ANIME EVOLUTION SERIES
Full list of the review series can be found on this page, 3rd post from bottom:
TEASER: (video contains spoilers) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kFhPVAhV_o
The Nostalgia series is meant to review titles the author believes were very influential to the industry and has enough material to write something about. Do not go asking me why I left aside a ton of famous anime. I just didn’t found them important enough and they will part of a different set of entries later on.
Bad Bleach puns included. I hate that show and the reader should not receive them as an indirect personal attack.
This is one of the most influential and controversial anime series ever made so what follows is a huge text explaining all my thoughts. Since I will leave out as much as unnecessary technicalities as possible, you can just read my further personal analysis here: http://www.mediafire.com/?gte22j9tuu7lm
Or more official sources here: www.Evageeks.com
And now that most of the psychological / scientific mambo jumbo is out of the way, let me just stick to the basics, so the review will not be longer than 10 pages. The question most of you will make is one and only: WHY IS EVANGELION AN IMPORTANT ANIME?
For a huge number of reasons. So many that chances are I will miss some and I will end up editing the review later on so to add even more than those stated here. So in the best possible proper order I can think of, here is a nice list for you to follow my line of thought.
1) The state of the (real) world. When NGE originally broadcasted, Japan was going through an economic depression and many people were poor and unemployed. Many youngsters in particular were unable to begin making their careers and have their own lives finally settling in society. Also, the Millennium was about to end in a few years and the entire world was in a general uproar because many feared THE END IS NEAR! You probably remember all that crap with Nostradamus, or the millennium virus, or that cult that gassed the metro, or those sects who committed group suicides in order for their souls to be taken by a passing comet before the world is destroyed in a few weeks. All that created a climate that was depressing the country not only economically but also psychologically. The dark atmosphere of the series reflected all that as it was depicting a devastated world in the near future, where mankind was trying to recover from mass climate changes and wars. This feeling felt quite keen to most of the audience and they got to love it just for that. It was as if it was speaking to them directly.
The rest of the world did not receive this feeling so well at first, partly because most other countries were not going through the same volume in depression and partly because the initial subs and dubs of the series were plain terrible and confusing, making the foreign audience incapable to understand what the hell was going on in general. So it is understood why many non-Japanese didn’t like it back then.
The irony is that 15 years later, the world is facing a similar situation. We again have an economic depression, this time of a more global and serious volume, making the feeling of the show a bit easier to understand than back in the mid 90’s when most of the west was actually in an economic boom and all that depressing stuff made no sense to them. And the new expiration date for Earth is now 2012; again the same shitz. Also, the newer translations are now making sense.
2) The state of the (real) director. The dude who is responsible for the creation of the show is Hideaki Anno, a man who was going through depression for many years, of which he coped with by studding occult, and religion, and delving into mysticism. Which is a common thing most desperate people do when they don’t have anywhere else to turn to and seek spirituality to fill the void money can’t cover. So all he has inserted in his show is his personal thoughts and ways to cope with his depression and even indirectly provide messages to others about how they can deal with all that too. The result of his attempt is questionable, as many can just say that it had the opposite effect or that he contradicted his own worldview later on; but the fact still remains that NGE is a personal work. Someone made it for himself, a purely artistic piece of fiction imbued with his thoughts and feelings. And that is what most of us call art; something that feels like it was done with love and attention and not to directly cater our desires or just offer us one of the same old shitz.
But as I said, for many Hideaki really did just cater the fans and got himself a 15 year old milking cow. That is true as well up to a point; but at least it is MORE THAN THAT, unlike with what happens with most other shows.
3) Great production values. Meaning it had KEWL VISUALS. Sounds superficial but that is the first thing most people will look in a series and that ended up being a very good promotional method. I know many anime with great story concepts and interesting casts who people didn’t care about just because they didn’t have KEWL VISUALS and many others who were superficial as frakk but became famous just because they had.
And sure, the quality had its ups and downs along the way, with the final two episodes being nothing but badly drawn caricatures and random images flashing. Plain and simple, they ran out of money. But hey, a typical director would make a mess out of everything and offer a lukewarm conclusion, but Hideaki was genius enough to make something special with the little he had. And I am not saying it was an ending everybody should like. I’m just saying he didn’t go for mediocrity even when the budget nailed him on the wall and intimidated him to be less risky. He just showed it the middle finger and made an ending sequence unlike anything else ever seen up to then. Bravo my good man.
