On June 21, 24-year-old anime series “Neon Genesis Evangelion” will be available to stream on Netflix. The program’s arrival on the platform is momentous for several reasons. For one thing, its addition to the service’s streaming library marks its most extensive international exposure since airing on Adult Swim in the mid-2000s. Since the show has been out of print on DVD in the United States for years, the program can now be seen by a new generation.
As one of the greatest works of its genre and medium, “Evangelion” is more than worthy of mainstream rediscovery.
**This post contains minor spoilers about “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and its two film continuations**
Premiering on Japanese television in 1995, “Evangelion” is a mecha anime about a personal and global apocalypse.
Set in a post-cataclysm future Tokyo, the program follows withdrawn teenager Shinji Ikari. In the show’s first episode, Shinji’s estranged father Gendo summons him to pilot a giant purple robot called Evangelion Unit 1. With no training, Gendo sends Shinji to fight a huge monster called an Angel. Shinji then finds himself drafted into a war against the mysterious and vicious aliens.
“Evangelion’s” subsequent 25 episodes and follow up movies chronicle Shinji’s painful coming of age.
Despite the show’s premise and design, it’s not a “Mobile Suit Gundam” or “Voltron” like kids show. In truth, it’s one of the most psychologically harrowing TV shows ever made. However, though the program is not always an easy watch, it is an immensely rewarding one.
Creator Hideaki Anno intended the series to have a broad appeal in its native land. As such, he included narrative elements common to boys’ action-adventure serials. He also made sure the show featured sexualized character designs to draw in anime obsessives.
Upon its premiere, the series became a massive success, both domestically and internationally. In Japan, “Evangelion” achieved pop culture ubiquity. The franchise has been spun-off into a host of products, and its characters have appeared on bullet trains and as theme park attractions.
The program also revolutionized the tone, look, and subject matter of regionally produced anime for a generation. In America, the series became a cult sensation and influenced everything from Hollywood blockbuster “Pacific Rim” to a range of Cartoon Network series.
“Evangelion’s” remarkable popularity is both understandable and inexplicable. While the series is undeniably excellent, it’s also profoundly dense, disturbing, and oblique.
Action and Interiority
In the broadest terms, “Evangelion’s” enduring appeal can be attributed to the fact that it’s a near-perfect fusion of bombast and interiority. Like a Pixies song, the program features jolts of freneticism and sudden bursts of quiet. The series presents its action sequences, themes, and meaning with jarring directness.
The program also undergoes a startling tonal shift. In the beginning, the show almost plays like a more mature version of “Sailor Moon.” But it evolves into something that feels like a “Black Mirror” style take on “Teen Titans Go.”
If you enjoy imaginative battle sequences and hard-hitting action violence, you’ll enjoy the show. But if you love deep dives into familial conflict, teenage angst, and mind-bending plot twists, you’ll love it. “Evangelion” masterfully blends mecha fighting, painfully relatable young adult drama, international conspiracy intrigue, and biblical allegory.
If Michael Bay, Dan Harmon, and David Lynch collaborated on a TV show, it might feel like “Evangelion.”
Though suffused with Kabbalah mysticism, obscure psychoanalytic concepts, and global espionage, the program also follows a straight forward through line. At its onset, it presents Shinji as an isolated young man too timid to express his thoughts and feelings. The character’s catchphrase is, “I mustn’t run away.” Throughout the series, he develops an active persona capable of confronting his deepest anxieties.
For all of its shocking violence and emotional devastation, “Evangelion” is a profoundly hopeful series. Indeed, Hideaki Anno used his long-time battle with depression as fodder for the series. Consequently, some of the show’s later installments possess almost overwhelming darkness. But as disquieting as the series can be, its conclusion makes it all worthwhile.
Death, Rebirth, and Beyond
For the uninitiated, it is worth noting “Evangelion” features one of the most polarizing series finales in pop culture history. Without getting into specifics, it’s last two episodes feature a raft of formal experimentations that are hard to put into words. Like the finale of “Twin Peaks,” the series provides an abrupt emotional conclusion while leaving several narrative threads dangling.
However, in another “Twin Peaks” parallel, “Evangelion’s” finale isn’t its conclusion. Due to extreme fan backlash, Gainax, the studio that produced the series, made two follow up films in 1997 to address a host of complaints and death threats (yes, death threats). Thankfully, Netflix is streaming both “Evangelion” movies in tandem with the series.
The first film, “Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth,” is a remix of the series that features several new scenes that finally unpack its dense mythology. The second film, called “The End of Evangelion,” provides a new ending to the saga. However, because of its shocking violence, explicit depiction of sex, and stunning plot developments, it’s not exactly a crowd-pleaser. Furthermore, as it acts as a deconstruction of the series and a sharp critique of its audience, the movie has a divisive reputation.
Nevertheless, the movie’s formal boldness and ecstatic sensibility have made it a critical favorite. Fans of “Lost,” Stanley Kubrick, “Paranoia Agent,” “True Detective,” “Legion,” and “Rick & Morty” will likely find a lot to love in the film. First timers who finish the series desperate for answers will find them, and so much more.
Why You Should Binge-Watch ‘Evangelion’
As with many TV series produced in earlier decades, “Evangelion” is an ideal binge-watch. That’s not to say the series is poorly paced or unsatisfying in individual increments. Instead, new viewers will likely be best served by consuming the program’s series-spanning narrative in large chunks.
“Evangelion’s” tendency toward narrative opacity is less frustrating when not spaced out between days or weeks. Additionally, taking in its exhilarating highs and devastating lows in rapid succession makes the show feel more balanced. By watching the show’s mythology-exploration episodes back to back with its one-off adventures, the viewer is treated to a more palatable experience.
As a word of warning though, the show’s latter half features an exploration of depression that is strikingly realistic and intense. For those with anxiety issues, it might be best to space out the program’s final ten installments. Moreover, the passage of time hasn’t dulled the impact of the series’ brutal violence.
With those caveats in mind, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” is a phenomenal and unforgettable TV series. Furthermore, “End of Evangelion” is rightly regarded as one of the best animated feature films ever made.
If you want your heart broken, your mind expanded, and your sense of self challenged, “Evangelion” is highly recommended.