Note: I researched Evangelion thoroughly using the Evangelion wiki, Evageeks.org and reading scripts for episodes 1- around 20. I'm not making the claim that it's a bad anime, just that there's no way it matches all of the hype around it.
This Will (Not) Be Pretty
Hype can have 2 possible effects on me; either it will make me watch something to see what all the fuss is about if the hype hasn't gone grossly overboard or will put me off and make me hate the work in question when literally almost everybody touts it as a masterpiece and references it constantly. Evangelion certainly belongs to the latter category. If the quality of an anime is directly proportional to the hype around it then Evangelion is the greatest anime of all time, but popularity is no measure of quality and the show is so popular because people love to think they're smart when in fact they're not and the confusion this show creates allows them to do just that. Napoleon for example is better known than Frederick II of Prussia even though Napoleon lost and against more favourable odds. It's unfair to judge what isn't human by how the humans who like it act towards it; if it were fair then that would mean that anything not mediocre or in the middle would be useless because people would pour scorn on it for standing out. Were the Gundam shows judged by their fanbases one would think that they were fascist, idiotic and mean but Gundam shows are none of these things. Nonetheless the one reason why I started hating Evangelion (I have more than one reason to continue hating it though) is because of the fact that everybody who likes anime seems to love Evangelion and will constantly gush about how supposedly deep and revolutionary it is, even on sites that aren't specifically about Evangelion. Evangelion fans are to anime what Twilight fans are to literature. They are so fanatical that if you so much as pronounce it e-van-jelly-on the fans will straight away declare your argument invalid and denounce you as scum. I wish I was making this up but I've seen it with my own eyes. When Max Gilardi criticised Evangelion on Youtube the 2 most popular comments on the video were "Plebian" and something along the lines of "Huh huh you pronounced it e-van-jelly-on", the first comment is snobby, the second is petty and both of them just attack Max and don't defend the show. I'm no fan of Gilardi either but the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The classic argument of Evangelion fans is "You don't like it, therefore you don't get it." This is a pretty poor argument. I for one don't fully get Chaos;Head or Serial Experiments Lain yet they're 2 of my favourite anime of all time. I get Bokurano, Meine Liebe, Gin Iro No Olynssis and Wolf's Rain but I don't like them so how much you understand something isn't necessarily going to be proportional to how much you like it. That argument is espacially poor considering the fans don't seem to get a lot of what's going on either regardless of how many years ago it came out and Anno himself has become notorious among the fans for not knowing what this or that means either. The show had a huge impact on other anime shows that came after and those that came before had a big impact on it. Whatever anime shows spawn that you can name, Evangelion has spawned it from remakes right down to heaps of fanmade porn. The supermarket chain Lawson opened a shop specifically for Evangelion merchandise and the shop closed within a week due to supply having no hope of keeping up with demand. I'm not exaggerating when I claim that I knew literally half of the plot before I ever started researching Evangelion. Now I have researched Evangelion thoroughly and it has just confirmed my earlier suspicions; if the quality of Evangelion matches the hype then it would get a rating of over 90% but an astronomically low number of anime deserve that rating and the majority of people in any given group are only the majority in terms of population and not brainpower. There are so many things wrong with the show that you don't have to watch it to know that it can't possibly live up to the hype.
Existentialism Is (Not) Deep
The show is a confusing one, it goes without saying, but something that is hard to understand isn't necessarily deep any more than being fluent in English makes someone English. Chaos;Head is confusing which is inevitable given that the main character has schizophrenia and with no narrator we experience the events mainly through his eyes but the philsophy in the show is limited to a brief discussion in the final episode. Meanwhile in Serial Experiments Lain there's only one episode where philsophy isn't discussed, that being the first one, and although it doesn't make any conclusions of its own it does show both sides of the various arguments without saying that both are right.
