Neon Genesis Evangelion

****

Reviewed by: Donald Munro

Neon Genesis Evangelion
"It was pretty standard fare for anime. But there was something lurking below the surface, like a thought you can't get rid of."

When the first couple of episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion came out it didn't really seem like something special. Teenage kids piloting giant robots to save mankind; wish fulfilment coupled with adolescent sexual awkwardness and a comedy of manners. It was pretty standard fare for anime. But there was something lurking below the surface, like a thought you can't get rid of. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji Ikari (Megumi Ogata) is unwillingly recruited into NERV by his estranged father Gendo (Fumihiko Tachiki). NERV, under the command of Gendo, was set up in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event that melted Antarctica and flooded the world. Officially the cataclysm, known as the Second Impact, was caused by an asteroid crashing to earth. In actuality it was an experiment on the catatonic corpse of the Biblical Adam. In the aftermath SEELE, the shadowy cabal behind the experiment, set up NERV to combat the resultant coming of angels as prophesied in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

One by one the angels attack NERV's headquarters. As time goes on they become increasingly bizarre: Ramiel an octahedron; Armisael a double helix halo; and Leliel a giant Op-Art sphere. Neon Genesis Evangelion doesn't focus on the titanic battles between Giant bio-mechanical robots and angels so much as on the disfunctionality of its central characters. Shinji craves praise and love but is unwilling to to interact emotionally with other people for fear of rejection. Rei Ayanami (Megumi Hayashibara), who was a pilot before Shinji's arrival, is emotionally closed off and lacks agency in anything. Asuka Langley Soryu (Yūko Miyamura) is deeply scarred by witnessing the suicide of her mother - to cope with the abandonment she has to be self sufficient and the best at everything. NERV officer, functional alcoholic and mentor to the child solders Misato Katsuragi (Kotono Mitsuishi) was saved at the site of the second impact by her dying father. She is full of conflict and trauma under a veneer of competence. They all go to the bottom like the doomed warships they're named after.

Stylistically Neon Genesis Evangelion starts off looking and feeling like most other anime of the time. It uses some artistic ideas and iconography from Judaism and Christianity, incorporating the likes of the tree of life and the seven eyed goat. As the mental health of the main characters declines, new techniques and styles are introduced. Pencil sketches, raw animatics, images of ceilings or power cables and phone lines against the sky and painfully long shots all speak to the deterioration, and repetition represents inescapable catastrophic thought. In the final two episodes, as the subtext of depression and insecurity overwhelms the narrative, the animation slams into the Left Bank with La Jetée style montage and spotlight lit psychodrama. In a way these episodes finalise Shinji's character arc. Neither provides either a resolution to the plot nor a satisfactory explanation of what is actually going on, however. This caused some controversy amongst fans of the series. The dissatisfaction of fans prompted a re-envisioning of the conclusion with Death, Rebirth, and The End Of Evangelion.

Another topic of controversy was the way that some of the characters, and Shinji in particular, treat girls. The most egregious being the final scene in The End Of Evangelion where he sits across Asuka's unconscious body and starts to strangle her in a sexualised way. She wakes, reaches up, touches his face and utters the word "disgusting". Is he a sexual predator or is it that the death drive now so dominates his psyche that it forces him to re-enact his ultimate trauma: rejection? Does he need to be the literal "not even if you were the last man on Earth"? At this point the fourth wall has been breached with real world footage. The audience has already seen itself. It has seen its own reaction to the original ending. Is he trying to make the audience hate him? Is going from plucky hero to object of derision the ultimate fulfilment of Shinji's death drive?

***WARNING EPILEPSY*** towards the end of the series there are a number of protracted sequences made up of fast flashing images.

Reviewed on: 08 Dec 2021
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A teenage boy finds himself recruited as a member of an elite team of pilots.

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