Tentacle-Free Anime: Neon Genesis Evangelion Triple Special!
- by Kazekun, 10 June 2013
Entertainment is important to me, so much so that many people may even look at me as materialistic, but entertainment -- and really stories in general -- makes me happy. The stories I witnessed, I listened to, and even made up myself when I played with my toys, had a remarkable influence on how I am today, how I think, and even how I feel.
It’s always a good thing when a creator can tell such a compelling story that it changes how you view the world. Not only that, but also how you feel about yourself, and as a writer, how you treat the characters you bring to life. Say what you will, whether you love it or hate it, but one thing is certain for me, when I was a child my worldview got flipped 180 when Adult Swim began airing the now legendary Neon Genesis Evangelion and to this day, as the writer I am, I owe it to this series for all the psychological turmoil I love to put my own characters through, when I bring them from my imagination onto paper. It’s really scary how much influence this series has even to this day in how I choose to tell my stories.
As I said before, say what you will, love it or hate it, there is no denying the power this series has held since its original inception. It captivated audiences when it first premiered in 1995, it caused much controversies in its original series ending and movie finale (they are still the subjects of heated debates and flame wars to this day), pretty much any anime fan who has seen it will tell you to watch it at least once. They’re even redoing the series (to an extent, after movie #2) in a saga of movies that not only has reintroduced an entirely new generation of anime fans to the franchise, but reopened the gates for that same generation to watch the new Eva movies and go back and discover the craziness of the original.
Whether you’re on the love it or hate it side, or somewhere in between, Evangelion does bring anime fans together. Whether they get along when they're together is, again, a whole ‘nuther matter.
Created by Gainax and the now infamous Hideaki Anno, this 26 episode series begins as an almost routine monster-of-the-week, giant robot (mecha) brawl anime that many at the time were familiar with. But it quickly becomes apparent that there is much, much more to this series as it slowly turns into a complete psycho-analysis of every character in the show, even for some of the minor characters. This series pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to digging into the minds of its characters. Mr. Anno once said that he wanted to pour every aspect of himself into this series and when watched from a subjective point of view that is completely apparent. Anno suffered deep depression for four years of his life, and from his experiences then he lays out his bare heart for us on screen. It may not be pretty, it may not be satisfying, but it’s still impressive by any means and I respect any writer willing to do such a thing all for the sake of telling a story.
The series of Evangelion touches on many facets of the human mind and its feelings, especially when dealing with the idea of isolation. We all feel alone in this world at some point, even while being surrounded by those we love or have come to care about and we all deal with it differently. Some create a barrier around themselves for others to exploit, some become manipulative, some become arrogant and others hide their true selves behind surface entertainment and short-lived joys. It isn’t a pretty existence and that is what Anno had in mind to present to his audience.
The world has been devastated by interaction with other beings known as an “Angels,” creatures of unknown origin and immense power in an event known as the Second Impact. To defend against them, the last remaining humans have created creatures, robots of their own known as Evangelions (or Eva’s for short) that require teenage pilots to operate. We’re never given a clear explanation as to why the Evas need teenagers to pilot, but I have a feeling it’s more symbolic than anything, that the fate of the future literally rests within the hands of the youth and so the Eva’s are built around that ideal. So Shinji, our protagonist, Asuka, a fiery redhead, and Rei, a doll-like basket case are chosen to pilot the Eva’s and defend humanity.
The three go through many events that just continue to get worse and worse as the series goes, as their psyches are taken to their limits and hope begins to become but a dangling thread just out of reach. They’re also unwittingly thrown into a larger picture that the adults have weaved around their stories and the possibility of a Third Impact, and thus the complete annihilation of humanity becomes a very real threat the children must also defend against.
The action seen in this series is incredible; it is a well-known fact that Evangelion was created on a near shoe-string budget for its time but when it pumps out the action it delivers big time. Many people like Evangelion for the action it offers, I know I do. The movements and attacks are crisp and have aged quite well in today’s CGI heavy world (and what little CGI there is in the series has, too). The Eva’s look like the beasts they ought to, and while the Angels I feel were too monster-like, there’s no denying how good they look even to this day. And as I said before, the series starts out very "monster of the week", with a new Angel threat almost every week for our heroes to battle. But the Angels put each character through the ringer when it was on screen and a lot of times I really thought the end had arrived.
