Neon Genesis Evangelion was extremely popular in its time (some would say, it still is) and I believe the main reason for this is its captivating storyline. While the idea of humans riding around in giant robots wasn't particularly new when it was released, with series like Gundam and films like Roujin Z preceding it, Evangelion does successfully bring new ideas to the "mecha-table". We're given the impression right from the very first episode that the Evas aren't fully under the control of the humans who created them - that there is something more to their existence than meets the eye. The same can be said for the Angels, the enemies who seem intent on destroying the human race, though it becomes apparent during the series that they are an unknown enemy. Shinji, the main character, finds himself frequently asking why he is fighting them, and at one or two points, the border between friend and foe becomes noticeably blurred.So why not a higher score? Admittedly, despite the "enemy of the week" format that is never really explained (the attack in episode 1 is said to be the first in 15 years, and then they happen nearly every episode after that - why the increased frequency? Who knows...), it would have achieved a much higher score - without the final two episodes. What ruined this series for me, quite simply, was the ending. Without spoiling (though there's not a lot to spoil), I detested the way the director felt it necessary to alter the tack of the series in order to explain his overriding philosophy. I much preferred the small anecdotal philosophies that had subtly been dotted throughout the series up to that point - but in the home straight, all plot was thrown out the window in favour of some arthouse nonsense, that didn't seem to deserve the time spent watching it.What annoyed me most is that this was considered "an ending" when nothing ended at all. The series ends in stasis. It ended more because the 26 episode limit was up than because there was a reason to end it.
I'm afraid to say that Evangelion is feeling its age now. I acknowledge the fact that this was the last cell animation of its kind (before CGI was introduced into anime production) but it is found to be lacking at times. A number of occasions, I found myself staring at a still image for what seemed like an eternity for no apparent reason - sometimes even without dialogue! I admit that some of the scenery is still stunning (the forest landscapes and Tokyo 3 when it's in lockdown in the Geofront) and, in its right place, even the "arty" ending scenes could be inspiring - but (and it's a big but) I feel the only well-animated scenes are the Angel battles. If it wasn't for their extravagance, this series might as well be a slideshow.
One of the few things that Evangelion gets right most of the time. Yes, the music is reused a lot of the time (especially the Angel battle music) but it suits it well, and there's a genuine feeling of menace behind it. I also felt that the inclusion of Beethoven's Ode to Joy was a nice touch and one that becomes weighted between two of the characters late on in the series. The opening song deserves an honourable mention as well, purely because it's a great piece of music, which is quite rare for anime openings these days.
I'm often torn on this subject, though I feel it's largely because I'm looking at the characters retrospectively. Because of series like Bokurano and Now and Then, Here and There, the idea of depression and trauma in characters doesn't seem as new to me as it did when I first watched Evangelion in the late 90s. However, the motivations are key to what makes this anime worth watching. Shinji's hatred for his father is dissected, analysed and re-evaluated several times throughout the series, and it becomes more interesting than the Angel battles themselves. Similarly, this is one of the few series where you're more interested in how the characters don't interact with each other rather than any possible romance that could form. From very early on, you get a good idea of character and while there's progression, they never stray into the land of stereotype. Coupled with the most reluctant hero ever to grace the screen, and you're onto a winner.My only regret is that Rei Ayanami (who I maintain is by far the most interesting character) isn't explored as much as she should have been. There are a number of revelations about her that are somewhat eye-opening if confusing, but they never really amount to anything in the series, and it becomes a frustration that you never find out what the truth behind her actually is.
Considering how much I enjoyed the beginning of the series, this is a low score, but I'm afraid the ending just killed it for me. It made me feel as though the director had given up on the plot, that the plot hadn't actually been important at all, and that all that remained was a driven philosophy that I had little taste for. This series would have been so much better with a well-thought-out ending that actually tied together some of the loose ends left from earlier in the series. It's fine to delve into character motivations, but Evangelion does it with a blinkered eye, and all its good points are lost when you reach that final episode.I still recommend Neon Genesis Evangelion, as it is a thrilling watch, and at points, you will be carried away by the story. However, brace yourself for a disappointing ending. The director released two movies to rewrite the ending, so the series is far from complete, and I can only hope that in watching those movies, I will find the conclusion I feel this series deserves.
In the future, a devastating event known as Second Impact has destroyed Tokyo as we know it, giving rise to Tokyo III - a city under siege by mysterious lifeforms known only as Angels. Mankind's only line of defense are the Evangelions, a set man-made machines piloted by a trio of fourteen year-old teenagers, Rei, Shinji, and Asuka. The fate of Japan and the entire world now lie with these three children, though they might not have the power to save the most important thing of all: each other.