4) Interesting action scenes. Meaning KEWL CRASHIN’ AN’ BLOWIN’ AN’ LAZERIN’ AN’ THE SHITZ! Every battle with an invading monster was entirely different than the rest. Each one needed a different strategy. No kill-em-all-magic-sword here or not even the slightest repeated footage. Plus, when a monster blows up, IT BLOWS UP in a huge kewl cross-shaped explosion. Hey, why not, it is still partially mecha slugfest, and a damn good one. But not only that…
5) Deconstruction of the genre. NGE began as what appeared to be a typical mecha show with good production values. Oh, here come some monsters to destroy Earth and oh, here come some teenagers piloting huge robots to stop them; it’s the same ever since Mazinger Z was aired. But soon many elements started to appear which changed that opinion. I mean, what is all this talking about angels and instrumentalities and weird Hebrew names and terminology based on psychology? Everything is not what it appears to be. Back then anime were quite straight forward, you know. They had simple storylines, or complicated storylines one could follow with ease, without any real mystery or cranny information to stand in the way. NGE again was great at taking the formula of a typical mecha show (teenagers piloting huge robots and fighting monsters of the week) and turned it to something entirely new. There were many hidden agendas, many things that were not what they seemed, and the whole story ended up being a huge mystery. This was never done before in this volume and to the most part it is not done much even today. And even when it’s done, it’s usually around the mystery exposition quality of Bleach; so frakk it.
6) Cute girls and fan service. Yes, it had that too. Every female character in the show is quite the pretty one and you get to see aspects of her sexual life or plain mentality around her role. Hell, the huge robots in the show fighting angelic abominations and blowing shit up was fan service to its core! And Pen Pen the penguin was a comic relief mascot animal. Sure, Hideaki was smart enough to make something new but at the same time never forgot to be a bit in touch with what the audience wants. Because again, I know many anime which were also controversial and with weird characters and storylines, but they had such alien looking characters or lacked guilty pleasure, making them really hard to watch and appreciate. Not that this lowers their credibility, but they end up being series for the few selected minority, while NGE opted for mass viewing and thus needed to have some of that too.
But again, Hideaki was smart enough to NOT leave fan service rule the show. Unlike most directors who throw in nude and neglect everything else for cheap entertainment and easy bucks, he made sure for each female character to be a lot more than a sexual desire. Every woman had her own personal mindset, demeanor, and backdrop. They were interesting characters even if they were ugly. Hell, the robots had backdrop and personality! Hell squared, the penguin had backdrop and personality! Hell cubed, EVERYTHING had backdrop and personality. So as you can see, fan service was used only as attraction and not as definition of characters.
But going back to the superficial side of it, all females in the show really DID manage to become fetish archetypes in later shows. Asuka became the archetype of tsunderes and Rei the archetype of coolderes. They were not the first in that role in anime history (Urusei Yatsura did it first), but it was them who made it mainstream. And that is again a lot for a series to establish.
7) Complicating characters. As an extension of the above, every character in this show had his/her own personality, backdrop, demeanor and development. This is again something that was never done before in such a degree, as all previous anime (with perhaps the exception of Legend of Galactic Heroes) focused mostly on a couple of main characters and left all the rest as background decoration. But here, everybody had something going individually.
This is also an interesting point to analyze further, as I know many who don’t consider the characters developed at all. They consider all of them to be stuck in a specific mindset all the way to the end and how even the main boy Shinji was for no reason turning from secure to insecure again and again, giving off the feeling his development was nullified just to stretch the story further. That is true up to a point, as for the most part we get to see and learn how each character thinks and not how he/she matures. Meaning, we see them being colorized but not really developed. This is a bit of a blurry spot as by the end of the show all the characters have different priorities because of certain events or revelations, which looking back in the beginning makes you easily think they changed. Well, let’s just say that their goals changed and not their personalities. If they had changed TOO much, they would feel out of character in a way. And since they all show progress in achieving a prime directive and then betraying it or going for something new after it is completed, that counts as valid development for me.
Another thing is the actual characters, who some consider great and others dreadful. The main focus is directed towards Shinji for being a frakking crybaby acting all miserable throughout the series. Well, all I can say is that he is made to be the typical insecured teenage boy, thrown in a cruel world to fight a battle it never chose in the first place. I mean, let’s be honest, in a classic mecha show the lead would live in a beautiful planet, bad aliens would invade, some wise scientist would give him a robot to fight back. Of course he would feel good about all that! In the case of NGE this does not count, as the world is practically hell, his own father doesn’t care about him, dumped him as a baby and only called him to fight a war he never really chose. As strange as it may sound, if my hated father appeared after 10 years of absence and demanded from me to take part in a shady business, I would feel bad about it too, irrelevant to how my actions may save the world. Oh, did I forget to mention how witnessing the death of my own mother as a kid has something to do with it too? And believe it or not, most mentally scared children are negative towards everything, no matter how helpful or practical the things they ask them to do actually are.
