Having talked a bit about My Little Pony in my last post, I now turn my attention to another highly controversial series (man, my original schedule for this thing was supposed to have a medieval/analytic philosophy focus. Yet here I am talking about ponies and giant robots) Although in this case, Evangelion has been around for long enough that both the frothing hate as well as the cult-like adoration have been moderated a bit.
I have a long love/hate history with Eva. In many ways it exemplifies both everything that I like and everything that I loathe about anime. Eva is the textbook problem series: it’s got a lot of interesting, creative stuff in it, but never really comes together into a coherent whole, and sometimes leaves a bad taste in your imagination.
Right now the franchise exists in three main continuities: first is the original TV show, which aired in the mid 90s and includes the movies Death and Rebirth and End of Evangelion. Then there’s the manga, which started around the same time as the show and, as far as I can tell, is still ongoing. Lastly, there’s Rebuild of Evangelion, a four-part movie remake of the TV show; the third movie was recently released in Japan. There’s also a bunch of really weird manga/video game spinoffs, but I could really care less about them.
Anyway, the plot goes something like this: in the year 2000, a catastrophic event known as Second Impact wipes out most of humanity and shifts the earth’s axis, causing massive environmental changes. Fifteen years later, ambiguous aliens called Angels start attacking Japan with the apparent goal of bringing about Third Impact, and the only way to defeat them is with giant robots called Evangelions, which are piloted by 14 year olds (of course). Meanwhile, a sinister cabal is secretly manipulating events to bring about something called Instrumentality.
Just from that you can tell that this series is rife with pretentious religious symbolism (just look at its name). Judeo-Christian and Gnostic imagery is all nonsensically jumbled together in order to give things a deep and mysterious feel. But it just looks goofy and occasionally offensive. Eva does manage to generate an almost surreal atmosphere of apocalyptic paranoia on its own, though; this is a world on the brink and it makes you feel it.
The other immediate thing of note is that the giant robots actually aren’t robots. They’re alive: underneath all that armor is flesh and blood (like a reverse Terminator). Pilots are inserted inside and synchronize themselves with their Eva’s nervous systems. This makes them really creepy, and the action occasionally horrifying; David Cronenberg would be proud, I guess. My hat goes off to whoever designed the Angels, which are some of the few aliens which actually look alien; there’s some serious non-euclidean geometry going on for some of them.
Then we have the characters. Eva is sort of like the Wuthering Heights of anime: your ability to enjoy it will depend largely upon your acceptance of the fact that the characters are all terrible, miserable people, and that you will spend much of the show stewing in teenage angst. The second half of the show, in particular, is like watching a train-wreck in slow motion. And that’s if the Rei Ayanami fanboys haven’t scared you away.
Then we have the plot, which is rather obscure. Important plot points are only given casual mention, and a good amount of background info is just left hazy. While this does add to the mysterious mood of the show, it’s not as artfully done as it is in, say, Serial Experiments Lain (i.e. it suffers from a good amount of “we’re just making this up as we go along”). The infamously bizarre and nonsensical ending fails to resolve anything. This led to the creation of End of Evangelion, a movie ending which manages to be even more bizarre and nonsensical, while also being one of the most disturbing and tasteless things I’ve ever seen. Though it does, admittedly, bring some closure to the series.
I haven’t read the manga, so I can’t comment on that.
Rebuild of Evangelion streamlines the show into a much more action-ish formula while pushing the story in a different direction than the TV show did. It still (so far – I’ve only seen the first two movies) makes very little sense, and the inclusion of a new character for the purpose of selling action figures doesn’t help.
In spite of all my complaining, I’ve watched a lot of this show, and will likely see Rebuild to its conclusion. It hits that weirdly compelling ratio of badness to quality. And it was also one of the first non-DBZ/Pokemon anime series that I really got into when I was a teenager, and it had quite an impact on my impressionable mind.
The one thing that I can unequivocally recommend is the music: Shiroh Sagisu’s score is one of the best ever. Well, Rebuild has a bit too much weird chanting.