So at long last, I have somehow managed to simply binge-watch the entire original series of anime modern classic Neon Genesis Evangelion in just under two weeks. I had started to watch the first few episodes a good while ago, but it became side tracked by writing of a new novel and other things. With a recent book done and some time to spare, I returned to get through this highly acclaimed and influential series finally.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with anime and manga and the good many classic series and feature films, but this is probably the most significant one from the 90’s period, commercially at least. Even so it also has many very impressive creative and artistic moments through the series, especially toward the end.
I think I wanted to see this show-which I did know a little about and had seen mentioned from time to time-a couple of years ago, when I was catching up with the Mecha side of manga and anime. I am a big fan of classic SF manga/anime such as AKIRA and Ghost in the Shell, but was gradually getting more familiar with things like Gundam, Bubblegum Crisis, Patlabor to name just a few.
Some do see Neon Genesis as possibly more pretentious than other mecha and sci-fi themed anime, but that may simply be due to it having a more character focused and often philosophical approach. Some people see the show as post-modern mecha anime, as it does in some ways go beyond the expected cliches of the genre and what we might expect from sci-fi anime shows.
So the show does almost just jump right into the main story and action of these chosen special young teens who go into these mecha robot suits to fight the mysterious giant ‘angels’ which appear and rampage across the land on a regular basis. Young teenage boy Shinji finds himself chosen and has to learn how to be the best Eva pilot, but also wants to know what his father is doing in connection with it all.
There are mysteries and colourful action sequences regularly, as well as some the usual almost juvenile anime childish moments, but these thankfully are not all the way through and most of the time, the show looks at young Shinji, his path as an Eva pilot, his new friends who do the same thing in their own ways, and what the Angel attacks mean and how the society react to it all.
For an anime show probably aimed originally at children or young adults, it regularly is very thought provoking, as it considers things like the anxieties and fears of young teenagers, the romances, the confusion and friendships but then also with the Eva units and the Angels monsters, it questions how a country would defend itself, why and what the results of it could be in the longrun after it.
It would have been nice to have viewed the show at the time it was originally on air, catching it week by week, but it was good enough to mostly watch it all in this short period of time, to maintain the ongoing story and themes.
I had read up a bit on the internet toward the end about the things which influenced the show, and how it was made and what kind of phenomenon it had become soon after. There are a number of interesting religious and spiritual references and imagery which crop up time and again in the show. Later on, there are a number of well written sequences and scenes where the characters contemplate very deep philosophical questions of life, existence, death, rebirth, purpose and more. This seemed brave and almost very original and successful for this kind of anime show.
I have learned that the last couple of episodes and how they became very surreal and philosophical in some ways angered and dissapointed many fans of the show and this then led to the later feature length follow-up movies. One of these was a edited together collection of significant secene from almost every episode, which I dipped into early on and it almost melted my brain, and the other is a more linear, feature length resolution to the series. With better animation, strong and dynamic scenes and action all the way through, this was made as a response to the bad reaction from show fans and an alternative, possibly more expected and satisfying end to the entire story.
I think it still works well to watch all of the series, incuding the final two ‘surreal’ episodes and then the more straight forward final feature length movie. Probably best to just skip past the ‘Death & Rebirth’ feature length unless a total die-hard fan.
Overall, this was a very interesting, thoughtful anime show, which does offer a lot for casual fans of anime or manga or cartoons in general, and it also shows that anime can be much more than simple childish gags and splatter blood violence. Neon Genesis Evangelion takes you into yourself and beyond through speculative animation.
James E. Parsons has his first SF book Orbital Kin out now in paperback/ebook from most good bookshops. His second book, Minerva Century is due out in 2016.