How to Watch Neon Genesis Evangelion (1996): Back Then and Now
Apparently we all got blown up at the start of the 20th century. To some sadistic souls dismay it wasn’t from zombies. With a lesser number of humans left standing, mysterious lifeforms called “Angels” are trying to destroy earth, and it’s the goal of the Evangelions at NERV headquarters to stop them! Neon Genesis Evangelion became such a phenomenon in the late 90’s that teens and adults alike still refer back to it as a title that anime fans need to watch. Who could forget its complex, realistic characters – like the infamous, clinically depressed Shinji or the catchy opening sequence? I could be another fish in the sea and tell you to watch the show. Instead, I would like to keep your attention a little longer and tell you how to watch the show.
I first watched Neon Genesis Evangelion when I was 15. I had been casually reviewing anime for a year so I was able to pinpoint its strong points as a creative work: it’s tight script with no filler, well-choreographed fight scenes until half way through when the show became a PowerPoint presentation instead of animation, excellent characterisation and a nice balance of light hearted moments in the first half and serious in the second half. You don’t need to look far to find opinion on Evangelion. The confusing and wide array of endings have inspired pages upon pages of debate on message boards and there have been essays written about its symbolic qualities and references to religion.
Even though the writing is debatably the best part of the show, I was bored by 50% of the material on screen. I couldn’t connect with the adult characters, found the NERV scenes boring and while I could sympathize with Shinji’s feelings of worthlessness, I found him a bore. At the time, my favorite character was Asuka because she would say everything I was thinking. This says a bit about my state of mind at the time, yes? The fight scenes didn’t interest me, I enjoyed the abstract inner monologue scenes in the second half of the series a lot more. As a result, my 15 year old self respected Evangelion, but seldom enjoyed it.
I didn’t re-watch Evangelion in full for many years. After a close friend of mine bought me the DVD set for my 19th birthday, it sat on my shelf collecting dust. I watched the Evangelion Rebuilds (2007 onwards) and Rahxephon (2002), and enjoyed them more than the original series. Just when I thought I would never watch Evangelion in full again, my boyfriend told me he’d never seen the series. “What is this? How can you call yourself an anime fan?” I said, and we slowly worked through the 26 episodes from start to finish. The result was intruiging to say the least.
I was very surprised to find that my enjoyment of the series had drastically increased. Boredom 50% of the time had decreased to boredom 10% of the time. I found I could relate most to Misato now, and even though I liked Asuka, she wasn’t as interesting to me as she had been before. I even liked Ritsuko, who I didn’t give a (insert swearword) about the first time around. A lot of the techno-babble NERV scenes didn’t go over my head like it did before, and the Evangelion universe made a lot more sense. Part of me could still relate to those angst-ridden teens., but I didn’t scorn them, I was just grateful I wasn’t in that state of mind anymore.
It is fascinating to me how the more we move along in life, the more films we can appreciate and enjoy. Perhaps it is not because our younger selves are ‘dumb’ but just ignorant. The richer and wider our life experience becomes the more we can extend our compassion. It reminds me of the quote at the start of the film, The Breakfast Club (1985) by David Bowie: “And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds; are immune to your consultations, they are quite aware of what they are going through.”.
In the end- how should one watch Evangelion? The answer is simple: to have the best possible experience, I highly recommend that you wait a couple of years to pick it up if you are in high school. Take a look at Rahxephon (2002) and the Evangelion Rebuilds while you wait. Since they improve on the aesthetics of the original and don’t go into as much psychological depth, it may hold more magic for you. I am certainly not the only person who has had this experience with Evangelion, but perhaps you will be the exception to the rule and appreciate all aspects to the show. Until then, happy watching!
What do you think? Leave a comment.