Given the director's personal life and decision to let it influence Evangelion it was inevitable that the show would be existentialist until the ending. With no condemnation of existentialism and being existentialist until the last episode one would think that the show has an existentialist message but the ending contradicts that idea*. Existentialism is the belief that there's no point to anything** and was created by the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard even though he was devoutly religious, Protestant to be exact and existentialism and religion contradict one another because if there's no point to anything then there's no point in being religious or even living at all. Kierkegaard was hugely upset because he loved a woman named Regine Olsen but she didn't feel the same and I suspect that this misery lead to his creating existentialism rather than any sort of reasoning. Kierkegaard was in to gestalt therapy; a focus on the individual designed to overcome existential misery but if there's no point to anything there's no point to gestalt therapy so the hypocrisy behind the creation of existentialism and its pain killer is immense. If even the people keenest on an idea don't genuinely follow it then either something is wrong with the idea or the people who support it are hypocrites. Like many people nowadays the German atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was an existentialist** but didn't kill himself even though if one were to think like him then life is nothing but misery from start to finish and there's no Hell to go to and that therefore death is the end of all suffering. Nietzsche thought that if people abandoned traditional morality (i.e Christianity) then they would become better people, ubermenschen, but it didn't do him any favours as he had sex outside of marriage and died after being literally driven insane by syphillis and yet the rise of hedonism has continued unabated ever since regardless of how little fun is had in the short term and regardless of how much damage to health and property is done that far outweighs the short term happiness later on making the hedonism a sort of borrowing at atrociously high interest rates. After France performed so poorly in World War 2 a number of its philsophers decided that there was no point to anything. Most famous among these was Jean-Paul Sartre who was originally a Christian but then converted to atheism. After launching blistering attacks on religion he then came to the late stages of his life and gave up on existentialism, admitting that he only got into it in the first place because it was popular and he then converted to messianic Judaism. Existentialism is both a bad idea as it can't be any use even according to its own worldview (if there's no point to anything then there's no point to existentialism) and is also an idea that none of even its most enthusiastic followers genuinely beleive in. Existentialism is more of an emotion than an idea and as such has no place in philosophy; where ideas must be examined according to how logical they are and nothing else.
* It's a happy ending (for Shinji if nobody else) by anyone's standards because Shinji through his own free will (albeit after a lot of attempts to persuade him when Rei could have just said "You don't have to hate yourelf" at the very start of the folding chair session) decides his life is worth living. You might argue that maybe it's only a happy ending from an existentialist point of view as the individual decided for himself to live on in spite of the misery and absurdities of the world though his life will still be hard. Then again can such a dreary worldview as existentialism really allow a happy ending to exist? I for one don't think so because if there's no point to anything then it doesn't matter how anything turns out.
** I get that this isn't necessarily what it means but if you add up the tenets that make up existentialism then this is essentially what you get.
The Symbolism Is (Not) Meaningful
Another reason I hate Evangelion is some of the names. The monsters who are evil and hideous are known as angels even though most angels in most religions are magnificent and virtuous. I put this down to a lack of knowledge about Christianity rather than any sort of malice; after all only 1% of Japanese people are Christian and for centuries Christianity was banned in Japan and :
"There are a lot of giant robot shows in Japan, and we did want our story to have a religious theme to help distinguish us. Because Christianity is an uncommon religion in Japan we thought it would be mysterious. None of the staff who worked on Eva are Christians. There is no actual Christian meaning to the show, we just thought the visual symbols of Christianity look cool. If we had known the show would get distributed in the US and Europe we might have rethought that choice."
- Kazuya Tsurumaki, Assistant Director of Neon Genesis Evangelion
When asked about his religious beliefs the director Hideaki Anno said: "I don't belong to any kind of organized religion, so I guess I could be considered agnostic. Japanese spiritualism holds that there is kami in everything, and that's closer to my own beliefs."
Even so calling the monsters angels is a huge blunder*. In the original Japanese they are known as shito (disciples) in dialogue but angels in on screen text and this isn't much better. Disciples of what exactly? Then there's the robots that the main characters use to fight them which are known as Evas. If they're simply called Evas because it's the German form of Eve then that's highly stupid because humanity's fate rests in the hands of people piloting robots named after someone who decided that eating a piece of fruit would be a better idea than obeying God himself. However if they're called Evas because it's short for Evangelions then that's about as bad. Evangelion is Greek for bringer of good news and since it's Greek you can't just put an s at the end to make it plural. Bringers of good news fighting against angels sounds remarkably stupid and self defeating.
Christian symbolism was just thrown into the show to look cool with no regard payed to what the symbolism actually means like the computers that run Tokyo-3 being named after the Three Wise Men for no apparent reason and the cross that Misato wears around her neck. I understand that to Misato it's a way of remembering her dead mother as it used to belong to her mother but what did it mean to her mother? It's not offensive but rather just painful to think about that a show combines existentialism with religious symbolism, true one for the philosophy and the other for the style but it seems so hypocritical and incompatible to me nonetheless. Perhaps aptly given the amount of Jewish and Christian symbolism in the show the series started broadcasting on the 4th of October 1995 at 6:30 pm, sundown. The end of that year's Yom Kippur, a Jewish festival.
*Shinji even pointed this out but Asuka responded that the name is irrelevant. In fact it isn't irrelevant because when you think of the word angel you think of wings and haloes, there's no good reason for calling them angels and when you call things by what they aren't problems can arise and would have arisen if a Christian country rather than Japan was the superpower after the Second Impact, the disaster which killed 2 billion people. The First Impact was a Big Bang-style creation of the moon or something.
The Characters Are (Not) Likable
The characters as a group are unrelatable. Sure I've had parent issues and trauma but the fact that there are so many dead parents, psychological problems and trauma all in the same show and worse yet the same organisation is almost laughable in how unlikely it is. The characters as individuals aren't any better. While I can understand Shinji being upset about having the fate of the world on his shoulders and dealing with daddy issues he constantly whines about his plight even though if he fails then EVERYBODY WILL DIE so it's in fact cowardly and selfish of Shinji to be like this. Asuka* is precisely the type of person I hate the most; an outright jerk. Egotistical, angry and putting on a front**; the trademarks of the bully. After his wife died Gendo*** sent his son Shinji**** away because he, Gendo, was afraid of hurting him or something, what a self defeating purpose. There's nothing about the other characters to like except on an aesthetic level and good looks alone don't make someone likable.
* Hideaki Anno said in an interview that Asuka is his favourite character "because she's cute".
** Inside Asuka is traumatised due to her mother coming into contact with an angel then going insane and killing herself and her jerk personality is a front to hide this but even so taking your misery out on other people is basically punishing them for being around you even if they haven't done anything wrong and that's grossly unfair.
*** The head of the Nerv organisation that everyone in Tokyo-3 is part of in some way. Tokyo-3 is the city where things mainly happen. It was built after the original Tokyo was destroyed and a decoy capital called Tokyo-2 was built.
**** The director wrote a letter on the 10th of July 1995 saying that Shinji was designed to be so cowardly that he couldn't even kill himself (this is why I didn't commit suicide in spite of not wanting to live aroud 2005, an uncomfortable parallel with the show but I had more guts as a 7 year old then Shinji has at 14.) While Misato runs into relationships that only exist on the surface Shinji hasn't the guts to enter into any.
