Evangelion Isn't Fun, But It's Still Worth Watching

Screenshot: Netflix

Neon Genesis Evangelion is coming to Netflix in the spring of 2019, making it available to watch in America without pirating it or shelling out hundreds of dollars for an out-of-print box set.

It’s a show that’s had a huge impact on me, and one I ultimately find more interesting than strictly enjoyable. Despite its depressive tone and meandering plot, it’s worth watching for anyone interested in anime as an art form.

Neon Genesis Evangelion was directed by Hideki Anno, who previously worked at Studio Ghibli before co-founding Gainax. It was broadcast on television from 1995 to 1996, then followed up with a few movies.

Despite the studio struggling to finish the show and running out of money in the process, Eva is one of the most celebrated and influential animes of all time.

I was probably too young to see Evangelion when I watched it, which is why it’s permanently imprinted in my brain. I was 13 and coming to terms with the fact that there was an imbalance in my brain chemistry that made me numb to all emotions, as well as doing my best to ignore my suspicions that I wasn’t straight.

Watching Eva when your mind is in that state is like sticking your brain in a blender. Anno himself struggled with depression during the production of Evangelion, and the show deliberately taps into the fraught headspace of people deep in the throes of mental illness.

The show centres around Shinji Ikari, whose absent father retrieves Shinji to make him a pilot of a giant mech called an Eva in order to fight the monstrous enemies called Angels that are attacking the futuristic city of Tokyo-3.

At the time the show premiered, this was a pretty common setup for giant mecha shows. Someone’s dad is a scientist who made them a giant robot after abandoning them for years, and instead of traumatising the child they’re overjoyed. Eva took a different approach. Shinji hated and resented his father; he doesn’t want to pilot an Eva or fight in a war, but he has to do it anyway. Things go poorly.

Over the course of the series Shinji and his fellow pilots are so changed by their experiences as child soldiers that they begin to lose their grips on reality.

Asuka Langely Soryu, the fiery ace pilot, is so focused on success that she can’t make connections with other people and expresses her deep loneliness as anger. Rei Ayanami is a docile, submissive woman who literally has no identity of her own, a fact which slowly untangles her.

As the show progresses, becoming more and more grim, the next episode previews continue to ironically promise more fanservice.

Screenshot: Netflix

It’s not fun spending time with these characters. It’s not enjoyable to watch Shinji come close to a mental health breakthrough episode after episode, only to push away the people who care about him in the end.

There’s a reason why “Shinji, get in the fucking robot,” has become a joke among fans. Eva is slow and plodding, and sometimes characters feel more like mouthpieces for Anno’s thoughts about society than actual characters. It’s still brilliant. Every time I watch it I feel like I’m being transported inside Anno’s brain.

Art doesn’t have to be fun to be impactful. I don’t love watching Citizen Kane, but Orson Welles’s skill as a director is still shocking after all these years. I’ll probably never read Watchmen again, but it’s a beautiful example of how to tell interconnected stories in a comic format, and it fundamentally changed comics in its wake.

I’ve been in the middle of Infinite Jest for several years at this point, and although I read novel-length portions I love every once and a while, getting through it is a chore. But in their respective genres, these works made such an impact on their respective forms that I felt like I have to at least attempt to experience them so I can really understand their influence.

Screenshot: Netflix

Don’t watch Neon Genesis Evangelion when it comes to Netflix expecting to have a good time. Watch it so you can understand how this particular show lives on through the shows that it influenced: the ripoffs that came in its wake like (arguably) RahXephon, Ganaix’s later metatextual offerings like Tenga Toppa Gurren Lagaan, shows that deconstruct their genre like Madoka Magika does, or even Hollywood movies like Pacific Rim.

Watch it for its frankly beautiful animation, especially the brain-melting, Non-Euclidean designs of the enemy Angels and the expressiveness of the rough sketches and line drawings from near the end when the studio ran out of money. Watch it to see a hard but truthful expression of what it’s like to be struggling with depression.

At the very least, watch it so that whenever you see a pale-skinned, blue-haired, submissive female character in an anime, you know where that trope came from.


Comments

    interesting observation. I actually quite enjoyed it when I first watched it as a 13 year old kid myself...

    I found the fact that everyone was a little more stressed, a little more depressed about life and all a little mentally unstable made more sense in that apocalyptic setting, and I enjoyed learning more about those characters. Though I was also one of the few who actually liked the original ending.

    And while I totally agree with the trope spawned by Rei, back then I always felt she, along with all the other nameless NERV staff and military personnel who kept getting injured or killed with no effect on the outcome of battles was a good representation for the majority of the world, people who shut up, got shit done or died trying and didn't feel a need to complain about it...

    Watch it so you can understand how this particular show lives on through the shows that it influenced:Why is Martian Successor Nadesico, a show that parodies many elements of Evangelion, not on this list?

    In terms of Evangelion itself, I must be one of the rare people that enjoy it. Probably because I love anything that's cerebral or metaphorical and just trashes the norm of happy endings and constant optimism for a more bleak and realistic look at life.

      The first two thirds of the series is great I think. The last third or so when they were running out of money really blows though I think. Some people like it but I didn't. And you can clearly see the shift when it happens.

      The two movies that followed did very little to explain anything either...the first one was mostly just rehashed stuff from those final few episodes and the 2nd movie was just totally weird. I don't have high hopes for the third movie but you never know.

      Nadesico came out only slightly after Evangelion, so it's hard to argue that it parodies Eva. It is, more broadly, a parody of a lot of the tropes that Eva uses, so it can feel like it's a direct parody, but I would argue that it came out too close in time to really be a direct parody.

      It's also a fantastic anime that everyone should watch, though and You Get To Burning is still one of my favourite OPs.

        Nadesico and You Get To Burning are indeed awesome :)

      Because it didn't? Nadesico is a parody of early 90s otaku culture, which means it feeds on some of the same source material, but it wasn't directly influenced by Evangelion because Evangelion hadn't been around long enough to exert enough influence to be pariodied.

    I first watched Evangelion when it aired on SBS once. I loved it, it was full of weird cerebral crap, most of it made no sense at all but at least had the appearance of making sense in its own world, and I have the sound of Japanese cicadas etched into my brain forever.

    I wish people would just stop calling the EVAs Robots. They are not Robots, they are organic beings with no souls.

    I had the theory that the EVA was the genetic life form from Shinji's mothers DNA, hence why it always protected him. We never find out how they grown or from what they are grown. Unless they came from Lilith.....

    I get what Gita is saying, but Eva is filled with truly fun moments (well, up until the point when things start cascading into an accelerating, inevitable shitstorm and there's no time or reason for fun anymore).

    The domestic slapstick at Misato's house is top notch. Asuka teasing Shinji while teaching him about dilation was pretty fun too. The episode where Asuka and Shinji must learn to synchronise in order to defeat the twinned Angel is pure, unadulterated joy from beginning to epic end. Man, what a fantastic series.

    Evangelion stands up amazingly well for its age. There's just something instantly striking about it.

    Can we take a moment to talk about this "Official Trailer" from Netflix though? What the heck is going on with the music? They had a highly distinctive, excellent score to draw from but their trailer is just some random percussion track that sounds like it came from a royalty-free BGM library? Is that the level of effort we're getting for this release?

    I haven't seen this since it aired on SBS, but so much is burned into my memory

      If you were the right age for it, at the right time, it was probably incredibly formative. I know it was for me. Without it, I would never have got into anime the way I did.

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