What a daunting piece of art. Where does one begin? The title sequence alone could be a jumping off point for an entire piece. It’s a testament to the soul of the show, which is this dense, philosophical story. Whether or not that philosophizing adds up to anything meaningful is a debate, especially with the show’s own creator saying that a lot of the imagery was mostly just dressing for a cool aesthetic.
In the far flung year of 2015, a trio of children protect the fate of the world by piloting mechs against hideous, gigantic monsters known as Angels that continue to attack the city of Tokyo. As the threat grows, a game of escalation begins between the humans mechs and the alien Angels. But the threat may not be only external as the NERV leadership is caught up in a dangerous plan that has the potential to reshape humanity, perhaps not for the best.
This lays the groundwork for a lot of interesting philosophical ideas. The nature of man and his relationship to technology are two of the core ideas that run throughout the show. The mechs become an extension of man’s nature, one which accentuates his desire to destroy, a trait amplified more and more as the mech becomes its own sort of character in the show.
However, the fact that the mechs are piloted by kids pit some of the more admirable traits of humanity in juxtaposition with the more domineering and destructive natures of the mech. The ability to restrain and show mercy and the desire to love others are exhibited by the children even as they are trained to kill. This leads to a lot of childhood idealism pushing up against the more pragmatic, harsh nature of adulthood.
The show also introduces a lot of religious ideas as well. The most overt are the Christian elements that have “Angels” raining down destruction on earth. In some ways, one could interpret Neon Genesis Evangelion as a take on the book of Revelation. There are also a few Buddhist ideas in the story as well. By the show creator’s own admission, these are more of an aesthetic and figure less into the story’s core ideas, but that aesthetic still brings with it some interesting ideological baggage.
On the flip side of these ideological ponderings, the show builds some epic fight sequences. The skyscraper tall mechs battling against enormous Angels makes for a lot of grandiose battles in the urban cityscape of Tokyo. This is where the animation shines the best with a nice sleek, bold design that works well for the show.
While that broader epic framework provides a lot of action for the show, it’s a lot of the smaller character drama that makes the show work. There’s a bit of the light high-school drama mixed with a lot of the show dealing with how the three children are placed in a world far too dark and sinister for their own good. Likewise, the interactions between the adults creates a lot of deeply tragic and dramatic beats that make the show a lot more than just giant mechs fighting monsters.
From the small-scale drama to the epic battles, Neon Genesis Evangelion has a bit of everything. It hits about every beat you could want from an anime and it’s clear to see how it helped move forward the medium and made more philosophical and thoughtful anime shows something to aim for instead of simply settling for popcorn entertainment.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing