Neon Genesis Evangelion is hard to put my finger on. It seems like any other mecha anime from the beginning, but gradually morphs into an exploration of character psychology after navigating several surprises and plot twists by the time it's all over. The show follows Shinji Ikari, a 14 year old boy mysteriously called in by his father to pilot an Evangelion unit. These giant robots are the world's only defense against Angels, gigantic creatures who destroyed half of the Earth's population 15 years ago.
Short and Sweet
Story - 8.5/10
To break this down, the first two-thirds of Neon Genesis Evangelion is amazing. I found it to be as enticing as any anime has ever been. The plot unfolds in brilliant fashion and has the capability to keep viewers on the edge of their seat, impatiently waiting to see what happens next. The problem with the storytelling is that this method is how the show begins, continues, and even ends. What makes Evangelion fascinating is it's willingness to continuously dive deeper and deeper into itself, which naturally drives whoever watches to think and wonder constantly. The issue here is that by the time you're done watching, not many questions are answered, and if there's one thing difficult to pull off when any story ends, it's lack of resolution. It's like going on a scuba dive to see the wonders of the ocean, except you never come up for air. Regardless of this, the bulk of what you do get in Neon Genesis Evangelion is still undeniably interesting, and despite this being far from the most timeless anime around (in terms of quality, not impact, calm down people), it's still one of the most interesting universes I've seen thus far.
Animation - 8/10
There are often questionable moments where I wonder if the show fell into budget problems and got lazy on the animation. This shows during some unusually long holds on scenes (the elevator with Rei and Asuka and the end of episode 24 come to mind) that last well over a minute, as well as some cheap attempt at abstract animation that some will have you believe is artistic in the final episodes of the show. These same episodes also reuse lots of stuff from earlier in the show which again, seems to have no reason behind it beyond the lack of money.
These animation issues are few and far between however, and when Evangelion is going, it's going. While the character designs seem pretty basic, their suits, the mechas, angels, and pretty much anything you don't see in the real world in this show has a great design to it that stands out for all the right reasons. The action scenes were perfect for their time and although they aren't the greatest in this day and age, they still stand up very well. Is the animation dated? Yes. Is it bad? Not by any means.
Sound - 9/10
There's some very good voice acting here that really increases in both emotion and believability as the episode count goes up. This isn't to say it starts off bad but the quality of the acting in the latter half of Evangelion is noticeably great, while in the beginning there are a few deliveries here and there that seem unnatural. Misato and Asuka have particularly high quality performances behind them. Rei and Gendo on the other hand seem to come from the same school of cold and emotionless. Although this is part of each character's personality, it is on such a level where there isn't much to say about either one. I know everyone hates to hear Shinji scream, but it would be a lie to think that his wailing howl doesn't capture moments of horror perfectly. Many of the supporting roles and minor characters do sound pretty bad. Not a huge problem, but it sticks out like a sore thumb.
The soundtrack is stacked with memorable tunes that are even complimented with some fantastic use of classical music. While the OST does re-use a handful of tracks often, it does so in a manner that does nothing more than condition the viewer to know when things have just gone to hell or taken a lighthearted turn.
Characters - 8/10
I think anyone reviewing this anime has to talk about Shinji Ikari, so I'm going to start with that. I don't hate Shinji. In fact, there really isn't much reason to hate Shinji. When this anime begins, everything we see Shinji go through as a 14 year old boy with a dead mother and one of the biggest pricks in the universe as his unloving father, combined with the traumatic experiences he has piloting his Eva, completely justifies how he acts. The problem people seem to have with Shinji is that he's a weak-willed, cowardly, whiny male lead. The flaw here isn't Shinji's character, it's the writing of Shinji's character. Nothing Shinji actually does bothers me, but the lack of development he has is a huge flaw for his character. So big that it makes me question why and how he ever came to be the lead of Evangelion to begin with.
Shinji has a huge conflict within himself from the first of this 26 episode journey to the very last. That is far, far too long of a time span to keep a character the same, especially when that character happens to whine, cry, and scream on a regular basis. Now, I didn't want Shinji to make a cliche transformation into a badass or even a consistently serious or confident guy, but I did want him to get over his weaknesses. When the time finally comes for Shinji to be at one with himself (this is literally in the last minute or two of the show and spends the last 38 minutes building up), I didn't even find it to be believable. It felt contradictory that he even had to try to change anything considering, despite all the hardship he goes through every other episode, he still gets the job done and is often the most capable pilot, despite being portrayed as the one who is least sure of himself. It felt like he should have made this transformation halfway into the show, not at the end.
No character seems to be as flawed in development as Shinji but nobody else really develops much either. The one pilot who does is Asuka, and her character was the one I found to be the most enjoyable and interesting of the main cast. Sadly, as soon as things get really spicy for her, it seems that she gets thrown to the side in a horrible manner. It's a shame too because I rarely find such a catty and obnoxious character like Asuka to have the potential to peel layers back with her past and persona, but that opportunity was completely missed. The other of the main three pilots, Rei Ayanami, seemed to have a constant mystery around her but ends up saying so little that I found myself indifferent to her. When the truth behind Rei is finally revealed it was interesting, but how Rei ever actually feels about anything is never really touched on. She could have been a truly great character but like Asuka, she's sort of tossed to the side in favor of being a plot device for Shinji to come to terms with himself.
The real stand-out of the cast is Misato Kusanagi. Misato isn't even one of the "mains" of the show, but instead a strong supporting character. It is Misato that's unwrapping all of the mystery at Nerv, Misato is the one helping the Eva pilots do their job correctly, Misato is barking the commands and Misato is the only one that really cares about them. I found myself loving Misato more and more as Evangelion progressed despite the fact that she doesn't seem like even a mildly interesting character when the show begins.
The supporting cast isn't too deep, but works well and I've heard people say they're more interesting than the kids. This is understandable since all of the plot twists and mystery of the show is driven by the adults and the pilots are the pawns in the bigger picture. Overall the characters, while not developing much, are likable, entertaining, and everyone seems to be able to pick one they really enjoy.
Overall - 8.5/10
Neon Genesis Evangelion was nothing if not ambitious, and it provides a balance of action and humor along with psychological and philosophical themes being explored that may lack polished execution, but draw thoughts in nonetheless. I was very into this anime from start to finish and even though the technical aspects of it pale in comparison to today's standards, Evangelion still has high quality moments and stands apart from everything else.