It's OK To Not Like Evangelion

A couple of months ago, I found myself in a drunken argument about Neon Genesis Evangelion.

We were standing on an otherwise empty street outside an apartment complex in Brooklyn at around 10 p.m. last May. I had only seen half of Evangelion’s 26-episode run, at which point I had decided that Gainax’s classic coming-of-age mecha anime was not resonating with me.

My friend, with whom I’ve been watching anime since elementary school, has rewatched the series six times, and argued that seeing just half of it wasn’t enough for me to form a judgment on whether it was to my taste.

“You don’t have to see a whole show to know you don’t like it,” I said in response. I cover anime for Kotaku, and generally will stop watching a new anime series after four episodes if it’s not grabbing me. That leaves me more time to watch what I do like, or hell, go on a bike ride or bake a strawberry tart.

You should, he said, especially Evangelion, a show that famously ends in a moody teen grease fire involving self-acceptance and the death of gods.

“Yeah? What about Naruto?” I said. The popular shonen anime series ran for 220 episodes. Do I have to watch all of them before I can decide if I like it?

“Yep.”


Neon Genesis Evangelion, long out of print on DVD, landed on Netflix last week. If the flash flood of tweets and articles that followed it attest to its popularity, it was the weekend’s must-watch (or rewatch) media for anime fans, or anyone intrigued by the timeless appeal of the 24-year-old jewel in the crown of anime canon.

The show follows Shinji Ikari, an acquiescent teen boy thrust into the position of world-saver by his father, who commands NERV, an organisation that creates the giant Evangelion robots.

With the help of a band of sexy ladies, some of whom operate their own Evangelion, Shinji grapples with perennial teen questions like “Who am I?” “Do I have a self?” and “What does it mean to act of my own free will?”

A generation of anime fans would not hesitate to say that Evangelion defined their childhoods, their tastes in media, perhaps even their worldviews. An attention to cinematography and an apparent reverence for Freudian psychology launched Evangelion into anime’s galactic star cluster, joining Dragon Ball Z, Mobile Suit Gundam, and other explosion-filled hero quests.

In 1995, Evangelion was as revelatory to anime fans as the Christian themes it toys with. But some fans elevated Evangelion beyond “must-see;” for them, it was “must-like.”

Over the weekend, I watched Evangelion in its entirety with furious curiosity, and found it more to my liking than I had when I watched the first half, back in college. I’d tuned in at the behest of my roommate, who wouldn’t shut up about it while I was holed up finishing Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

And yet, despite my having now developed great affinity for the over-honest Evangelion pilot Asuka Soryu and NERV’s operations director Misato Katsuragi, a secret slob, the show still doesn’t do it for me.

Mindful of its status as a classic magnum opus, I kept thinking of the anime that followed it that touched me more: Madoka Magica, Made In Abyss, Nana, and yes, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood—some of it clearly inspired by what Evangelion had made canon. I didn’t find Evangelion deep or relatable. It was a thing I should see.

Although I firmly believe you don’t have to sink hours into something you don’t like just to measure up to other fans’ snobbery, there was still within me a certain shame that I had seen just half of Evangelion. Now there’s some small shame in feeling little more than ambivalent about it. If you’ve ever seen an anime fan jump down someone’s throat for disliking Cowboy Bebop or FLCL, maybe you understand this sort of internalised judgement. After the credits began to roll at the end of episode 26, I asked myself one of the questions Evangelion’s Shinji asks himself ad nauseum throughout the show: “What do I fear?”

Lest this story devolve into the long-winded version of the meme “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but,” I want to offer a certain kind of Evangelion viewer a release. If you came out of the Evangelion experience underwhelmed or confused; if you stopped watching it the moment the third woman was introduced by a breast or panty shot; if you felt the show was written for a younger demographic; if the show’s famously shitty ending (the studio allegedly ran out of money) made you violently break your Pocky in half and want to forget you ever heard of Evangelion— there isn’t anything wrong with you.

Anime fandom is a fandom of consumption. There’s a reason why sites like MyAnimeList exist, where fans’ profiles are comprised of colour-coded stat breakdowns of anime they’ve watched, completed, or put on hold. There’s a reason why the stereotypical otaku bedroom is papered with anime posters, cluttered with statuettes, stacked with plush toys.

There’s a reason why, at anime conventions, fans race to label what anime inspired which obscure cosplay, like zoologists on safari. The excitement to connect fuels much of this, but underlying that is another rarely-spoken thing: The more authentic the fan, the more anime they’ve consumed, and the more classics they revere.

