Neon Genesis Evangelion – Japanese Anime with Substance

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If you’re anything like me and have young children then you will already be familiar with children’s TV dominating your viewing schedule, you just can’t escape it! Because of the number of TV channels available today there is a considerable amount of children’s TV programmes catering for almost every taste. Just because you’ve grown older (growing old is compulsory, growing up is optional!) doesn’t mean that you have to be excluded from enjoying cartoons/animation.

a quasi-religious, metaphysical rite of passage

Every now and again something comes along that makes you sit up an take notice and revel in the beauty of animation. Earlier this year I finished watching the marathon 26 episode series entitled Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE for short) and what a ride that was! So much so that I’m watching it again with my son right now. When you look at the state of cartoon entertainment today, it’s hard to believe that in 1997 such a ground breaking series could be created that to this day it has divided viewers opinions and provoked discussions concerning the storyline.

NGE was the brainchild of one Hideaki Anno, whose own battle with depression manifests itself in the series. Through the course of the series we explore the aspects of survival, loneliness, angst, betrayal, depression and redemption through the eyes of the central character Shinji Ikari, a emotionally vulnerable 14 year old boy and the relationship with his estranged father. Despite being Anime, NGE is squarely aimed at a more mature audience, it deals with relationships, dysfunctional families and philosophical issues.

This doesn’t mean that children wouldn’t enjoy it, but some of the finer points of the storyline and their meaning may be lost on them.

The series is set in the year 2015AD (with flashbacks to explain some of the back story) in what is known as Tokyo 3, the world is recovering from a supposed meteorite strike known as “Second Impact” which resulted in the melting of the polar ice caps and the killing of approximately half the earth’s population in the aftermath some 15 years earlier. The real truth is that the earth is under attack from a race of beings known as “Angels” who are intent on the destruction of the human race. To combat this threat an organisation called “NERV” was created with the task of coming up with a means of defence from the onslaught of the Angels, however, as the story progresses it becomes clear that there is some ulterior motive behind NERV’s actions. NERV’s answer to the Angel threat was a group of advanced biologically engineered robots known as EVA. Because of their biological contruction they were designed to be piloted by individuals possessing exceptional abilities. These individuals were children who were born within 9 months of the second impact. The common thread that connects these children is the fact that they all appear to have suffered varying degrees of emotional distress.

The first half of the series sets the scene and establishes the main characters e.g. Gendo Akari (Shinji’s dad), Misato Katsuragi (an incredibly hot brunette, beer swilling party girl… there I’ve said it!) and Ritsuko Akagi (a hot blonde somewhat distant and absorbed in her work), as well as fleshing out some of the characters on the periphery of the story. Whilst not entirely necessary it is quite welcome as it makes the people that the main characters interact with that much more believable. At the same time there is a lot of action with some lighter more comical moments to break up the sense of impending doom. The latter half becomes more serious as things begin to heat up and the situation becomes more deperate. Towards the end the storyline begins to embark on a quasi-religious, metaphysical rite of passage, which has caused much controversy among fans of the series.

It is because of the fact that the ending (if you can call it that), requires the viewer to understand the motivations and emotional state of the central character in order to make sense of the final two episodes that prompted the producers to create a “Director’s Cut” of the last few episodes to try and offer a better explanation of the events that had actually taken place, and then finally offer an alternative ending in “End of Evangelion”.

Even that hasn’t stopped Gainax from re-imagining the series by releasing Evangelion 1.0, 1.1, 1.2 and this summer Rebuild 2.0.

If you’re looking for thought provoking Anime that raises questions about man’s own existence than you can’t go far wrong with NGE. If you’re looking for someone to spoon feed you the plot then you’re better off looking elsewhere.

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