Director/Writer: Hideaki Anno
Animation Studios: Tasunoko Production and Gainax
Version Watched: Subbed
[Note: Though I do not explicitly mention The End of Evangelion, this review can be considered to apply to it as well as the original series.]
Here we go again. Neon Genesis Evangelion is a series that I’ve been hearing about since I first became aware of anime as a medium. I’ve received multiple suggestions to give it a go and have always planned to get around to it eventually. Firstly, it’s a series that has been described to me in many ways; as a turning point in the history of anime itself, as a hugely deep and complex exploration of the human psyche, as a Rorschach Diagram that each viewer will take a different message from. According to Wikipedia, it even sparked a review of the cultural value of anime in Japan. The unfortunate thing is that all of Evangelion’s various claims to fame, all of its references and all of its symbolism, do not keep it from being a terrible anime.
It’s 2015, and humanity’s situation is very different to our own. The massive disaster that took place 15 years ago, known as the Second Impact, caused a dramatic rise in sea levels worldwide and completely altered Earth’s weather patterns. And now humanity is faced with another threat. Shinji Ikari finds himself whisked away to a secret underground military base to combat the mysterious beings known as “Angels”. With huge variability in shape and size, their most obvious similarity to one another is the havoc they wreak wherever they are sighted. Shinji is one of the only children capable of piloting humanity’s greatest hope in its struggle to survive, the Eva Unit. Only their creators can understand the science behind the creation of the mech-like weapons, and only their pilots can understand the horrors of using them.
To begin with, Evangelion is simply average. An interesting concept is explored via a slow-paced, relatively repetitive story that hints at underlying secrets in order to keep its viewers engaged. It tends to skim over exploration of character emotions and plot points that could have lifted the series up, rushing through smaller details while being ponderously slow on the macroscopic level. There are some interesting character interactions to be seen, but as with other aspects of the show their relationships deserved to be fleshed out to a greater degree, and some characters receive very little attention despite being arguably important to the plot. On the bright side, the Evas themselves are wonderfully mysterious and showcase some excellent animation (regarding both artistic skill and choreography/directorship) during the odd moment they are on camera, in contrast to the rest of the visuals that show their age without impacting negatively on the viewing experience.
Now. It’s worth mentioning that every single recommendation for Eva I received came with a big “but” attached to the end of it and it turns out that there was a good reason for that. My regular readers will know that I value entertainment over symbolism/themes. I believe that it’s relatively easy to slap a whole bunch of themes and symbolism on a concept, but that it takes real skill to turn that into a coherent and enjoyable narrative. Evangelion defaults on a number of fronts once it enters its second half, not all of which can be explained by funding issues, to become a tedious, borderline unintelligible slog that I simply cannot call anything but “horrific”.
To start at the conclusion, closure is one aspect of good writing that Evangelion fails to provide. The story as we know it just ends a few episodes before the finale, meaning that the viewer is left in limbo with regard to the outcome of the tale for both the characters involved and the world itself. While fans of the series have a number of explanations for why this might be, it doesn’t change the fact that the series fails to conclude the narrative it had been building until that point. This is all made worse by the sheer number of revelations the series attempts to build up to in its earlier episodes. Instead of trying to tie those loose ends together, Gainax resorts to showing numerous still or near-still images with vague ties to earlier symbols and themes in a sad attempt to retain credibility. It was painful to sit through that, to be honest, waiting to see whether anything meaningful was going to happen, whether the curtain would suddenly be lifted on an appropriate and comprehensible ending thereby revealing the elaborate prank that those episodes legitimately seemed to be (because they were simply that bad).
Before anyone starts trying to tell me that I don’t understand what I’m talking about and that understanding Evangelion is mere child’s play to the sophisticated individual (trust me, it’s going to happen), I need to say that before writing this I’ve done my research regarding the overall plot that doesn’t show up in Evangelion (including fan theories/non-canon releases) and discussed its more abstract components with its fans…and I still haven’t been able to find a response that has satisfied me. There’s such a disconnect from what the anime is to begin with that any meaning is lost to how jarringly out of character the ending is. With all of the plot holes riddling the anime itself – and there are a ton of them, so don’t expect to have anything at all answered for you – the series of events portrayed barely make sense, and it would only take that one type of child that we all know and love asking “why?” repeatedly to knock the whole arrangement over.
Summary – There are series I don’t like while still being able to see why others enjoy them, then there are those for which I cannot identify any reason for the resulting popularity they receive. If you haven’t yet guessed, Evangelion falls into the latter category. Moving from an average but enjoyable (and coherent!) tale into a sad excuse for an anime that throws away any hope for a logical and satisfying conclusion, it makes so many basic errors of storytelling that I am completely baffled by what thought processes might have allowed its release. Evangelion’s entirety moves beyond simple poor quality – it’s pathetic, and there are very few productions for which I hold a similar level of disdain.
Score: 3/10 – Bad