The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 21 – Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Last week we covered the mecha anime IGPX: Immortal Grand Prix, and while it is a series of note, there are plenty of more respected and popular mecha anime around, so for the next few columns I am covering some of the more noteworthy anime of this genre.

We have already covered one of the most important mecha before, Mobile Suit Gundam (column No. 2), broadcast between 1979-1980. Arguably the next mecha series to make such a big impact did not occur until 15 years later. Originally broadcast between 1995-1996 Neon Genesis Evangelion, more commonly just called Evangelion, was one of the most controversial anime made. It had deep philosophical and religious themes, plus the ending raised many eyebrows. It was made by Gainax, the anime company that made FLCL (No. 7) and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (No. 19).

The series is set in a post-apocalyptic world, in the unfamiliar world of… 2015 – this does raise one obvious problem in that many of the events in Evangelion have (luckily) never happened. Amongst these being “The Second Impact”, where most of Antarctica was destroyed in the year 2000 and half the human race was killed. Tokyo has been rebuilt as the city of Tokyo-3 and the world is now under threat of mysterious monsters called “Angels”, all of whom are named after angels in Christian and Hebrew mythology.

The story follows a 14-year-old boy called Shinji Ikari, who is summoned by his widowed father Gendo to Tokyo-3, the commander of NERV, a group that uses mecha to destroy the Angels. Gendo orders his son to pilot one of the “Evangelion” or “Eva” mecha. Shinji is hesitant, but eventually bows down to the pressure and does as he is ordered. As the series progresses, Shinji continues his seemingly thankless task of destroying the angels. He moves in NERV’s operations director Misato Katsuragi, a slobbish alcoholic woman, tries to befriend fellow pilot Rei Ayanami, a quiet girl who is closer to Gendo than Shinji is, and later has to confront aggressive new pilot Asuka Langley Soryu.

Evangelion is a series with so much in it that it is hard to get it all in. For starters there is the religious and philosophical tone to the programme. There are crosses all over the place, from the one Misato wears around her neck, to the explosions made whenever an Angel is killed. NERV has three supercomputers whom are named after the three magi that visited Christ at his birth. There are references to Islam, Gnosticism and Kabbalism too.

The other thing that should be mentioned is the end of the series. I shall not of course give away the ending, but it is known that the ending angered a lot of people when it was broadcast, to the point that Gainax and people behind it received death threats. To try and resolve thing two films, Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion, were made in 1997 to retell the end as how it should have been. The film featured montages that included amongst other things images of the hate Gainax received, including threatening emails and graffiti on their office walls.

The series has since become one of the most popular and critically acclaimed anime of all time. It has won countless awards, had many manga versions, it still influences anime today, and the fans that follow it are very loyal.

However, it still has not ended. In 2007 the whole of Evangelion began from the start. A tetralogy of movies known as the “Rebuild” films is now retelling the story for a new generation, featuring new stories and plots. So far three films have been released: Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone; Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance and Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo. Again, the films have been highly popular and the story of Evangelion continues to live on. This series is one of the deepest anime made in terms of ideas, but still has plenty of action and excitement. This deserved to be watched by all.

The original series and films were released by Manga Entertainment on DVD. The first two films in the Rebuild tetralogy are on DVD and Blu-Ray from Manga Entertainment. The third film will be released soon, but various anime events around the country are screening it, including “Scotland Love Anime” in Glasgow and Edinburgh this October.