There’s a certain subcultural cachet that comes with having consumed and loved Evangelion and its kin back in the 90s or early 00s. The mad rush to watch or rewatch the show, to get the memes and to understand the tangled plot, might, for some, stem from feeling left out. Everybody wants to feel included—another Evangelion theme—and appreciating a classic, or better yet, all of the classics, is a club badge. Longtime anime fans are the guardians of the traditions, and it benefits them to set the standards of fandom.

In what constitutes as “forever ago” in internet years, we were all having this conversation about who a “gamer” is. Is it somebody who grew up playing the Nancy Drew games, The Sims, and Animal Crossing? Is it somebody who grew up playing Doom and Halo and Counter-Strike, and has continued to play first-person shooters since? What if they never touched a game until last year, and now, all they do is play Overwatch? Is it someone who only plays FIFA on Xbox? What if they play three hours of mobile games every day?

This is the baggage around identities so reliant on consumption and the worship of cultural classics.

It’s easier today to be an ambient fan of anime, or a casual one, or even a newly-minted diehard fan now that ten thousand fragments of ten thousand cultures and fandoms can cohabitate on Netflix or YouTube or whatever other behemoth video platform. Streaming services, with their inscrutable algorithms and huge catalogues of niche content, push us to give everything a taste-test.

If you don’t like a spoonful of Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop or Gundam, grab a scoop of some old reliable or flavour of the week and call it a day. Nobody is any less of a fan of ice cream, video games or anime because their tastes don’t fit a certain profile.


As our argument of a few months back continued simmering on the streets of Brooklyn, another friend wandered out of the apartment building. He was a practitioner of Judo. “So,” I said to my friend, “if he were to Judo throw you just once, would that be enough for you to know you didn’t like it? Or would he have to do it three times? Five times? Hundreds of times?”

“I don’t know,” he said. Suddenly, in one swift movement, our mutual friend picked him up, twisted him over, and laid him out on the pavement, unharmed but definitely surprised.

“Should he do it again? Did you like that?” I said.

“I don’t know if I liked that,” he said.


Comments

    I liked Evangelion until the ending, which I found later was not an unusual opinion to have.

    Comparing an anime to judo is totally a fair comparison. /s

    I feel the biggest thing fans of NGE do is confuse its dense themes with being deep or revelationary. Whilst the concepts it toys with are somewhat interesting, it devolves into motif matching rather than genuine exposition (and I would argue the best point for this is how many of the motifs most viewers dont get or understand until they go read a wiki about it).

    I enjoyed watching NGE, I can understand why it has the place it does, but I feel like that place is held similarly to how the Beatles are in rock, it was one of the first to do it, but others have come and surpassed it.

      I agree. I love NGE to bits and say its recommended viewing for anime fans who are willing to tolerate some nonsense and older anime tropes. But high-art, it is not.
      In fact very few anime I'd argue have the actual deep conceptual and psychological layers that fans rave about. Some aren't deep, just confusing. Some try to justify tropes as a deeper commentary (looking at you, Darling in the Franxx). Must most (not all) anime is just... entertainment.

      A position that may upset some people but I stand by it.

      I don't think it's even that people miss things until they read a wiki. I think it's that once you read the wiki that's it. The statements are what they are and they're very clear about it, so it ends up feeling more like trivia than a complicated exploration of anything.

      Also I tend to find anime writers sacrifice the surface level for the deeper stuff. Character motivations and general storytelling structure goes out the window once things get deep. It's like they expect the audience to focus exclusively on the deeper parts and since that's not deep enough to blow my mind anymore I find myself also looking at the surface level where nothing makes any sort of sense.

    There are many anime series/movies I have loved over the years. NGE is not one of them. There's a reason Freud is a footnote in modern psychology.

    When I was younger, I used to watch South Park every Monday night on SBS. South Park was my favourite TV show. At one point, they stopped airing South Park for a number of months to instead run through every episode of Evangelion. Being a moody and stubborn teenager at the time, I refused to watch it and then decided I hate Evangelion for what it did to my Monday nights.

    I'm not a stubborn teenager anymore though so I'll probably watch it soon to "see what all the fuss is about", but if I haven't got into it after 5 or 6 episodes I'll be moving on. After Nightflyers, I can no longer force myself to sit through something on a false hope that it will stop sucking.

      Just watch the original dub pls or japanese with subs. new dub (and subtitles) are bad.

        I usually go for Japanese with subs whenever it's an option so you won't need to worry about that...

          Alright, sweet.
          Well hope you like it whenever you decide to try it.

