It’s 2015 and monsters the size of skyscrapers invade the Earth, wat do?
Having seen this on a particular image board, that was it. I just needed a reason to rewatch Neon Genesis Evangelion, and now I had one. I don’t even know how many times I’ve already watched the whole series start to end, but that’s just me. There are innumerable writings, reviews, AMVs (anime music videos) commemorating and celebrating seemingly everyone’s favourite coming-of-age doomsday mecha anime; there’s a reason behind the international fanbase, so here are a few steps to get you started to becoming a full-fledged fan of NGE, because comparing Neon Genesis Evangelion to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim is like comparing Dr Phil to a real doctor.
Having the story seen largely through Shinji Ikari’s eyes, a fourteen year old boy chosen to pilot a top-secret, experimental biomachine weapon in the form of a giant robot to combat the threat of the Angels, extraterrestrial beings wielding immense destructive power with the goal of exterminating mankind, there is insight to be gained here. In a series where everything is an emotional stimulus which characters react to accordingly, they feel much more relatable and “real”. For instance, when Shinji pilots 01, he tells himself he’s trying to save the world but really, it’s probably more for the praise he’s sorely missed almost his entire life, from the people around him and most importantly, his father. There’s also Katsuragi, whose father died saving her life during the second impact, once in control of the Evangelion units she puts everything on the line and laughs in the face of danger and odds, for her selfish desire to get back at the angels, or perish with the lot if she does fail. People are people, even in this anime, right down to the dysfunctionality.
Within the same vein, the series also mentions “The Hedgehog Dilemma”, if you know the joke about hedgehogs trying to hug then you know what that’s about, otherwise click here to learn something. In other words, it’s the same with hedgehogs and the characters of NGE most of the time; they have to rely on each other, but they cannot get too close, not when everyone has issues and baggage enough to guarantee a psychiatrist’s early and comfortable retirement, not when everyone is actively running away from something whether they know it or not. But that’s just like in real life, where everyone has their own problems and behavior, because in such a character-based show such as NGE, one can find himself in the setting.
If you’ve watched this only for the giant mecha fights, I know what you’re thinking. “Well yes, Sherlock, the theme’s humanity ‘cos that’s what on the line in the whole series!” Yes, but not quite. One of the plot lines in the story is the Human Instrumentality Project, which intends to evolve humankind into a single existence without any concept of individuality or unity through a controlled third impact, thereby also erasing any insecurity, desire or longing, and loneliness. Incidentally, loneliness is also conveyed often in the show, after the second impact, the world’s population dropped drastically and so even in Japan, the roads are always empty, the cities silent, the noise of people and traffic replaced by the constant droning of cicadas in an eternal summer. At home, the characters seldom find it in themselves to confide and confront, Shinji with his sense of self-loathing, Asuka with her own equally crippling insecurities masked by a superiority complex, for an example. But as I watch them struggle, there is no remorse, but also no space for contempt. After all, they’re just trying to be human.
Unreliability in bureaucracy
Interestingly, picking up and relating to all the scenes of bureaucracy leading up to failure is something only I managed recently having rewatched this when I’m older. True enough; the show portrays bureaucrats and high-ranking individuals from various organizations, such as the military as people waiting on clearance in the face of impending doom. In an episode where the characters have to defuse an experimental autonomous evangelion unit gone rogue on a path to self-destruct, the solution was obtained after immense bargaining and deal-cutting over the phone with various other bureaucrats, it was comical even, especially when the self-destruction would’ve made Tokyo the world’s biggest raincatcher.
It’s hardly surprising, after watching “Shin Godzilla”, directed also by Hideaki Anno. For a little while, Shin Godzilla observed mixed reception because it was misunderstood. But there’s a common theme here, and that’s the unreliability in bureaucracy. In NGE, the bureaucrats of other organizations who work alongside NERV are more often than not portrayed as people of inability, frequently incompetent, arrogant and complacent, paving the way for the big boys and girls at NERV to break out the big guns to save the day.
Like with any other show or graphic media, visuals are all important, and the art in NGE isn’t shabby either, dated as it is. The technical designs are well-crafted and this is essential, because making crap look cool AND functional is always a plus. That said, the composition of shots amplifies atmosphere and effectively conveys scale, and grandeur in some cases. Pictures to illustrate my point below.
Battle scenes and presentation
Lastly but not least, the fights. Really now, if you don’t think 30-storey tall mechas duking it out with giant monsters from space, with some special tactics and the occasional nuke thrown in is the coolest thing ever, you can just get out of my face. In all seriousness, most fights do not last very long, but that’s where it gets interesting because the preparation scenes that lead up to the fight are sometimes as long as the fight itself, if not longer. There are also scenes showing specifically discussing city repair budgets, Angel corpse and viscera clean up details and maintenance times, and these scenes lend a much more realistic and plausible approach to the genre. It might be just me, but there’s just something about having to utilize an entire country’s power supply to charge a positron sniper rifle the length of three city blocks for two shots to save the day.