Somebody pinch me. Real hard. I need a firm grasp on reality. (no, put that knife down)
Ok in truth, I needed that pinch some 8 years ago when I first came upon Bandai plastic model kits for the mecha and monsters from this series in a departmental store. A friend of mine mentioned back then this was one of the most fantastic and hottest anime titles to have come out from Japan. "Oh really" was my initial response as I gazed upon the art designs, unimpressed.
Back in those days, I was a fairly simple-minded anime watcher. More specifically, mecha-based titles. My love for beautiful machinery and robotic designs were not exceeded by any other facet of this artful medium. Give me lots of ammunition discharge with wanton destruction and I get satisfied real easily. Needless to say, the biggest animations in my heart were the various incarnations of Gundam and Macross. How can anything top these?
Until I popped the first VCD of this "Oh really" title into the player.
To be honest I still wasn't impressed after the setup of the first episode; seemingly possessing all the traits of the days-of-old boy-in-giant-robot-fights-weekly-monsters-to-save-the-world titles. That impression however gets completely shattered with the continuation of the second episode and deliverying one head-smacking example of how to tell a story in a non-chronological manner. Sure it's been done before, but from there on, I was awoken with both eyes open, acknowledging that Anno Hideaki is possibly the only director in my lifetime who can send me on one helluva psychological rollercoaster ride and have me craving for more punishment. And to realise fighting action need not be the only factor for TV entertainment.
This is not to say Neon Genesis Evangelion is stand-still dull (we'll get back on this later *chuckle*). It features some of the most highly animated action scenes in a TV series, for the matter. Rest assured you will be treated with enough camera angles and motion to give you complete awareness of just how the fights are going on. Only a select few TV productions in this new millennium comes close to this level (read: expense) of animation quality.
Entertaining as the action may be, the thing that truly grips you is the literally soul-deep venture into the psyche of the characters. Let me forewarn that this is an incredibly depressing story, and the intensity at which it delves at can be described as severe. Only the most nonchalant of viewers can get by this series unaffected by the deep dark valleys the characters have fallen into. You are likely unable to climb out of the hole like them. And to top that off, many scenes visualise the psychological trauma they go through, serving to thoroughly confuse viewers who are only used to perceiving single-dimensional reality. Now what did I say about opening of eyes.... and the painful over-stretching of the mind.
Accompanying this bleak mood is a solid composition of music. While not something one would just listen alone on an ordinary day, the musical tones and rhythms accentuate the scenes greatly and really pushes the emotionals up one notch. And just listening to this cast of characters who have all been brought together into this unfortunate environment talk is an experience like no other; nearly sentence spoken carries some meaning for the future or past, so I have never before paid such hightened attention on anime like I was studying literature. All things happening at the worldly, organisational, and personal levels affect one another at such an intermingled manner that many believe Anno Hideaki had no clue what he was doing and achieved it all by chance. Chance or not, the brilliance of the direction is undisputable. You will know one thing for sure - Anno Hideaki owns your brain.
Adding to character psyche, the spiritual layer with Christian and Jewish overtones is brought in and sprinkled all over for some of the most twisted interpretation of the Biblical message. And I mean that in a creatively good way. Some deeply-religious people will immediately find much to hate with the "falsification" of their faith, but to them I say: I am Christian and I am perfectly fine with the representations depicted by Neon Genesis Evangelion. Why? Because it is obviously fiction; no where does it claim to be the Gospel of Truth. It in no way is trying to alter the understandings of my faith, so I remain unaffected. The Lord remains The Lord, and this is just a show. But what a show indeed! No other anime has ever created such an impact on me; gotten me contemplating so hard over each and every tiny detail.
Unfortunately, the ending was shocking for the wrong reason - going off without impact. All that elaborate animation ate budget like a jet fighter on full afterburner, leaving the last two episodes in time crunch mode. The end result is motionless dullness of characters going through their mental "routines", trying to sort their emotions out. While it is amazingly and artfully done (we're talking still frames here), one cannot help but feel cheated with this lackluster approach. Imagine being issued hard-tac biscuits after a royal spread of the fresh seafood.
The last two episodes did cause major uproar all around the world, so much so Gainax was "forced" to rework them into a finalising movie in 1997. Nonetheless, this is still one extremely extraordinary series, breaking the ground for a new genre of the united sphere of biological-spiritual mecha. One series that stirred other studios into bandwagon imitation but none ever capturing its unique essence. Not just in technical feats, but with incredible stylistic and visionary models that anybody willing to perceive things beyond their eyes can appreciate.
Depression has never been this enjoyable.
Overall Rating: 9/10
Psychological visionary; shatters walls of conventional perception; depressingly deep characters; amazing plot interweaving; birth of new genre
Truncated ending; will confuse the one-dimensional among the audience