[Anime Review]: Neon Genesis Evangelion (+End of Evangelion)

 

Evangelion.jpg

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.

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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”.

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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.

evangelion3

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

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About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
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18 Responses to [Anime Review]: Neon Genesis Evangelion (+End of Evangelion)

  1. Eren says:

    That’s harsh! I totally get it though. I didn’t like Eva either. Honestly, I thought I was missing something important, but I’m relieved to see I’m not the only one (‘: Did you watch the movies ?

    • Silvachief says:

      Eren = Blackragdoll?

      I get especially peeved when I believe something is getting more attention it deserves, and Evangelion is the king of those series. That said, I don’t think a score of 3 is unfair XD

      I think there’s plenty to miss, especially when you consider the amount of videos that explore the symbolism purportedly littered throughout the series. Whether any of that is actually important, however, will depend on the viewer.

      I haven’t watched the new movies and wasn’t planning to…but I would consider trying them if someone could tell me they were a major improvement over the series =P

      • Eren says:

        Yep, that’s me, haha!

        You know what, I find it interesting to read up on the Eva interpretations and theories, that stuff is good fun. But the anime itself is so boring.

        Idk about the movies either, I might watch them someday.

  2. chinjianxiong says:

    Hi Silvia!

    So you finally decided to touch Eva, and your reaction was kind of what I expected. I’m not going to outright attack your opinion – but here’s my perspective on some of your comments. I will try not to do a symbolic or thematic analysis – but I will just tell you what it might feel like for some people to watch Eva.

    Actually, I also don’t view the symbolism in Eva as particularly important – if what you mean by symbolism is stuff like the references to the Bible or the mystical symbols that appear all throughout the show, or the references to various kinds of thinkers. So I also don’t side with those fans that merely view it as a mystery treasure hunt. It’s kind of obvious that Eva is completely unsatisfying in terms of plot anyway.

    I think the most important draw to Eva is that it gives relatively small emotions the weight of the universe itself, and it takes the emotions of a teenage adolescent and places the entire fate of mankind on it. So the entire plot is really just an excuse to build up to Shinji’s acceptance of himself as a person – seen through his interactions with the people around him and the Angels.

    The problem with this, of course, is that Eva works better emotional therapy rather than entertainment. I was randomly looking up some people’s impressions on Eva, and it had all the kind of things like “Eva helped me get over depression” or even “Eva helped me believe Jesus Christ once again”. One of my cousins, who studies law in Britain, says her experience of watching Eva was like a kind of stress relief because it is literally just people shouting all your doubts and fears right in your face – like, for example, the fear of having to live up to other people’s high expectations (both seen in Asuka and Shinji).

    That’s why I think it’s also kind of a bad thing to look at the ‘symbolic’ and ‘thematic’ values rather than the pure emotional values. Most of it is merely explaining what it means – rather than what it actually feels like. In fact, I’ll try to come up with an analogy using another Anime (on your highly recommended list).

    Imagine if AnoHana was set during a war, and it dragged on for twice its length in episodes with Jinta doing considerably less growing up and having considerably little change – and everyone around him dies until he’s stuck as a hikikomori with the ghost of Menma amidst a wasteland. So he’s unable to make up with his friends, or build a relationship with Anaru, or do whatever Menma wanted him to do. And then at the last two episodes he finds himself in the afterlife, which is an empty world, where everyone is there all of them do nothing but scream their innermost feelings at one another and talk about how much they wanted to spend more time together etc… and after going through two episodes of that, Jinta finally makes up with those ghosts and they have a massive group hug and it just ends there.

    That kind of experience would be like strangling all your emotions, giving the characters no reprieve, leaving the main character in a useless slump – and then at the very last moment simply throwing out every single emotion of regret, or pain, or restrained love out there. It makes no logical sense at all, but to the correct kind of person it is like a complete and total emotional tidal wave. After all, there are probably tons of people out there who are also stuck in the same kind of useless slump, and they want to have all of their old regrets come to them and hug them and scream what they really felt. Furthermore, they also don’t want an ending that gives them closure – simply because it would be too fake since that kind of ending isn’t happening to them.