Trouble Behind The Scenes Is (Not) An Excuse
In spite of his various issues Yoshiyuki Tomino hasn't turned out a bad Gundam anime apart from F91. The 08th MS Team, a Gundam show but not directed by Tomino ranks as one of the best and is possibly the most underrated Gundam show ever. It starting running from the 25th of January 1996 and its director Takeyuki Kanda died in July of the same year, was replaced by Umanosuke Iida and the quality didn't deteriorate in the slightest. Gundam Wing did go downhill from Episode 27 until the start of the last 3rd of the show after head writer Katsuyuki Sumisawa quit the show due to schedueling conflicts but the final 3rd of the show was every bit as good as the first 3rd and in fact has some of the best final episodes I have ever seen. I haven't gone into Hideaki Anno in much detail yet because I really don't think anything bad about this show is his fault apart from the infuriating similarities to other shows; I went into Love And Pop knowing full well that it was directed by the same man who directed Evangelion, I fully expected to like Love And Pop and I did. Hideaki Anno was born in Ube in the Yamaguchi prefecture of Japan on the 22nd of May 1960. In 1984 the Hayao Miyazaki film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was in desperate need of more animators and seeing the ad in the Animage magazine Anno went and showed Miyazaki his drawings and impressed with these Miyazaki had him draw some of the most complicated scenes near the end. In December of that same year he co-founded Daicon Film, soon renamed Studio Gainax along with other men he had worked with and they started off with a tiny budget. After working on Nadia: The Secret Of Blue Water in 1991 (indeed Shinji was designed to look like a male Nadia but his personality was modelled after Anno's own personality) the stress of it lead to Anno suffering from depression which he recovered from in 1995, the year Evangelion came out with the last 2 episodes designed to mirror his recovery. Budgeting troubles led to lower quality animation in Evangelion than what it started with and also to some scenes where nothing happens for a hilariously long amount of time (such as Rei and Asuka in an elevator and for 40 seconds all that happens is Asuka blinking then hiccuping) but I hardly think even budgeting troubles and depression combined could be as tricky to overcome as the death of a director which is what happened with The 08th MS Team.
Thrust And Parry
I tend to find it purile and broad brush to not like anything about a show just because one doesn't like it as a whole but with Evangelion I do this myself but for valid reasons; everything I could like about the show is nullified in some way. It tries to be deep but fails horribly and just ends up being pretentious*. Asuka may be attractive physically but her personality is so repulsive that it doesn't make a difference and were she a real person I wouldn't want to even pass her in the street. The first opening A Cruel Angel's Thesis sounds good but that's invalidated by the fact that the message is the same as Mobile Suit Gundam's ending theme Eien Ni Amuro; the teenage boy who didn't know his father much must grit his teeth and continue the fight against the invaders from space whom the international alliance until now were ineffective against. Songs that have broadly the same message are fine but this is just ridiculous.
* In episode 18 or thereabouts the show shifted gear into the pretention that makes it what it is. Anno had recieved a book about psychological illness from a friend so was keen to show off his new found knowledge. Around episode 19 the show gets philosophical OVER A WATERMELON. The man** who grows them says he does so because they bring him pleasure to which Shinji says "and pain."
** Kaji Ryouji. The ex boyfriend of a Nerv officer called Misato (who had sex with him in an elevator/lift/whatever it's called in your country after he returned to Japan, after they had broken up.) Asuka is in love with him in contrast to her love-hate relationship with Shinji.
It's Been Done
The plot of the first episode is the whiny teenage Japanese boy must join his father's team and pilot the most powerful mecha in existence up to that point in order to defeat the invaders from outer space who would be quite keen to wipe out the population under attack if it meant accomplishing their goal and who have so far walked over the side the boy's father is on. That's basically the plot of the first episode of Mobile Suit Gundam. As I've already pointed out A Cruel Angel's Thesis has a ridiculously similar message to Mobile Suit Gundam's. Like Amuro Ray Shinji also runs away but decides to return to his father's team and both also had daddy issues; Shinji's abandonment by Gendo and Amuro not seeing his father much because Tem Ray was more concerned about his work. Both Tem Ray and Gendo Ikari also wear glasses. As for mechs being powered not just by physical means? That's also been done; the funnel system originally appearing in Zeta Gundam. Humanity being wiped out has also been done; in Space Runaway Ideon. Multiple clones of the same girl was also done in Bounty Dog. Anno pointed out that Yoshiyuki Tomino is among his favourite anime directors and that Space Runaway Ideon was an inspiration for Evangelion though that seems like a pretty unnecessary thing to do.
Baka To Test-To Shoukanjuu(2)
Gin Iro No-Olynssis(1)
Legend Of The-Galactic-Heroes(1)
Nadia The-Secret Of Blue-Water(1)
Nausicaa Of-The Valley Of The-Wind(1)