The animation as a whole doesn’t look too great when watched today, there are many, many shots that undercut the episodes and there are several times when budget issues become apparent with extended, unnecessary scenes and dialogue or unfortunately obvious ways the animators tried to hide that they simply didn’t have the money to continue animated parts of that scene. This became painfully apparent as the series draws to a close its final 2 episodes where the episodes begin to feel like concept drawings on storyboards mashed together to create an “episode,” but it was simply because by the time the series came to its conclusion, they ran out of money and had to make do with what they could.
Speaking of the ending of the original Evangelion TV series, it’s really in these last two episodes where much controversy lies. After a series of epic brawls, slowly mentally declining protagonists and the looming threat of humanity’s destruction the series makes a complete U-turn and we’re treated to an entirely introverted look into the minds of our characters as they meet head on with their estranged feelings and have to overcome their loneliness and insecurities. While that doesn’t sound too bad, we’re made aware that what we’re seeing is only half the story and what we should be seeing is humanity’s last fight for life but that is not what we’re given. I know many to this day hate this ending, and after re-watching this series I too have become apparent of how out of place it is but I don’t dislike it and I respect Anno and the animators for deciding to at least give the series some closure they could afford instead of allowing the end battle to not live up to our expectations.
And that’s where the movies come in, Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion, both created a year after the original series ended and after receiving a plethora of hate mail and praise mail from fans over the original series finale. Death & Rebirth there isn’t much I can say, the first half of the movie, Death is simply a recap of the original 26 episodes of the series to remind the audience of what happened last time they saw the show and the second half, Rebirth is the first quarter of the The End movie and was a preview to get the audience pumped for the upcoming big budget finale.
It begins with all the action we’ve come to know and love from this series, and dare I say this has been the very best the action has looked for the entirety of this series, giving the audience one final cheer for the main characters until the entire thing begins to spiral downward into a haunting melancholy of human emotions and raw symbolic imagery that could give any psychologist worth their salt a field day in studying. The end of the story, though I won’t spoil, is very much a feast for the thinking viewer and a nightmare for the popcorn viewer. Shinji is once again put through the ringer as he is forced to choose what mankind’s future is going to be, and though the ending wasn’t absolutely satisfying, even for me, I did find it wholly fitting. The ending offers you very little, if any, actual answers to the burning questions of the series but is presented in a way, that if you stop to think about what you’ve learned throughout the story, you can kind of figure out how everything works out the way it does.
The Evangelion series as a whole is a juggernaut with very little competition with its raw emotional representation of the human mind and how the actions of many can affect not only the one, but also the whole. It is filled to brim with Christian imagery and subtext that play very well into the themes of the series and has a stellar voice cast with the likes of Spike Spencer who gives an amazing and believable performance as the intense introvert Shinji, a protagonist that had the unfortunate luck of debuting in an era dominated then by macho supreme badasses for protagonists that the general audience had come to expect. Tiffany Grant as the loveable, annoying and egotistical Asuka Soryu in a very moving performance as you come to know her character all the way to the end. Amanda Winn-Lee, who gives a stellar lifeless performance as the doll-like Rei Ayanami (this is actually good thing, as Rei is meant to seem lifeless). And Allison Keith who plays another main character I never got to mention, Misato Katsurgi and does a fantastic job displaying the façade that Misato uses hide behind her pain and suffering as she tries to spur the kids forward and uplift them while inside she deals with her own tragic problems.
For all its faults, and there are many, Evangelion still offers up a very real look into the lost realm that most of us humans try to both forget and run away from: ourselves. For the thinking viewer, the abstractness of most of this series will offer up many nights of introspective, for the popcorn viewer majority of the abstract storytelling may fly over your head but you’ll still be greeted with intense action and beautiful imagery. But I still recommend that any fan of sci-fi, character driven stories, or any anime fan that just hasn’t seen this yet to at least see the series once straight through -- you can skip Death & Rebirth and go straight into The End of Evangelion -- and then offer up your own conclusions of how you feel about the story. I’m sure it’ll start many discussions wherever you’re bound to go.
Final Score: 4 Chosen Ones out of 5
What are your thoughts on the Evangelion series? Enjoyed the review? Let us know in the comments!
Tagged: Tentacle-Free Anime.