Art or rather its enjoyment is subjective. While there are some universally loved things, there are few examples of pop art. In the end love for one thing can easily be matched by the hate that others will feel for it.
In many ways this describes Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The franchise has been both praised and cursed by anime fans, sometimes in the same sentence due to its themes, story, characters and budget cuts.
It also doesn’t help that the series has been reworked more times than an artistic rendering on a etch a sketch.
However, after rewatching the original series and the two films to prepare for the Rebuild of Evagelion I came to a number of conclusions about the series that I hadn’t thought of before.
It plays by it’s own rules:
Fiction works under a set of rules.
Now by that I don’t mean rules as in sports rules, but as in the types of things that could happen during the story.
Let’s use the show Breaking Bad as an example.
We see Walter White in the beginning and follow him as he slowly turns from a quiet teacher to a murdering drug dealer.
However, this change didn’t happen out of nowhere. The change was slow and each choice led him down a road that made him become more and more violent.
Now say that during the show’s final season they add a plot twist where North Korea nuking part of America. That would totally go against the rules of the show.
A sudden shift only hurts as show in the end, and this is one of the things people hate about Evangelion.
What starts as a simple monster of the week mecha anime with a post-apocalyptic backdrop turns into a psychological horror series quite suddenly.
While some might argue that this was just the way the plot was going to advance, it still feels like we stopped playing go fish and jumped into a game of bridge (do people still play bridge?). Or in geek terms stopped playing Yu-Gi-Oh! and jumped into (the far superior) Magic the Gathering.
The show started more or less like any other mecha anime (reluctant young hero being forced to pilot a mech to protect a town and his friends, albeit with more religious overtones) and then dives much deeper into existential and horror themes.
This turn isn’t necessarily a bad thing as there are many fans of the show that love this aspect, however the shift is so great that it can alienate some people. It’s one of the reasons why the show is so polarizing.
Despite the shift this isn’t the major thing that holds Evangelion back.
None of the characters are likeable:
It’s no secret that the show’s main character, Shinji Ikari, is one of the most hated characters in anime. However, he isn’t the only unlikeable character in the show, in fact I can’t think of a main character that is likeable and I have a hard time believing that was done on purpose.
The three main pilots; Shinji, Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu all suffer from something I like to call broken character syndrome.
Broken Character Syndrome or BCS happens when a character is so obviously screwed up that it becomes the main focus of that characters involvement in the plot.
For example in J.D. Salinger’s book Catcher in the Rye, main character Holden Caufield, is an emotionally traumatized sociopath. He’s rude, whinny and depressed (sound familiar? Although he never describes himself as “sneaky”).
Over the course of the novel, we see him interact with normal people in New York (if there are such things) and slowly we find out why he’s messed up. The story then leads to Holden falling apart and ending up having to get help.
However, in Evangelion all of the main character’s are going through similar problems, namely parent issues, and the plot doesn’t really resolve them short of Asuka going crazy in a mech and Shinji surviving in The End of Evagelion.
There’s a lot of moving parts in this story and they don’t all work. The show has so many characters that it can’t balance the load and it hurts the show.
That being said these characters do go through a lot more than Holden ever did (although Holden fighting in a mech suit would be the best anime ever) but the story still needs a similar pay off.
What we get is Shinji realizing that he does want to live and that he really does miss other people even if they reject him (although he does it when everyone is already dead) and uses his…Evangelion suit (and his will or something) to break free from Lilith’s grasp and bring Asuka with him (a girl who seemingly doesn’t really like him) becoming the new Adam and Eve of earth (just with a giant severed head in the foreground, kind of a mood killer if you ask me).
Or at least that’s what I got out of the ending…I’ve heard a number of theory’s over the years.
Despite the difference in storytelling there are some similarities between Shinji and Holden that I couldn’t stop noticing.
They’re both robbed of their childhoods due to losing family members; Holden loses his brother and Shinji never really knows his mother before she dies and they’re both left to more or less deal with these deaths on there own.
The issue is, this type of story works best when the character is faced with others who are normal and that either try to help or ignore him.
While Shinji is regularly yelled at by his teammates for being…himself, they’re hypocrites because they’re more or less in the same boat. The only characters that don’t to do this are side characters that are given little to no characterization other than their position in the NERV organization.
In Catcher in the Rye, most of the characters are plot devices used to show just how messed up Holden is. Holden rejects them unlike Shinji, who is rejected.
Salinger had more room to play with, as he only had to work with one character in a more real world environment. In the end he tells a better story.
Evangelion feels too big to take on a story that is more or less very small and locked off from the rest of the world.
Also Holden didn’t pleasure himself while standing over an unconscious woman. He just paid hookers to talk to him. Something that maybe Shinji should of tried.
But the final thing I realized about Evangelion was…
I don’t hate it as much as I use to:
I never really saw the same things that most people see in this series. I always thought it was decent, but didn’t really worship it or condemn it like others do.
While the original ending was so bad that it needed a reboot (and a rebuild) there are a number of things I like about the series.
Namely the way it used of my favourite anime genre, mecha-anime, in a different way.
While other series like Gundam tend to retread similar ideas (and make strong interesting stories) Evangelion ended up being different…very different.
While I commented earlier that the shift in tone was jarring, it wasn’t horrible. There are a number of themes that are used that I like, for example of existential ideas as plot points.
While these ideas aren’t fully realized in the final product due to a number of reason (one of which being budgeting) these ideas added depth to a seemingly stale genre.
In addition The End of Evangelion could be one of the more visually interesting works I ever seen (despite the fact that some of the visuals can’t be unseen). It also has one of the most out of place pop songs ever shown in anime.
While it ends up leaving the viewer to interpret it’s try meaning, it earns it unlike films like Inception that use it to more or less hook the audience at the final few seconds.
Overall I was surprised that I enjoyed the series as much as I did, don’t get me wrong there’s still a lot to hate about the show (namely the characters who are in it) but there are some things that naysayers often overlook.
I’m looking forward to watching the Rebuild of Evangelion.