Each year, we mark the anniversary of Shallow Dives in Anime with a special review. A show that for some reason or another holds a special place in my heart. It may be because it is good, or because it was bad. There may be personal reasons behind it, or it may have been something dogging my footsteps. Either way these reviews are a long time coming and ones I put a lot of thought into.
The first year I took another look at Shinmai Maou no Testament, and made peace with a show that was almost singularly responsible for getting me into blogging.
The second year I caved in and finally watched Chivalry of a Failed Knight, a show I had deeply personal reasons for avoiding.
Both shows I ended up leaving with a newfound respect, and in the case of Knight, an appreciation for. The show we are talking about this year needs no introduction, but it is something that ever since I started this blog, I knew would end up happening. A reckoning that I couldn’t run away from. A show that any anime fan worth his salt has to end up confronting, good or ill, bad or good.
Welcome to Shallow Dives in Anime. This is Neon Genesis Evangelion.
What honestly, truly can be said about Evangelion?
Better yet, what hasn’t been said? In the entire span of anime fandom, especially in the west, there has not been a show more discussed, analyzed, examined, interpreted and just talked about than this one. A crown jewel to many, an essential anime to an entire generation, the key point in the ‘starter kit’ that those in the 4kids and Toonami Era experienced. A source of endless memes, merchandised to hell and back, and a show that even the creator has questioned it’s enduring popularity and just plain obsession. Evangelion is a monster, an unstoppable tide that has swallowed up everything and everyone in its wake.
So with that said? What could someone like me say that hasn’t been said already? What can I add to the show where everything has already been said, from every angle?
The truth is not that much. Despite being born of the 4kids/Toonami Era of anime fandom, I never watched Evangelion growing up. It never passed my radar, and as I got older and became entwined with the fansub era, it was a show that never came up in my library. Oh I had heard about it, even watched a handful of episodes ages ago, but it wasn’t something I really knew, or frankly cared about. But why is that, when to so many people it is anime’s equivalent of The Catcher in the Rye? A defining text that speaks to the soul of so many young weebs?
I think the reason was that, despite being an anime fan, I grew up in a stable lifestyle. I was a nerd full stop, but I also had a large group of friends that filled my days with fun and activities. Sleepovers, Nintendo, Junk-food, Yugioh cards. Those were my weekends. A life full of laughter, good humor, and a sense of accomplishment and peace. I was not one of those teenagers who clung to anime as a replacement for friends. Or who saw it as an escape from a world that didn’t understand them. Oh I had teenage angst for sure, but I wasn’t consumed by it, and therefore didn’t see Evangelion, or need it, as an outlet for those feelings.
So me and Evangelion passed each other by, and for years as I drifted in and out of the fandom I never paid it much mind. Watched a few of the legendary clips, but sort of just shrugged it off as a show that was probably worth the hype, but I wasn’t interested in. And as time went on, and the dark side of fandom emerged, I realized that I was probably never going to appreciate it as much as those people did, probably because, now at 32 with a career, romance, and good friends. I didn’t need it.
But I wanted to see it anyway. I wanted to sit down and find out what the fuss was about. The idea of viewing this show through the eyes of a well-adjusted adult instead of an angst ridden teenager was interesting. What would I think? Could I reconcile those feelings, or would I just think the show was stupid.
The answer, as most of these stories goes, was a resounding ‘meh’.
Neon Genesis Evangelion was okay. Great in some places, a product of anime history for sure, but it was kinda just eh.
To be brutally honest, the show it reminded me the most of was Mirai Nikki, in that it is the perfect show for that thirteen year old teenager. Being able to directly interlink with the mindset of that age. I mean, if you saw this show at that age, having only grown up on American cartoons? It would have blown your fucking mind. Then add in the fact that it deals with relatable themes of self worth and depression, and respectable (for the time) fanservice? You’re checking every box right here.
Having watched the full 26 episode series (and no, I did not watch The End of Evangelion for this review, that will come later. But I do know and have watched enough clips over the years to pretty much get the gist). I found myself deeply impressed with the technical side of the show, but very ‘whelmed’ with everything else. Starting off right in the ’emo deepend’, the show quickly took a left turn into an enjoyable ‘monster of the week’ format, before doing another reverse into what often came off as pretentious pontificating about stuff that, as a well adjusted 32 year old, I rolled my eyes at. I knew that this shit meant a lot to people, but I just couldn’t care.
And I probably shouldn’t care. If anything, Evangelion is a personal journey of its creator, who has been on record as suffering from clinical depression throughout his life. Instead of therapy he decides to create this show, and Evangelion, it’s sequel film and the now completed Rebuilds serves as the journey through realization, surrender, rebirth and then acceptance. I acknowledge that journey and reading, wholly and completely, but I don’t have the skill to properly look at those works and nor do I have an interest in doing so. I mean, it’s kind of ironic that a show put on the pedestal of ‘deep and meaningful’ is also one of the most merchandisable shows on the fucking planet. Hard to tell your fellow nerds to go outside and ‘touch grass’ when you’ll be cashing those six-figure checks for the rest of your life right?
But there was a lot I actually did enjoy. The middle part where the show becomes a ‘monster of the week’ format was well paced, with episodes of drama, action and even good humor that shows the characters at their best. Despite NERV, who apparently can afford to build alien robots, but not afford a therapy department, having the worst security of all time. The shoe-string budget and hand-drawn animations give the show a very authentic and real feel. LIke it was something handcrafted instead of run through a computer. The chemistry of the cast is great, as are their performances in Japanese and English. Characters like Rei (who is like barely in the fucking show) and Asuka are the foundation for archetypes that would consume the artform, for good and ill. The designs of the Evas? Iconic. The music? I mean, is there a more known anime song than Cruel Angel’s Thesis? I don’t think so.
I have said before, and I will say again, until the day that I die. That all the good things everyone says about Neon Genesis Evangelion are true. And that all the bad things everyone says are also true. That is something only a true masterpiece, or at least a truly influential work can do. Despite my very whelmed opinion, I would never say, or attempt to believe that Evangelion doesn’t deserve every inch of the praise it has been given. It does, and its place among the annals of Anime history is marrow-deep. Nothing can take that away, and nothing probably will. It is the truest example of a ‘great work’ that anime has ever seen, for better and for worse. I am glad that I saw it, I am glad that I watched it. But I am also glad that I will probably never, ever have to think about it again after I finish this post.
Cause honestly, I really just don’t give a shit.
And yeah, I will watch and review End of Evangelion, sometime this year. Don’t worry.