Shinji’s father, Gendo, is the next in line to be loved and hated by most, as he is an uncaring father and a manipulating sonovabitch, willing to double cross all his associates and sacrifice all his loved ones just to have it his way, to play it God and egoistically control existence as he feels like it. Many claim how his motives are not shown to the most part, how his backdrop is hardly shown, how his entire character is just random rambling, a plot devise to turn the story as Hideaki wanted without really explaining anything. Well, maybe he was, maybe wasn’t. His motives were explained mostly outside of the show with extra info, which is surely bad in terms of storytelling but, hey, at least he had some to begin with. I mean, everything was “just as planned” but not in an Aizen fashion, if you know what I mean XD. Hideaki knew what he was going to do with him from the start and just didn’t manage to show him properly on screen.
In a less extent the same can be said about all the characters, like why does Rei betray Gendo if she was his pet or why does Shinji try to kill Asuka if he is a spineless crybaby. Well, it is true that their motives are not entirely clear in the show but then again most critics seem to miss the part where they are all MENTALLY UNSTABLE and doing things that seem to be out of character or illogical is part of the package. So yeah, anything can happen and it can somehow be excused because they are all crazy. Sounds like weak storytelling but in the hands of Hideaki, anything his characters were doing fishy is simply labeled “mentally unstable” and thus is excused. The guy is a genius.
8 ) WTF moments. Characters aside, many parts of the show are plain crazy, a weird imagery of apparently random flashes of text, weird fish eye lens, strange use of filters, action live film, characters standing still without talking for a minute. All that create a bizarre puzzle, which again felt quite original back then and still does up to a big part today… and SHAFT jumped on the idea all too much. The unstable characters, the weird names and the vague explanations, all made you feel funny inside and led to the following reason.
9) Symbolic mumbo jumbo. Although Hideaki gave names and affiliations to most of the terminology and in-series technology of the series, he also insisted that all that are just a minor part of the show, purely used as superficial aesthetics to make everything more exotic and unearthly. That still didn’t prevent most of us to look for explanations behind every name, even when there wasn’t any. I personally spent months looking for the name origins of everything in the show and even learned a few things around mythology, mysticism and psychology. Indirectly, the show is very good at making you look further, have you make your own take on the story, study and think about stuff. Backed up by the really vague presentation of several aspects of the characters and the setting, that meant decades of discussions and speculations and constant rumors to spread here and there around the possible meaning behind everything. Most of them ended up being false as Hideaki not only withheld the proper meaning to his work but also changed some elements himself along the way. I had a lot of fun and nerdraeg chatting and arguing over that stuff and although I admit very few of them have to do with the real meaning of the show, they were still enough to make me a more critical thinker. And I like being critical. VERY, VERY CRITICAL. This show and Xenogears did this to me and I have no complaints about it. And lol at most anime for claiming to do the same when they are far more badly-written, badly-directed and end up as mostly fan service. Frakk you Lelouch Vi Britannia!
10) You won’t forget it. No matter how many anime you know of, old or new, this show will forever be remembered… even if you end up hating it. Because there are many series you may like while you watch them but one week later you end up forgetting them or have no reason to rewatch them later on. But not with this show; it is so controversial, many elements of it are still discussed and affect other anime today, and Hideaki keeps changing some details himself just to keep the spice flowing.
Let me be the first to say that the pacing of the show is not perfect and that some episodes feel quite weak next to others, while many story elements and characters are not exploited right. But hey, it’s still a great show to rewatch and Hideaki himself makes sure to exploit it for all it’s worth. Yes, he is contradicting the message of the show to open up and not become a shut-in, hidden in some fantasy realms; but then again I blame nobody else but the fandom for this. First they demand better explanations, and so he makes Death & Rebirth to please them. Then he makes a remastered version where the extra scenes are added in the series, because they nagged how it feels disjoined. Then he makes the End of Evangelion movie, because they nagged how the finale in the series was bad. Now he makes the Rebuild movies, because they nag the characters should be opened up. Not to mention all the myriads of spin-off manga, videogames and affiliated merchandise. How can you blame the guy if the fans want more of the same? So stop calling him a troll or something because he is just making money out of his work, without ever going overboard (so far). I mean, are all those sequels to anime that are pure fan service any better? They don’t even have a story for God’s sake. Hideaki is just making slight variations and they still sell a billion bucks; if that is not talent, I don’t know what it is.
p.s. Tite Kubo does the same but frakk him; he is a pure troll.
I want to finish all this mess of a brainstorm by saying that no matter how much I like Hideaki, by no means do I see him as someone who invented everything from scratch. He just took several bits from various older anime and combined them, while adding a lot of personal touches himself. For example, one would easily see the same relationship Gendo has with Shinji and Rei, to be of direct affiliation with the one in Tetsuwan Atom, where the lead robot seeks love from its father. One would say the demonic looks of the EVA robots are tribute to Mazinger Z’s demonic design, how the ending of the series is influenced by the one in Space Runaway Ideon. Sure, those ideas appeared scattered in the past in other shows. He just gathered them in one place and made his own personal recipe and voila, there you have a show that is still worth nerdraeging 15 years later.
Have a nice day before the Third Impact turns you to orange goo.