One of the seminal anime of the '90s, if not of all-time, Neon Genesis: Evangelion is about to find a brand new audience when it hits Netflix worldwide this Friday. The recent Evangelion movies won't be available on Netflix, but the original series will. It's still mandatory watching for any Evangelion binge, and even today there are some episodes that still stand the test of time.
Fair warning: if you haven't watched Evangelion before, this is not the place for you. I'll be delving into the biggest moments, the heaviest emotional beats, and the bits that give Evangelion its magic. Stay away if you want to experience it for the first hand.
Final warning: Not messing around here. If you want to discover Evangelion for yourself, proceed no further.
The Beginning and the End, or Knockin' on Heaven's Door
The best of Evangelion plays out in the mind, and the most brutal psychological trauma plays out with Asuka utterly broken from the off, and Shinji completely shattered at the conclusion. The intimacy of Kaworu's friendship — a concept Shinji never really comprehends in theory or practice throughout the series — overwhelms Shinji, but the troubled pilot isn't the only one whose mental anguish leaves them ruined.
Misato's trust in everyone, courtesy of Kaji, is already shot. It's further crippled after a discussion with Ritsuko, who's imprisoned by this point, who hints at Kaworu's real purpose. There's no faith left in the institutions around her, and the one person she could trust for their flaws — Shinji — leaves her completely horrified by the end.
Eventually, Evangelions reduce everything and everyone around them to nothing.
He was aware that he was still a child
A good cliffhanger is common place these days, thanks to the effect of Netflix and streaming services. But episode 21, which recaps the beginnings of the Second Impact while NERV searches for deputy commander Fuyutsuki, left fans divided and enthralled as they mulled over what happened.
At the start of the episode, the audience is pretty aware of Kaji's fate at this point. Revealed as an intelligence agent for the Japanese government, Kaji's dogged pursuit of the truth between NERV and Seele makes it all but certain he'll be killed. After the abduction of Fuyutsuki, Kaji is the most obvious candidate, and Misato is taken into custody as a likely co-conspirator (but soon released thereafter).
Having described his mission as his last in a phone call to Misato, it's then made clear that Kaji has abducted — or at least assisted — Fuyutsuki to get some answers. On freeing the vice commander, Kaji notes that he's likely to die anyway once Seele discovers he brought the Adam embryo to Gendo. We're then treated to probably two of the most iconic scenes in the series: Kaji speaking to an unknown figure, and Misato breaking down upon a final voicemail.
The Evangelion crew isn't complete with Asuka Langley Soryu, the over-confident, hyper-intelligent German/Japanese pilot who doesn't appear in the series until episode 8. Having gone through a few battles already, Asuka provides a natural foil for the dourness of Rei and timid uncertainty of Shinji.
The episode just doesn't introduce Asuka, however: it's also the introduction for Kaji, who's acting as Asuka's escort from NERV's German branch. And apart from embarrassing Misato in front of the other pilots (much to his amusement and Shinji's), Kaji also delivers the embryo for Adam, without Seele's knowledge (something they won't discover until much later in the series, but not in time to hinder Gendo's plans).
Evangelion doesn't have too many light-hearted episodes, especially once the pilots are established and the threat of the Angels becomes ever more dire. Asuka Strikes! is an exception to the rule, and it's one of the better balanced and paced episodes of the first arc. Asuka and Kaji provided much needed energy and humour, while providing some much needed backstory and insight into the scope of NERV, and the theological and paranormal roots that will become more prominent later on.
The sound of the cicadas, and NERV's total desperation to save humanity with the most unqualified individuals imaginable: that's the base of Evangelion, at least until the psychological trauma kicks in. It makes for an effective opening, but what's still great about the first episode is how well it sets the scene, and especially the sounds, for the underpinning of the series ever since.
It's especially famous here for the sound of the Japanese cicadas, something any Australian who has lived in a regional or rural town during the summer would be familiar with. Those cicadas — which sound different to the Australian variety — are a constant feature of Tokyo-3, because the city lives in a constant summer thanks to climate change wrought by the Second Impact.
The episode also sets up a lot of the pacing, which is infinitely slower than most of what you'll find on Netflix today: a lot of pauses, scenes overcast with only ambient noise, and ruminations as characters deal with their current conflict.
It's here that the brutality of NERV, and a permanent shift in the tone of the series, kicks in. Gendo's true nature, and just how little he cares for the pilots or the well-being of others, becomes powerfully apparent. Shinji's forced to witness what he's undeniably certain is the murder of his best friend, someone he adamantly strove to keep out of an Evangelion, and someone who's life is now irreparably damaged.
The flow-on effects are enormous. Shinji's mental state is horribly crippled, thanks to Gendo's use of the dummy plug system, and two of the last bastions of positivity and naive hope — Toji and Hikari — are brutally crushed under the reality of NERV, and what humanity has to do to survive.
Shinji's put into a difficult bind, too. His cowardice in making decisions crops up when he refuses to fight, but it serves another purpose too by refusing to blindly follow the orders of NERV and his father, which marks a step forward for him. It ultimately amounts to nothing, but it is a small measure of growth amongst what is, for almost everyone involved, an abject disaster for the pilots and NERV.
What are your favourite episodes and moments from Evangelion?
Making plans for the weekend? Then they should probably include Evangelion, because the seminal series is hitting Australian Netflix at the end of the week.