NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (1995)
Updated: Apr 11, 2020
Anime mediocrity turned into international phenomenon!
Director: Hideaki Anno
Cast/Voices: Megumi Ogata, Kotono Mitsuishi, Yuko Miyamura, Megumi Hayashibara
Related films: The End of Evangelion, Gundam, Macross, Gunbuster, Patlabor
It is tough to review a legendary anime series twenty years after it was released. Not only have the times changed, but what made the series seem innovative and groundbreaking in 1995 appears run of the mill to the audience of our day.
Nevertheless, NGE undoubtedly influenced a whole generation of anime and sci-fi followers. It was both stereotypical and pioneering at the same time. It showed enormous potential, but ultimately stumbled, as a result of its over-sized ambitions. NGE could have been one of the greatest anime series of all time. Instead it fell short, by reaching too far.
The story is straight forward, at least for the first 15 episodes. Humanity is under attack by alien forces. The enemy appears in the sky, one after the other, in the shape of giant monsters called «angels». By researching alien technology, the humans try to fight back.
As such the enemy forces are countered by huge robotic entities, controlled by a few selected teenagers. On paper the plot might seem ridiculous, but somehow it works well, due to its unrefined naivete and captivating fight sequences.
The first five episodes had the potential of a classic anime, but two major problems made NGE shake like a house of cards, standing outside on brisk autumn day. For one, the character development is lacking from a to z.
Throughout the series only two characters can be said to be properly developed. These are the protagonist Shinji, and his caretaker and landlord Misato. A few other character backgrounds are explored to some extent, but not enough for the audience to bond or care for the characters.
The other major issue is the haphazard structure of episodes. As mentioned, the first five episodes made for a strong start. It all felt fresh and invigorating. Soon thereafter emerged a highly predictable episode pattern: The monsters arrive, a counterattack is deployed, and the day is saved. At this point the fight sequences became equally repetitive and predicable, which in turn led to a dive in interest.
By the 15th episode NGE had lost its grip and seemed to be a lost cause. But then an unexpected turn of events made it all become worthwhile. The story dived into uncharted territories, exploring the background of (some of) the characters and the current crisis that occurred. As such, the series moved from a state of child like fantasy to an elaborate sci-fi vision of unfathomable depth. NGE seemed to redeem itself, but then came the series finale …
In short, NGE would probably be a more enjoyable watch with one third of its content trimmed away. Skipping episodes 6-15 would not take anything away, rather it would make for a more succinct experience than watching the whole thing. Episodes 6-15 mainly consists of meaningless intrigues and dilemmas of the soap opera kind, and will surely challenge your patience more than once.
Episode 8 is obligatory to some though, as it introduces the iconic Asuka, but then again, she might just be the most overrated anime superstar of all time. Rarely did we see a more annoying character than Asuka, with her constant nagging and immature attitude.
This leads us to the two-part season finale, which was shunned by many fans, due to its bizarre change in tone. In large part the finale consists of elaborations on the characters’ inner problems. This could have been a good thing if the presentation matched the content.
Instead we are offered a sea of sequences that can best be described as Eisenstein-like montage clips. In itself the dialogue is quite interesting, but to end an action packed sci-fi series with two episodes going down a surreal rabbit hole was a mistake.
Had the finale been split up and spread out over the entire series - like tiny character-building drops of background information - it would have added depth in a much more effective manner. As it stood the two last episodes made for a weak ending, which only underlined the series’ prevailing tendency of poor episode structuring.
Luckily the makers of NGE took notice of the disgruntled fan reactions and made a proper ending in the guise of a feature film. The End of Evangelion was released to years later, and should preferably be watched together with the series.
Unfortunately, for this series there simply does not exist a version good enough for us to recommend. Several DVD’s and Blu-ray releases can be found online, but be advised: These vary greatly in quality, some are without subtitles, and keep regions in mind. Ebay or Yesasia are probably your best bets.
PS: At the moment NGE is available on Netflix. Anime lovers rejoice!