Anime Spotlight: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion is also known under the titles NGE, Eva, or Evangelion. The series was produced by Gainax and was directed by Hideaki Anno. The series aired on Japanese television from October 4, 1995 to March 27, 1996. There were also two theatrical films released for the franchise: Death & Rebirth in March 1997 and The End of Evangelion in July 1997.

The Evangelion franchise was rebooted with a series of four theatrical films. Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone was released to Japanese theaters in 2007, Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance was released to Japanese theaters in 2009, and Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo was released to Japanese theaters in 2012. As of this writing, a release date has not been announced for the final films in the Rebuild of Evangelion series.

The Neon Genesis Evangelion television series in North America was licensed to A.D. Vision, while Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion was licensed to Manga Entertainment for North American release. As far as I can tell, the Neon Genesis Evangelion releases from both of these companies are now out of print.

FUNimation Entertainment holds the North American license for the first three films in the Rebuild of Evangelion series.

The story of Evangelion goes back to the year 2000, when a global catastrophe known as the “Second Impact” occurred. During this event, Antarctica was destroyed, and half of the human population on Earth was wiped out. At first, most people believe the disaster occurred due to a meteorite landing on Antarctica, but it turns out the “Second Impact” was created by contact with and experimentation on what are called Angels and Adam. These experiments were sponsored by an organization calling itself Seele, and the experiments were carried out by a research organization called Gehirn.

Ten years later, Gehrin evolved into a paramilitary organization called NERV; NERV has its headquarters in Tokyo-3, which is a militarized civilian city located in one of the last dry areas of Japan. NERV’s mission is to locate the remaining Angels and destroy them; however, NERV has its own secret agenda.

This project, known as the Human Instrumentality Project, is headed by Gendo Ikari (the commander of NERV). NERV has also been secretly developing Evas, a biomechanical mecha, in Geofront; this is Gehrin’s base under Tokyo-3. Each Eva has its own designated pilot, and operates by synchronizing the pilot’s soul and the human soul inside the Eva; this is done by using a liquid substance known as LCL. NERV is also affiliated with the Marduk Institute, which has the task of selecting the pilots for the Evas; the pilots who are most qualified to pilot the Evas are those conceived after the “Second Impact.”

The anime series actually opens in the year 2015, when Tokyo-3 is under attack by a third Angel. Conventional weapons are useless, so NERV takes control of the battle; NERV decides to use the Evas against the Angel. Meanwhile, Commander Ikari’s 14-year-old son, Shinji Ikari, arrives in Tokyo-3 right as the Angel starts to attack the area. It turns out Commander Ikari, who hasn’t seen his son in three years, has summoned Shinji to serve as a pilot for one of the Evas. Shinji, however, suffers from anxiety, depression, lack of self esteem, and loneliness. As the Angel starts to attack the area near the Geofront, Shinji ends up reluctantly agreeing to pilot Evangelion Unit 01 after seeing how injured the other Eva pilot, Rei Ayanami, is. A third Eva pilot, the hot-headed redhead Asuka Langley Soryu, joins the cast a little later in the series.

Over the course of the series, questions begin to arise in regards to the true nature of the Angels, the Evangelions, and Rei as the audience learns about the conflicting conspiracies and agendas of both SEELE and NERV. Around episode 16, the focus of the series shifted to being more psychological than action.

I have seen the entirety of the Neon Genesis Evangelion television series, both of the original Neon Genesis Evangelion films, and the first two films in the Rebuild of Evangelion series.

When I started watching the television series, I thought there was an interesting concept being presented, but that the pacing was a little on the slow side. After the first few episodes, though, after I got to know the characters better and the action started picking up, I liked the series better. However, the last few episodes really become headscratchers; in fact, there are times during those last few episodes where it almost feels like you need to have a psychology degree in order to truly appreciate the psychological aspects that pervade the end of the series.

Death & Rebirth is made up of two parts: “Death” and “Rebirth.” “Death” is essentially a recap of the anime series, but it was done in such a way that the recap is nonlinear. Unfortunately, this nonlinear approach made the story feel jumpy and scatterbrained; even though I knew what was going on because I had already seen the entirety of the anime series, I still had a hard time following this. “Rebirth” runs for 27 minutes and it essentially contains what makes up the beginning of The End of Evangelion film. While this film may have served a purpose at the time it was originally released, its essentially a worthless piece now.

The End of Evangelion is intended to wrap up the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise, and it effectively replaces the final two episodes of the anime series with a more “real world” account of the story’s climax. Overall, I fall into the camp of thinking that this film was rather strange, and it also felt as if the film didn’t truly “end.” It also didn’t feel as if Shinji and Asuka, who both went through major events in the film, never really evolved as characters by the end of the piece.

Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone is essentially a point-for-point retelling of the first six episodes of the Neon Genesis Evangelion television anime series. After watching this film, there were a lot of ways where I thought this worked better than the same story that was told in the first six episodes of the anime series. The anime series suffered from having a bit of a sluggish pacing, but the film kept the action going and that there was more effort on telling a linear story than on symbolism and images.

Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance contains some of the plot points that appeared at this point in the anime series, but some of the details of these plot points have been changed. The film also introduces a new character named Mari who wasn’t part of the original television anime series; however, after seeing this film, I wasn’t entirely sure what her purpose was supposed to be. Hopefully she has a bigger role in the third film and is actually an important character, because in this film, she almost feels like she was added as a way to make the story “different” for the television series.

Neon Genesis Evangelion has gone on to become a classic anime series from the 1990s, and it still has a strong fan following nearly 20 years after its initial airing in Japan. Not only that, but the series has also influenced other anime that have produced in the years after Neon Genesis Evangelion was released.

While this series may have some issues, it was still revolutionary for its time because it took chances that anime hadn’t really explored much previously.

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