“What’s wrong with running away from reality if it SUCKS!?!”
– Shinji Ikari
On October 5, 1995, while Americans were still in shock over the O.J Simpson verdict, the Japanese were getting their first taste of a brand new series called “Neon Genesis Evangelion” [“Shin Seiki Evangelion” in Japanese]. Produced by Studio Gainax and directed by veteran Hideaki Anno, “Evangelion” quickly and purposefully set itself apart from the other giant robot shows on the air at the time. Even now, sixteen years and four movies later, “Evangelion” still stand apart from all the other different mecha shows out there with legions of loyal fans both in Japan and the US. But why is that? Could it be the complex, winding story line, weaved over the course of twenty-six episodes? Could it be the characters that director calls “sick” but others consider iconic? Could it be the complex designs of the angels and the Evangelion units? Or could it possibly be the now well-known acting styles of both the Japanese and English vocal talent? Let’s dive right in and see which applies and hope my sync ratio doesn’t hit 400%.
Who Is This Series For? – This series is for you if you are into giant robot [mecha] series. “Evangelion” pretty much re-wrote the book with that regard. This show is for you if you have any kind of interest in how the human mind works. “Evangelion” is a study in different mental complexes and shortcomings, it’s a wonder that it’s not required viewing in Psychology or Sociology classes. This series is absolutely for you if you love complex characters. “Evangelion” has them by the truckload; each character has multiple layers to them and are NEVER exactly what they seem. Finally, “Evangelion” is for you if you are a fan of old-school animation. Though “Evangelion” has been updated for its “Platinum” release, the cel-style animation is still evident, and still looks great after all these years.
Who Is This Series NOT For: This series is absolutely NOT for you if your are sensitive about religious imagery or folklore. This is a trademark of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and the prime reason it’s been barred from discussion on some Christian anime forums and sites. A series that makes”Angels” the bad guys, and features a giant crucified on a cross, among other things, might not sit will with some audiences. This series is definitely not for you if you are sensitive about nudity. Though it’s not in every single episode, there are scenes when the characters are in various states of undress, even to the point where the full female front or back is revealed, though some sensitive parts aren’t defined. This series is also not for you if you prefer clear-cut, spelled out endings. You ain’t getting that with “Evangelion”; it’s pretty much open to interpretation on how the series ends. Finally, “Evangelion” is also not for you if you are against any homosexual pairings, implied or otherwise. Episode twenty-four rides a really, REALLY fine line with this, though NOTHING happens in that episode with that regard.
Story and Premise – “Neon Genesis Evangelion” is set in a time and place in the near future, where Earth is under attack by the “Angels”; mysterious beings in varying shapes and forms intent on attacking and destroying the earth. The only defense that mankind has is the organization known as “NERV” and the synthetic bio-mechanical robot known as the Evangelion. Piloted mentally by a select group of fourteen year olds, the Evangelions wage war against the “Angels” preventing a “Third Impact” from destroying all mankind. [Earth was nearly destroyed in the “Second Impact” fourteen years prior to the start of the series, causing its axis to shift, the seas to rise and flood land masses and kill millions of people in the ensuing wars that follow. A side effect of this shift is that there are no more seasons, making it perpetually summer in Japan.] While the overall plot of Evangelion sounds simple, it’s really anything but. If anything, I would equate it to a fully loaded pickup truck in neutral on a hill. Once you take your foot off the brake and your hands off the wheel, you really don’t know where it’s going to go; it could veer to the left, to the right, or it could keep straight ahead. All you know is that it’s going downhill, it’s going to stop eventually, and it’s the wildest ride you won’t soon forget. While much has been made of the Psychological and religious aspects of “Evangelion”, its only as complex as you make it and it’s not a requirement that you understand each complex and mental disorder to enjoy the show. You can enjoy it as a mecha series, or a dramatic series, or as a psychological series. It is a series, however, that demands your attention, especially to the dialogue as there are many double meanings and “red herrings” that can throw you off. With regards to the ending…it is what you make of it. It either makes perfect sense, or no sense at all. This is an annoying trademark of the director, Hideaki Anno, and sadly, continues on with his following project “His and Her Circumstances”. The ending is so confusing and so out of left field, that even the English voice actor for Shinji, Spike Spencer, had to comment in character. [See the “Lagniappe” section for more info…] (24/25)
