Neon Genesis Evangelion is the story of the fourteen year old Shinji Ikari, who is summoned to Tokyo-3 by his father, the supreme commander of the special agency Nerv, to pilot a giant robot known as an "Evangelion" against unknown attackers referred to simply as "Angels".
While this may seem like every other anime in which an untrained adolescent inexplicable finds themselves as the pilot for an advanced robot, it is distinctly more than that. Evangelion is a series which weaves numerous references and influences from the mecha genre into a collage of religious symbolism, psychological drama, and emotional catharsis. It begins lightheartedly, and once the situation and characters have been thoroughly defined, the show takes an immediate reversal and tangents into an intensely personal and disturbing look into the lives of the characters, which is what the show is ultimately about. The director's intent was to burn his thoughts and feelings into film, and he does so in a unique and powerful way that is undeniably the reason for Evangelion's continued success and popularity.
Evangelion is a show that I became interested in very early on in my anime fandom. At the age of sixteen, I began collecting the show over a period of about a year. It at first appeared mediocre, and I even questioned whether I wanted to continue collecting it. Obviously I continued to collect, and after a few tapes, I got hooked. The peculiar shift in the emotional tone of the show midway through and the ending episodes which were nothing more than psychological character examination were intriguing to me. My own emotional issues and confusion of personal identity resonated with that of the characters. Unlike the director, Hideaki Anno, who disliked the parts of Evangelion that he was in, I in fact liked the parts which I was in.
One cannot deny the power of what Hideaki Anno was expressing with Evangelion. But it is understandable how the show divides viewers into two stark contrasts. Some love it, and some hate it, and there isn't much of a grey area in-between. Sure, some are generally indifferent, but I find that there are fewer casual fans than those that have a fervorous love or hate for it. Evangelion is a powerful expression that resonates within some, and simply agitates others. Some are turned off by the indecisive and at times repulsive nature of some the characters. For others, it is the complicated plot and religious symbolism that turns them off. Many people tend to avoid entertainment that requires them to think and interpret beyond the usual level. Many simply want another Naruto, Inuyasha, or Fullmetal Alchemist. Not to say these are bad or juvenile series, but they are simple entertainment with little lasting value. Many people are attracted to the fantasy of these simpler forms of entertainment, which they can avoid dwelling upon. Evangelion on the other hand draws you in, and forces you to dwell. Even I will admit that I've grown weary of that fact over the years.
After ten years, the show's animation is still rather impressive given the show's modest budget. It certainly doesn't hold a candle to some of what is being produced these days with the aid of digital technology. Nevertheless, the show's animation doesn't look dated these days, and looks pretty impressive thanks to the recent remastering. I've never been very impressed by Sagisu Shiro's score for the series, even though a few notable exceptions come to mind, along with a number of excellent classical pieces interspersed towards the end of the show and into the movies. The voice acting is still some of the finest ever, and is still at times haunting, chilling, and at saddening.
Numerous shocking moments, a complex multifaceted plot, and some of the most genuine and compelling characters make Evangelion one of the most timeless pieces of animation out there. It is a show that you can watch over and over, it can stew in your brain, and be some of the best brain candy film has to offer. The plot and characters are complex, and each subsequent viewing brings you closer and closer to understanding them. However, you can never truly understand them. Whenever you think you've come close to understanding a character, a new dynamic opens up, and you are forced to redefine your understanding of that character. For some this is a fascinating prospect, for others, it is simply annoying. The plot is similar in nature. Just when you thought you understood exactly what everything means, something new comes to your attention that completely turns your understanding of the show on its head. Again, you will love it or you will hate it.
Evangelion is very much a love and hate creation, which is intriguing for the fact that Evangelion is a cathartic and expressionistic piece of art. Some will love it, and some will hate it. But I believe that anyone willing to sit down, and give it a honest chance will like it, especially if they are willing to invest a piece of themselves, and empathize with what Hideaki Anno was trying to express. Those that are willing to accept that expression will find Evangelion to be one of the most stirring and impactful works of film they will ever experience, one worthy of time, thought, and reflection.