      You'll probably get into it after the first 5 or 6 episodes. It's the last 5 or 6 episodes where it might lose you.

    I'm re-watching it and its still enjoyable to me now. That said, I understand that there's stuff I love that others will not, and its not up to me to force them to like it. If they don't want to watch Eva, that's their choice and nothing I say or do will probably change that.

    Quoting the Matrix "I can only show you the door, you're the one who has to walk through it"

    It's OK To Not Like Evangelion

    No it isn't.

      It's totally fine to dislike Evangelion. It's important to be wrong from time to time. It's a learning process. :p

    Evangelion is to Anime as Star Wars is to SciFi and Lord of the Rings is to fantasy.
    They are like the model T Ford.
    The model T was a brilliant car in its day and set the scene for the whole of the automotive world since. It's an absolute, important classic and deserves its venerated place in history.
    But you sure don't want to commute in one: cars made these days are far better, they have improved on the formula the Model T set.
    Same thing with Evangelion and Star Wars and LotR: amazing in their day. But there is better stuff out there now.

      Haaaahaha. You poor clueless fool, distracted by whatever is new and shiny. Stories have been around for many thousands of years, the ones that last do so for a reason and age can never dull them.

      Yeah. I really liked Evangelion when it came out, but after watching newer stuff (specifically, Code Geass) I find it unbearable to watch. The Whingey Shinji is not fun and gets old quick. I'll never say it's a bad anime, but there's certainly better stuff out there

      I'm sorry but I have to disagree. NGE is not a poster child for a genre that is made for a mass market. If the differences are not blatantly obvious to you then I can't help but feel sorry for you.

      Bait?
      looks like bait, smells like bait, lucky i didnt bite it.

    Sure it is. In the same way that it's technically 'ok' to be ignorant or obese or a sociopath. If someone is so shallow, dense or without substance to not be able to appreciate what NGE provides, then for me at least they are not someone worth knowing.

    I watched the original videotape dub, the original videotape japanese with english subs and the dvd version with the more modern subs. I had a friend who thought it was the greatest series ever made so I had the relive it every year for a few years.

    SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.

    In every iteration the themes come across like someone who has done 1st year philosophy and no more, whilst there are bits to admire (the angels being driven by dead souls of people related to the pilots), the vast sum of them are clumsily handled compared to other anime such as Bebop, MCoG and Alita etc.

    These all seemed to go into greater depth and a bit more realistic characterisation, particularly with the emotional and character development arc of characters like Spike & Faye, and when you then compare it to the science fiction novels that were already out by people like William Gibson, Isaac Asimov, John Wyndham, Larry Niven, Harry Harrison (hey soylent green!), E.e. Doc Smith (although his characters are fairly 2d) etc. it makes it all the more apparent. Particularly Gibson who was already talking about human souls and minds inside machines and the problems/possibilities this may result in. I think my biggest problem here is that none of the characters change at all, Rei changes allegiences once, the rest of the characters do not develop but remain as they are in the first ep.

    The plot is pretty basic with no real drive by the main characters to find out more about their enemies or really change their situation, most characters seem to be present simply for outright exposition (eg. Shinjis father throughout most of the series). The ending was a deus ex machina, very similar to Star Trek episodes, a little more planned but still very convenient to the series, it also does raise the question of why one of the human antagonists didn't initiate the end earlier using other means of control which are fairly obviously in use (emotional/psychological manipulation with Rei). I can't quite remember if there was a reason for waiting so long as it has been a long time since I watched it, just remember thinking at the time there were a lot of little stupid things like that.

    Animation was pretty damn good for the time.

    Last edited 25/06/19 5:45 pm

      Neither SEELE or Gendo could initiate the Third Impact before the time when they did it. Gendo had Lilith but not Adam and SEELE needed Unit 01 to get an S2 engine from an Angel before bothering to steal it for their artificial Third Impact. They each got what they needed shortly before they commenced their endgame.

    Somethings are best left in the past. Recently i have rewatched after several years animes I enjoyed as a teenager. Now nearing my 40's I'm watching them barely being able to tolerate them. Sometimes nostalgia is best left in the past, we all age and our tastes amd personality changes. Just leave the good ol times as the good ol times.

    I cover anime for Kotaku, and generally will stop watching a new anime series after four episodes if it’s not grabbing me.

    Shit, dude. That's pretty damn generous. I have written shit off in the first ten minutes of the first episode. 2-3 episodes it probably the absolute most I'm willing to sit through a series I'm not yet enjoying.

    Life is fucking short.

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