sort of stuff, but as the Angels fell down and became Angel Enemy Of The Week, and Shinji had a mental breakdown every other episode, I started to zone out and just wait till Misato came on screen.
Because as a character, she does a better job at acting like a human than anyone else on the cast, and I also think she’s cute. Sue me.
The Neon Genesis Evangelion Plot Goes Haywire At Some Point
But I can’t really blame anyone for this, except for the people in charge of the budget.
The Plot truly does go off the rails in the last two episodes, when Shinji helps The Third Impact go down by not listening to this precious boy when he tells him to Stop Right Now OMG:
The budget also fell to absolute crap during episodes 25 & 26, so we were given a nigh seizure-inducing mental smashfest through tons of concepts that, while sound, just didn’t have the breadth they needed to be fully explored.
Don’t misunderstand me: I one thousand percent understand what the 90s Evangelion Anime aimed to do on a technical, thematic, philosophical level.
I also recognize, holistically, that it just didn’t get the oomph it needed to fully support the ideas it was dishing out.
Neon Genesis Evangelion Set Important Groundwork That Changed Anime Forever
Personally, I feel that what NGE did best was set the ground-work to explore psychology on a serialized, tv-anime level. NGE stands out as the precursor to fantastically cerebral, psychological anime like:
Serial Experiments Lain
This is important for several reasons I’m not going to get into right now (each of the above anime deserve their own reviews), but suffice to say, without Evangelion, I’m not sure we’d get any of them.
I’m actually very certain they’d have never been created, except possibly for Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent, because that guy was (I love you, Rest In Peace) all about using animation as a vehicle for complex exposes on the human condition.
Now, am I saying the initial 90s anime sucked a big dongle? No.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, and recognize how important, individual, and unique it is.
I think that everyone should watch it at least once, and maybe twice or three times even, just to experience it in full. I hope my review doesn’t turn people off from the show, because I think it’s important to see it if you’re a fan of Anime.
NGE shows us where we came from, and was the spark that started a psychological movement for serialized anime series.
That alone makes it worth the watch, but it’s also so much more than that.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is an anime that you truly have to experience to appreciate.
You can’t just read a review like this and expect to take everything in—especially since I dumbed Evangelion down for newbs, which is a difficult task in and of itself.
Go snag some VHS tapes, suffer through Netflix’s weird dub, or watch the original subbed version.
I promise you that it’s worth the watch.
I’ll be covering The End of Evangelion in the next installment, and after that I’ll dive into the rebooted films.
I hope you’ll stick around for my hot-takes, and if you have any comments about what I’ve written, or questions on the show, please reply below!