Characters – To me, one defining characteristic [pun intended] about the cast of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” is the fact that each character lives in their own personal hell on various levels, from the child pilots Rei Ayanami, Asuka Langley Soryu, and Shinji Ikari [Known as the First, Second and Third Child respectively], right down to the bridge technicians Sigeru Aoba, Maya Ibuki and Mokoto Hyuga. [There is a specific reason I listed these characters in that order. See “Lagniappe”] Watching them move through their day-to-day lives is beautifully painful to watch, especially those who are directly influenced by or involved with the Evangelion. Other characters such as NERV’S Commander [and Shinji’s LOVING father…] Gendo Ikari, Deputy Commander Kozo Fuyutsuki, Operations Director [and at times resident party girl] Misato Katsuragi and Technology Head Ritsuko Akagi are all equally as complex, each with their own hidden agendas and secrets that makes the show all the more intriguing to watch. You, quite literally, have to listen closely to their dialogue to catch subtile hints as to what they’re thinking, and what their true goals are. (25/25)
Animation and Music – For a series that’s sixteen years old, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” holds its own with regards to animation. You can tell that it was created in the mid 1990’s, but it’s a classic look that I personally enjoy. I actually like the slightly grainy, old school look and slightly dulled colors common in anime of the time. The character designs are, for the most part, excellent, with each character having a defining characteristic that makes them stand out and memorable. After all, what anime fan DOESN’T know what color Asukas hair is or what color Rei’s eyes are. [They’re both red, just so you know.] The mecha designs are equally awesome, with the clunky and block style typical of mecha designs of the time replaced with a more limber and lean look, with Eva Unit-01 looking more like a track runner at times than a fighting bio android. The angels are also very well rendered, and with their varying shapes and designs, it always leaves you guessing as to how they’re going to attack. I do have one glaring issue with regards to animation. Back in 2003, a “Platinum” version of “Evangelion” was released in the US from Japan which included cleaner animation, updated music and audio tracks, and some new “director cut” scenes for some episodes. While the new animation looks okay, the “director cut” scenes, created at least 6 years after the original series aired, stands out like a sore thumb. It does NOT match the animation style of the rest of the show, even though the original material was cleaned and updated. With regards to music, “Evangelion” is a soundtrack to be reckoned with. “The Cruel Angel Thesis”, as originally preformed by Yoko Takahashi, is one of the most iconic and well-known anime theme songs ever composed, with “Fly Me To The Moon” equally popular as the ending theme. All of the incidental music is perfectly used for each individual scene, and doesn’t overwhelm. “Evangelion” also makes interesting use of classical music tracks with the “Hallelujah” chorus and “Ode To Joy” used in places of abject despair and panic. Both are an outstanding match to the scenes they’re played in and have become iconic for their use in “Evangelion”. (23/25)
Performances – This is where “Evangelion”, at least with regards to the American version, gets a little confusing, so we’ll start at the beginning. The original Japanese, as directed by Hideaki Anno, is, of course, the stuff of legend with Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, and Yuko Miyamura doing an outstanding job as Shinji, Rei and Asuka respectively. Likewise, the performances of Spike Spencer, Amanda Winn-Lee, and Tiffany Grant with Matt Greenfield directing are equally outstanding, with the actors playing their now legendary characters with the kind of pride and conviction that is rare in shows of this early era, especially with regards to Grant’s portrayal of the fiery red-head. By all accounts, she IS Asuka, and no other actor before or since could ever replace her. The same can be said of Allison Keith as Misato who gives a heartfelt, fun portrayal of the character, that remains consistently good throughout the series. Tristan MacAvery as Gendo is deliciously evil, with his sharp voice stabbing each and every scene he is featured in while Guil Lunde is the perfect counter with his calm yet knowledgeable tone as Fuyutsuki. Sue Ulu as Ritsuko Akagi is amazing, giving an award-winning performance in Episode 23 of the series. Overall I had no problems with the original cast of “Evangelion” and it earns full marks…if you don’t factor in the “Platinum” edition. Now, I understand that at the time the call went out for the re-dubbing that some of the actors may not have been available for the recording, and I accept that. What I don’t accept is most of the casting decisions that were made; the most glaring of which replaces Tristan MacAvery with John Swasey as Gendo. While he didn’t sound BAD in the role…he didn’t have that SNAP to his voice that MacAvery brought to the role. Perhaps if Swasey played Gendo throughout the series it would be okay, but in this case, it’s just too different. Another slight misstep that I am still questioning is the replacement of Kyle Sturdivant with Greg Ayres as Kaworu [I know, shocker right? I mean, just last week I awarded him the first “Drew Threw it To You” award, and now I’m complaining about one of his roles…]. While the voice itself wasn’t a problem, it was the direction that he took the character in that rubbed me the wrong way. I’m not sure who told him to play Kaworu as having an overt sexual interest in Shinji, but to me, the way he played the role was a little too over the top with that regard, and he really should have been directed better. Finally, and this is only a minor nitpick, who let Edward Elric inside NERV’S command center? (22/25)
