“Neon Genesis Evangelion” was released on Netflix in June, over two decades since it first debuted to critical acclaim in 1995. A mecha anime about teenagers in giant robots fighting to save the world, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” went beyond genre conventions, creating a dark and realistic world filled with life-or-death situations, psychologically complex characters and plenty of moral ambiguity.
With one of the best works of Japanese animation now ready for streaming, here are seven reasons to watch this groundbreaking show.
1. The Plot
In the year 2015, the planet is under attack by giant alien creatures called Angels. In order to defend the Earth, the paramilitary organization known as Nerv has created colossal robots called Evangelions, or Evas. Because only young adolescents are capable of synchronizing with the biomechanical Evas, Nerv is forced to resort to the implementation of child soldiers.
Fourteen-year-old Shinji Ikari, joined by the mysterious Rei Ayanami and later the fiery Asuka Langley Soryu, is unwillingly called to serve as the planet’s last line of defense. The plot revolves around not only the battle against the Angels, but the children’s struggles to work together and cope with the incredible stresses of their duty.
“Neon Genesis Evangelion” is all about young people being placed into one of the worst situations imaginable, rendering the inevitable pain, loneliness and mental anguish felt by its characters artfully and hauntingly.
2. The Characters
One of the most compelling parts of the show is the characters, each of whom has their own set of problems. The nervous and withdrawn Shinji, who serves as the series’s protagonist, struggles with his feelings of responsibility versus his fear of facing the Angels in battle, ever aware that he is putting his life at risk but also knowing his failure would mean more deaths than just his own.
In contrast to Shinji, Rei fulfills her duty without question; yet, her robotic mannerisms, cool demeanor and general aloofness often make her difficult to read, creating the desire to know more about her. And while Asuka is far more unreserved and outwardly confident than either Rei or Shinji, her pride masks deep-seated insecurities that slowly reveal themselves as the show goes on, turning her from a stereotypical tomboy into someone fascinating and sympathetic.
3. The Action
While “Neon Genesis Evangelion” tends to place an emphasis on drama, it absolutely does not lack action. Not only are the battles between the Evas and the Angels fast-paced and adrenaline-pumping, they always feel as though they are happening on a gigantic scale: city towers are leveled, small buildings are stomped upon and huge craters open up wherever a combatant suffers a messy landing.
Add to this the impressive firepower Nerv regularly deploys during an Angel attack, including helicopters, missile emplacements and huge artillery guns that make even bigger explosions, and this generation-defining anime has more than enough heart-stopping action to satisfy the adrenaline junkie in everyone.
4. The Evas
More than just battle machines, the Evas are something of a mystery. They possess organic as well as mechanical parts, and there are even rare situations where an Eva will begin to act on its own.
During such instances, the Eva usually goes berserk, its behavior resembling that of a cornered animal. Just how alive and aware the Evas are is mostly left to speculation; however, there is a notable scene early in the series where Shinji witnesses his Eva regrow a living eye underneath its faceplate, an eye that stares at him with uncanny intelligence.
5. The Angels
Even more enigmatic than the Evas are the Lovecraftian beings known as the Angels, who take on a variety of bizarre, even mind-bending forms. Said forms range from the humanoid, such as the skeletal Sachiel, to the more abstract and alien, such as the living prism Ramiel or the virus-like Ireul.
Regardless of what shape they take, every Angel possesses incredible power and is protected by an impenetrable forcefield that only an Eva has any chance of breaching. While the exact origin of the Angels is not revealed until well into the show, what is clear from the beginning is they are deadly enemies, making every fight a thoroughly suspenseful one.
6. The Comedy
Despite its abundance of grim moments, there are still elements of humor to be found in “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” The character Misato Katsuragi, who acts as the children’s commanding officer, also serves as something of comedic relief, her irreverent personality, lack of cleanliness and love of beer making her a needed source of light and laughter.
Some of the show’s most lighthearted moments occur in Katsuragi’s unkempt apartment, where she, Shinji and Asuka being forced to live together in close quarters leads to plenty of awkward situations.
Additionally, even though the dynamic between Shinji, Asuka and Rei often creates drama, with the children finding it difficult to communicate with one another, the trio’s shared social ineptitude sometimes results in its own funny moments, from Shinji painfully trying to hide his attraction to the girls to Asuka’s monumental failure in trying to show off.
7. The Themes
“Neon Genesis Evangelion” deals frequently with the themes of social isolation and the difficulty of connecting with others. The children, particularly Shinji, often feel alienated from one another, unable to fully expose themselves for fear of being hurt.
Even though the show can come across as pessimistic about people’s ability to relate to each other, there are still numerous moments which demonstrate not all is hopeless. Rei and Shinji share an intimate moment after their first battle together and Asuka and Shinji occasionally show signs of deeper affection for one another. Despite not shying away from darker realities, the show is also not afraid to suggest that love and compassion are real and potent forces.
Between all these features and more, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” stands the test of time as a show with something to offer almost anyone. Even if one is not an anime fan, the drama, action, humor and above all the beautifully written characters still make this show more than worth the time.
“Neon Genesis Evangelion” is not just another anime; it is something so impressive that everyone should check it out at least once.