    Furthermore, when you combine it with the religious symbolism – you can imagine that someone who is Christian is thinking “so the Angels are like the troubles and difficulties that God sends me, and the ending is the voice telling me to carry on” – which is why I said it’s important to track the emotions, and not the themes or symbolism. Those sites that merely interpret the symbols won’t tell you what the emotional resonance of the symbols are (take note that this is not what I actually felt while watching Eva – but what speculate that that ‘I found Jesus Christ’ guy was thinking)

    The comic book critic Sarah Horrocks recounted what watching Eva felt like over here: “by the time I hit my teens I was so numb and fucked up in the head, that high school was like…something that happened to someone else. It was around this time that I ran into Neon Genesis Evangelion. Eva combined all of my issues of depression, suicide, parental issues, and religious issues into one crazy mecha punch soup. And it wrecked me. Probably Eva and reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian were the two most devastating things I did as a teen.”

    So that’s the rough analogy of what it feels like to watch Eva – and also why I think that, in this case, your critique of it as “slow-paced” and “some characters receive very little attention despite being arguably important to the plot” – are actually what is helping to build up the emotional tidal wave that occurs at the end.

    I think, though, that when you say they receive little attention, you’re probably thinking in terms of having them change or build into something else (supposedly the Rebuild series fixes that though). I think that the characters receive lots of attention in terms of their lack of change, lack of development, and all around inertia. Anno is always trying to show their lack of development and is adamant on making Shinji never grow up. It’s like watching a musical piece that plays a few slow notes, and then suddenly explodes into thunder at the correct moment, and at the end.

    • Silvachief says:

      Hey! I’ve been holding onto the review for a little while because I was expecting more people to be upset with me over it, but i’ve been pleasantly surprised on that front. I was hoping you would comment, as I find your points to be well thought out and worth considering despite our differing perspectives. I apologize if my reply is shorter or less detailed than you were hoping for, as it’s actually been over a year since I watched the series.

      I find your focus on the emotional impact of the series on a select group of viewers to be really interesting. Having been blinded, I think, by the focus many place on the symbols and references (which we both see as less important in this case), I hadn’t considered that as a point of reference from which evaluation could be made.

      Your AnoHana analogy does a good job of further illustrating your points. I would never want to watch a version of the show that was like that (and i’m sure it would receive a similar score from me), but it allowed me to better understand the thought processes experienced by those that have enjoyed Evangelion from the perspective you discuss.

      While I think my reactions to the show prove that i’m not among the audience it has succeeded in catering to (I suppose i’m satisfied enough with my lot that the emotions you mention weren’t able to resonate with me), I agree completely with your assessment of why a lack of closure actually works well in this setting. If the hero or heroine of the hour’s story ends positively, the viewer is left feeling bitter because their own story has no chance of ending that way (to their mind), while if it ends negatively it snuffs out any hope, catharsis or healing they might have otherwise gained.

      It’s been suggested to me in a previous review that I didn’t have the life experience to appreciate the quality of a particular visual novel, and at that time I wholeheartedly disagreed with that assessment. This time, however, i’m willing to admit that such a lack might well be the barrier that prevents me from seeing Evangelion as more than my review states it is. My score will remain as it is, given the goal of my blog is to cater to like-minded individuals, though if it’s alright with you i’ll make a mention of your comment at the end of the review so that it can offer this alternate perspective to readers.

      While the issue of creator intention versus consumer interpretation is a whole ‘nother issue, i’d be interested in your thoughts on a number of questions.

      Do you think Evangelion was intentionally made with the goal of providing the emotional impact we’ve discussed? If so, do you think it was the goal from the start and do you think the funding issues experienced by Gainax had any meaningful effect on this goal?

      Do you think that the same effect could have been achieved while also providing a more logical and enjoyable plot from my perspective (I’m fairly confident you understand my perspective well enough to answer this)?

      Thanks again for the comment!