Story and Premise – 24 out of 25
Characters – 25 out of 25
Animation and Music – 23 out of 25
Performances – 22 out of 25
Final Grade: 94/100 = 94% (A)
Availability – “Neon Genesis Evangelion” can be found just about anywhere you look both online and off. ADV Films, taking advantage of their popular cash cow, had several different releases of “Evangelion” throughout its lifetime. An example of the three releases are seen at left from my own collection. The original DVDs, seen at far left, are currently out of print and are pretty lacking with regards to extras, but a must-find if you are interested in seeing “Evangelion” in its first release format. [it also contains dialogue tracks in French and Spanish along with the English and original Japanese…now you can hear Shinji scream in multiple languages!] Your best bet to find those would be eBay or Amazon. The Platinum Editions are still available from many retailers both online and off and are good if you are looking to get your “Evangelion” fix with higher quality video and audio and if you love extras like commentary tracks. There is also a special single-box “Complete Platinum Collection” version of Evangelion, which is pretty much the Platinum Edition all gathered in one box.
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra)
- The opening theme, “A Cruel Angel Thesis” has been recorded and re-recorded by many different artists throughout its lifetime, at one point being recorded by the three voice actresses for Shinji, Asuka, Rei and Misato. [In my own music collection, I have about 10 separate versions of this song…I need to burn them all to a CD and blast it in my truck one day…note to self…]
- In the English dub, the voice actors for Shinji Ikari, Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu [Spike Spencer, Amanda Winn-Lee, and Tiffany Grant respectively] were, at one point, married to the voice actors for Maya Ibuki, Shigeru Aoba and Mokoto Hyuga [Kendra Benham, Jason Lee and Matt Greenfield, again respectively. Sadly, it looks as though Shinji and Maya didn’t make it and have since divorced. That sucks…].
- Because some actors would not show up for recording sessions, ADR Director Matt Greenfield took the role of Bridge Technician Mokoto Hyuga using a pseudonym of “Brian Granveldt”. The reason he used a pseudonym, according to the commentary track, was because his name was already listed as being the Writer, Director and Producer. [Doesn’t make sense to me, but okay…]
- Expressing frustration after the last episode of “Evangelion”, Spike Spencer, the American voice actor for Shinji Ikari, went on a mini-rant over the end credits of the last episode as Shinji. This can be heard on the Platinum Edition DVD’s. […you can also listen to it here on YouTube if you don’t want to spend that kind of cash.]
- Tiffany Grant, the voice actress for Asuka, is fluid in German, much like her character, and was a factor for her being cast. [It also helps if your husband is the Producer and Director of the project…just saying.]
- The character design for Shinji is based on another Gainax character; Nadia from “Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water”.
- There is a rare “Holiday Complete Collection” release of “Evangelion” which is pretty much a re-release of the Platinum Complete Collection released during December. [Because nothing quite celebrates the birth of the Son of God like an anime whose antagonists are trying to surpass the will of God…fun for all.]
- Originally, the designation of the pilots were “First Children”, “Second Children”, etc…however, ADR Director Matt Greenfield changed it to the grammatically correct “First Child”, “Second Child”, Etc. However, the title of episode 17 is still “Fourth Children”.
- In Episode 19 “A Mans Fight”, there is a glaring spelling error of the word “Emergency”. When Shinji is standing on the train platform, the sign above him changes to show the evacuation route with the word “emergency” spelled as “EMARGENCY”.
- In Episode 24, “The Beginning and the End, or ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door'”, during Kaworus decent into Terminal Dogma, an alert indicator shows the incorrect spelling of the word “Partition”.
- Amanda Winn-Lee, the voice actress for Rei Ayanami, acted as a co-director for many episodes of “Evangelion”. She would eventually go on to produce and direct “Death and Rebirth” and “End of Evangelion” for Manga Entertainment. [We’ll discuss her involvement with the “Evangelion” franchise later…and boy, is that going to be interesting…]