Review: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Posted on Jul 15, 2003

There are many anime that I’ve enjoyed and will review here eventually: Macross Plus, Ninja Scroll, Ghost in the Shell, and the Escaflowne series which is kick-ass. They’re all very enjoyable ways to spend time, going on a fantastic adventure, blah blah blah.

What Neon Genesis Evangelion does is rare. It has the ability to surprise. Believe me, it will surprise you, if you don’t spend too much time reading reviews and trying to spoil it for yourself. All the above anime fall into a pattern of sorts: a hero or a small group of heroes with actual character depth face and overcome obstacles until their eventual triumph. There are no secrets here, we watch to see how they overcome these obstacles, how they change, how they find the strength to do what they do, or even just what happens next. For the first half of NGE, you have more or less the same formula. It even performs very well on this level. The complications seem impossibly large at times, and they’re dealt with nearly every episode. You don’t have Goku going on a Hawaiian vacation for three weeks every time he defeats a mini boss. You’ve got teenagers dealing what the aftermath of what, for any real person, would be the most traumatic event of his or her life, then having to break it off and having to go through an even more traumatic moment. And the three kids doing it are all interesting and strange, it’s all very well done, and very typical. There are giant robots, all that.

Then the entire thing blows up in your face, and you realize that you’re going to be dealing with a challenging piece of art. When the plans of the Guys In The Shadows start getting real air time instead of just being hinted at, while the battle out on the field is getting more and more out of control, and they really start to come on with the biblical and apocalyptic imagery, you start to realize that this anime is trying to Say Something.

Then again, at about three-quarters of the way through, they rip the lid the rest of the way off, and leave you scrambling to interpret what’s taking place. In the original series, collated with the Perfect Collection, it’s worth the effort. Watching “The End of Evangelion”, it certainly continues right where the last episodes left off, dealing you wild, difficult to manage images, and mixing it in with this plot that’s become so Out There, there’s really no way they could expect you to tie it up all in this little bow, and say “Here’s what happened.” If you read the reviews, people have all different kinds of ideas about what the endings really signify, but there’s no one answer. (I say endings because the final OVA episode definitely qualifies as an ending.)

Combined with the thought that went into the making of the series, the fact that you have a job to do as a viewer is a good thing. There are interesting ideas posed by the parts of the plot no one could mistake. Even though I don’t believe that it reflects or captures a great deal of meaning for this universe, it certainly makes you think about the reasons why it doesn’t, and the answers are harder than “Well, women don’t typically have blood made of poison” or “Human minds aren’t what I’d call vulnerable to a buffer overflow”.

It’s must-see viewing, if you can handle the anime genre. I give the series a 9.8/10 with a .2 deduction for general inscrutability, even though I just defended it. End of Evangelion gets a 8/10 with a 1 point deduction for being not really necessary viewing, and not being as good as any of the episodes in the last quarter of the series. Another 1 point deduction for content. If you’re going to pretend to be the climax all the way out here in an extra disc which my $100+ didn’t buy, you better do a lot better than the dual mind-benders “Don’t put the fate of the world in the hands of an insecure teenage boy,” and “Boy, insecure teenage boys are fucked up!” Didn’t we all know this.

Also, if you happen to be a teenage boy reading this, admit it! Let the “healing” begin.