Gainax's staggeringly ambitious, 26-episode series NEON GENESIS EVANGELION is declared as one of the most compelling Anime productions of all time. It also happens to be one of most controversial. On one side of the coin are a bunch of loyal, unbending followers that idolize the show. On the other are a group of naysayers who say otherwise. As far as my views of EVANGELION are concerned, I fall somewhere in the middle. In many ways, the show is indeed brilliant and thought provoking--something rarely seen in any animated production, American or Japanese. At the same time, however, there are elements of EVANGELION that rub me the wrong way.
The show, set in post-apocalyptic Tokyo-3, involves alien-like monsters known as "Angels" that continually threaten the metropolis. Only psychologically messed up teenagers -- who include introverted Shinji Ikari, enigmatic Rei Ayanami, and mean-spirited Asuka Langley Sohryu -- stand a chance against them. They do this by piloting their Evangelions -- giant, superpowerful, robot-like fighters. In charge of the whole thing is Misato Katsuragi, a tough, no-nonsense woman who cares for the children while dealing with her own issues. Also calling the shots is Shinji's cold, unsympathetic father, Gendo Ikari, Shinji's cold, unlovable father, who seems to have an agenda of his own, although we're not entirely clear about what it is. And then there is the matter over whether the real threat in Tokyo-3 is in the presence of the Angels or an even more ominous organization, known as SEELE, which is occasionally seen as a group of tabloids with numbers.
As mentioned, there are many aspects of EVANGELION that are good and bad. The technical aspects of this show are impressive -- particularly the dramatic and emotionally charged battles between the EVAs and the grotesquely designed angels; a sense of mystery and intrigue exudes from its complex storyline. As a matter of fact, the show is at its best when it focuses on the conflict between the Angels and the human race. Furthermore, even though a majority of the characters are basically unlikable (save perhaps, for Misato), director Anno does dedicate some episodes delving into their tormented pasts. This is often done in surreal, bizarre, "dream" like sequences involving kaleidoscopic imagery and inner thoughts. Also interesting (and sometimes disorienting) is the use of classical music for several episodes toward the end, notably Handel's "Messiah" and Beethoven's "Choral" Symphony.
It has been widely touted that the characters of EVANGELION are some of the most complex, socially washed out beings ever committed to Anime. On one level, it provides for some intriguing interactions, from Shinji's estranged relationships with both his father and the bitchy Asuka to Misato's own fractured love affair with her off again on again beau, Kaji. The character development becomes gradually less intriguing, however, as each episode exorcises the same angst-ridden issues over and over again, with little to no resolution. In the surprisingly grim and violent latter half of the series, the characters all head into a downward spiral. At the same time, EVANGELION starts to become less intriguing (if sometimes confusing) and turns messy, almost to the point of being totally incomprehensible. Questions that viewers are likely to have about the plot are never answered, and some later episodes have scenes in which absolutely nothing happens that last too long.
Another problem with EVANGELION is its ending or rather, lack thereof. While Gainax's previous TV show, NADIA, took a wrong turn at the midpoint, it did get recover for its last episodes and delivered a strong, if too short conclusion. Here, however, the story simply falls apart. The final two episodes, which are very much played out like extensive therapy sessions, eschew both action and coherency in favor of deconstructing the protagonists' minds. In doing so, it makes the mistake of underwhelming the audience. There are some interesting artistic styles, like Shinji being drawn as a sketch in deep space, but even this potentially experimental approach is compromised by the lack of a structure for a compelling conclusion.
In spite of its faults, NEON GENESIS EVANGELION is still worth watching for many reasons. Its impressively directed action sequences, intriguing mysteries, and in-depth character studies have been seldom matched in others of its kind.
The English dub, provided by Industrial Smoke & Mirrors in the mid '90s, like the show, tends to receive polarized reaction. The dub follows the script fairly well, and the acting is mostly emotionally sound (if at times too melodramatic). On the flipside, it is somewhat disappointing that the young protagonists don't sound like children--especially after ADV's dub for NADIA impressed me with their use of actual child actors. Fortunately, the whole dub is carried by Alison Keith's terrific turn as Misato--she brings a lot of sassiness and instant likability to the character. Her performance sells the dub as a whole even when the script becomes confusing in places.
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION will certainly not win over converts beyond a certain age -- as mentioned, its complicated and sometimes too angst-ridden plot is more likely to appeal to adolescents. As an ambitious and daring exercise in bringing Anime to wider audiences, however, its remarkable in how it achieved that goal.
Review by JTurner82 from the Internet Movie Database.