Neon Genesis Evangelion
Studio: Gainax (FLCL, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann)
Manga author: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Genre: Mecha, Apocalyptic, Psychological
First complete run: 1995-1996
Regular episodes: 26
An action-packed mecha anime may seem like the last place you’d find a deeply troubling psychological tale of loneliness, isolation, and metaphysics. But Neon Genesis Evangelion successfully blends complex emotional, psychological details with incredibly suspenseful mecha fiction. The result is a sad, depressing anime whose darkness is only barely overpowered by its intrigue. For some viewers, this controversial show’s uniqueness also proves to be its downfall, an action anime too dark to be enjoyable. But Neon Genesis’s rabid cult following is also a product of its one-of-a-kind style. It’s not an easy ride and it may leave you in tears at times, but in my opinion it’s a ride well worth taking.
Neon Genesis chronicles the efforts of a paramilitary group, Nerv, to defend the Earth against titanic alien invaders called “Angels.” Nerv’s primary weapon against the angels are mecha called “Evangelions,” giant high-tech robots piloted by teenage children. The main character, Shinji, is one of the Evangelion pilots. The anime follows Shinji in his efforts to fight the Angels, often resulting in painful and traumatizing defeats which leave him feeling hurt and useless. The latter half of this 26 episode miniseries drifts away from the anime’s intense action scenes and focuses more on Shinji’s inner trauma. As amazingly suspenseful as the action is, Shinji’s metaphysical pondering also has a certain captivating draw, if you can stomach his hopelessness.
So it’s a tough anime to sell. But technically, Neon Genesis is absolutely superb. Its characters express deep, complex emotions and the show’s grittiness is really a product of its unwillingness to shy away from the harsh realities of life. The anime’s suspenseful plot is incredibly fast-paced, stopping only to reflect on what the ongoing reality of the show is doing to its characters. The lore and setting of the show is as unique as its smörgasbord of thematic elements. The anime will lift you up and beat you back down from start to finish with power that is really remarkable for a brief animated series. Not for the faint of heart, but Neon Genesis is truly a tragic masterpiece.
Viewers should be aware that the show’s ending has been redone several times with alternate endings. A remake of the entire show including the ending is also in the works.