      • chinjianxiong says:

        The cold atmosphere was definitely planned from Anno at the start. His cinematic style is one of the strongest in Anime out there, using cuts and silences to maintain tension. This is consistent throughout the whole series, and it’s different from some other kind of emotional manipulation like Clannad – where the tone changes drastically only in the second season. This is exactly why its such a shame that he left the industry for so long, because his skills were top tier.

        The ending, though, is widely known to be caused mainly by budget problems. I read up on How Music Works by David Bryne from the band Talking Heads. He described how being stuck in a smaller concert hall actually led him to innovate new techniques of sound production and music. Limitations can provide new possibilities.

        In this case I believe it would be a lucky miss. As I said, the effect of the ending suddenly being nothing but flashbacks and emotional outpouring was what most likely contributed to both the strong emotional resonance and the backlash from the other members of the community who wanted a cohesive story. In the end it was that controversy that contributed to the emotional resonance and made big bucks.

        If you look at Anno’s next work, which is His or Her Circumstances – it actually feels like it’s a continuation of the editing technique that was used in the last two episodes of Evangelion – except that now it’s frenetic fast-paced cutting being used to develop a romance comedy story rather than an angsty tragic one. I view His and Her Circumstances as being the stylistic precursor to Bakemonogatari and other Shaft like editing methods.

        So it doesn’t really matter how it could have turned out (although Rebuild is supposedly the ‘fix’ to Eva) – but the emotional effect just happened to be that way, and it opened up a new possibility of animating that didn’t really appear before.

        Another critic, Gwern, described the Eva phenomenon over here, while he was reviewing Uminenko: “I find it plausible that Ryukishi07 may never surpass Umineko. (I would analogize Higurashi and Umineko as similar to RahXephon and Evangelion: the former is, in many respects, a more competently done and solid work, with excellence in all areas from music to artwork to plot to overall conception, without the large flaws and stylistic choices that make many people cringe away from or even hate from the latter; but nevertheless, the lightning struck the latter, those who have consumed the latter may never forget it, and it is easy to predict which will still be debated and watched decades later.)”

        As to whether the emotional impact can be done in a more cohesive and entertaining manner – I think its possible, but it would be extremely hard – because you have to balance both humanly empathetic tortured characters with a gripping and fun plot. But the two Gainax works that came after Eva are actually great examples of the possibilities. His and Her Circumstances showed how Anno could balance his style to heighten the drama while still sticking to romance comedy – and FLCL is more or less the same type of story about an adolescent who has the weight of the universe resting on his shoulders, but it’s done in a lighter and more intense style than Evangelion. It’s so sad that HnHC was also damaged due to Anno leaving Gainax as well as budgetary problems.

        Of course a problem is that the emotional impact partially lies in empathy generated from the cynical/internally-tortured protagonist. Same with Oregairu, Cross Channel (a bit different though), and any other work that is specially catered to that. Although I am fond of Eva, I admit that it’s worldview is limited – although how it fleshes out that worldview is only to be surpassed by Inio Asano’s Manga. That is the downside to having a work that strictly appeals to creating a psychological landscape based around a certain type of personality. Those types of works are like specially made wines that have only one type of taste, but the taste is so addictive to those who can appreciate it.

        3-Gatsu no Lion is probably an example of a work that has that kind of protagonist – but breaks out of it by showing the entire color of the world that he’s situated in – and how he develops out of his slump by engaging with that world.

        On the other extreme – Serial Experiments Lain & Texhnolyze are what happens when you take the style to the opposite end of eternity. Both works have excised much of the comedy and action and are solely focused on cultivating the atmosphere.

        • Silvachief says:

          I’ll take your word for it, as i’ll admit i’m not well learned when it comes to cinematic technique or sound design. I can definitely agree with the idea of adversity resulting in new discovery, though, and also that controversy can foster greater enjoyment of a series.

          It sounds like you may not have seen the Rebuild series, but from what you know would you recommend is to me as worth watching? While I haven’t currently planned to view it I could be persuaded. Otherwise all of the other series you’ve mentioned are all on my “To Watch” list so it’s only a matter of time before I encounter more of Anno’s work. Whether or not i’ll review them is another story, as i’ve been writing less and less recently.

          In the mean time, I look forward to hearing from you when it comes to posting my Cross Channel review. The verdict is most likely in line with whatever prediction you might have made, but i’ll be sure to include mention of your previous comment on Froggy’s blog as an alternative viewpoint.

          • chinjianxiong says:

            Yep, I haven’t watched Rebuild yet – except maybe parts of Rebuild 1.0. In fact, watching Rebuild 1.0 randomly while I was flipping through TV channels at night was my first introduction to Evangelion. I’m waiting for the entirety to be released because I believe in that kind of method of watching. From various impressions here and there though – I gather that 2.0 is more in line with what the mainstream would love, and 3.0 is a drastic divergence that has made a lot of people mad. With such varying impressions its more exciting to see what kind of thing Anno will do for the last installment.

            Incidentally, I was reading Japan blogger Iwa ni Hana who was talking about how a majority of Japanese movies and media have been skewing away from Government criticism as of late. She mentioned this:

            “The Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade were poignant stories in which an individual’s free will is pitched against a vast, faceless and corrupt bureaucracy. Somehow this theme of Man vs the System disappeared after around 2006, not only in the films of Yoji Yamada but across the board in the Japanese film industry. You may even say that there has not been any meaningful depiction of a corrupt state machinery until… (out of all things) Hideaki Anno’s Godzilla Resurgence this year (for those of you who wonder where Anno has been hiding…).”

            Which nicely places Shin Gojira on my to-watch list for the sake of Anno completionism.

            Anyway, good luck with whatever you decide to touch on next!

            • Silvachief says:

              Yeah, I feel the same way about watching series so i’ve been putting off making any decision about watching them. I’ll most likely wait and see whether they follow the feeling of the original series or lean more towards something new by seeing how others react to them.

              That’s a really interesting subject and I have to admit that a quick look through my MAL leaves me having to admit that the vast majority of Japanese anime and visual novels with that theme were released prior to 2007. Anything that comes near is relatively fantastical or exaggerated (such as Code Geass). One can certainly think of several reasons this trend began, which may be worth writing such a series about in their own right XD

              Thanks! I -do- keep an eye on your posts and I promise that if anything pops up I feel I have a fully formed opinion on i’ll drop a comment!

  3. jiraiyan says:

    Your harsh, but it’s understandable. I think Evangelion can be too dramatic and dark at times. However, I found the brutality weirdly refreshing considering that most anime at the time treated the protagonists with kid gloves.

    • Silvachief says:

      I thought I had already replied to this, so I apologize for taking so long!

      I didn’t have any problem with drama, darkness or brutality in Evangelion – those are all aspects i’ve enjoyed in other shows. I just felt it didn’t care enough about telling a coherent story.

  4. Yashima says:

    I guess its understandable that you feel a separation between something being enjoyable, and something being well executed thematically, but for me these elements went hand in hand.
    I thought the subversive approach to a cliched idea was brilliantly done, the characters were nuanced and realistic. Shinji and Misato’s dilemma of empathy resulted in one of the most humanly emotional relationships in the medium.
    I wrote a long review of it today, so I can’t motivate myself to write a detailed comment about everything, but I suppose suggesting that you give it another chance in a years time or so would be a bit much either way. If you ever do, think of it as a character study more than anything else.

    • Silvachief says:

      Yeah, different aspects of a production constitute entertainment for different people. I have to enjoy a production for the quality of its story and writing first, followed by characterization and then finally themes. Naturally these features are related and the quality of one will affect the perception and enjoyment of another.

      I look at Eva and wonder how the hell anyone could enjoy its mess of a plot, while other viewers are boggled by my inability to appreciate the intricacies of its design (which i’m still not entirely convinced on, though enough people have expressed this opinion that I have to accept its existence in order to discuss Evangelion at all). I think we’re just searching for and paying attention to different things that interest us personally.

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