To the Mechas, with love…
Neon Genesis Evangelion (“NGE”) is a Japanese anime series created by Hideaki Anno. It is a very early example of a genre known as “sekai-kei” which meshes apocalyptic themes with human lives in order to make the storylines more emotionally relatable.
NGE is based on an alternate Earth in an alternate timeline and tells the tale of the planet’s survival after the apocalyptic event “Second Impact” in 2001 destroyed pretty much the entirety of Antarctica, which as a consequence flooded most of the planet, killed off half of the human population and ended up tilting the Earth’s axis which resulted in climate change. The cause of this catastrophic destruction was a creature from Space (an Angel) crashing down to Earth.
The main story is set over a decade after “Second Impact” in 2015 and focusses on three teenagers: Shinji Ikari, Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley, who live inside a militarised civilian city (Tokyo 3) and are charged with piloting mechas in order to protect the city/planet from attacking Angels (from Space). The series explores the teens’ lives, how they cope with the people around them and the after effects of “Second Impact” as well as their emotional response to their connection with the mechas and their job as protectors. It also delves into how they relate to each other in terms of friendship, romance and empathy in a shared situation and in particular Shinji’s very complicated relationship with his father, Gendo, who is a major player in the research and construction of the mechas that his son and friends pilot.
The mechas are quite different from the normal mechas in most other anime. They are not straight forward robots but are actually biological giant cyborgs made from cloned parts of the two main Angels depicted in the series (Adam and Lilith). They are fitted with high tech armour and are powered by either battery packs or through an attached umbilical cord which is located at the back of the mecha that feeds power directly to them. They are soulless and synchronise with their specific piolet. These mechas are called Evangelions (“Eva’s) and they were created by a research organisation called NERV.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a twisty mind-fuck of a series. It is one of those shows that has just about everything going on that you can think of.
Open ended religious symbolism – Check!
Daddy issues – Check!
Mummy issues – Check!
Teen angst of every variety – Check!
Love triangles – Check!
Apocalyptic soul sucking wars between monsters and the human race – Check!
Mecha, piloted by angsty teens with the above issues – Check!
Dodgy faceless villains – Check!
And pretty much anything else you can think of to smoosh right in there.
Now, I quite enjoy watching anime that, for the most part, has me trying to piece together the storylines with Sherlock-like intensity, investigating the various themes and symbolism to make sense of what is going on. The in-depth analysis for me is all part of the fun, though I also like looking at things from more of a surface perspective as in awesome mecha fighting crazy monsters with lots of out of hand hard-core action. To be honest, I am not ashamed that the surface perspective is a little bit more enjoyable…what can I say…I like a bit of action in my late night anime watching.
Confused themes aside, what I really liked about the series was the art. I particularly love the character and mecha designs. The main protagonists Shinji, Rei and Asuka are all depicted in ways that perfectly reflect their personalities. Specifically, Shinji’s slight build and effeminate features are further confirmation of his timid nature and fragile emotional state. Quite often Shinji is seen as withdrawing from the everyday world, this is often shown by him retreating into his own world by listening to music on headphones that he is constantly attached to.
The design for the Eva’s are outstanding. They differ from the boxy design of other previous mechas such as the ones in the Gundam series. The design for the Evas are more organic with softer edges and curved flowing lines giving the impression that they are giant humans rather than robots. The Evas are modelled on the Japanese monster “Oni” which loosely translates as demon. Creator/Director/Animator/Artist and Screen Writer, Hideaki Anno had this to say about the Evas’ original concept design:
“There’s a monster in Japan called the Oni; it has two horns sticking out of its head and the overall image of the Eva is based on that. I also wanted to give the impression that beneath this ‘robot monster’ image is not so much a robot, but a giant human.”
Mecha designer for the series Ikuto Yamashita worked with Anno to develop and refine the design. The final design has quite a lot of the demonic aspects removed, such as the horns.
The artwork for the series is seriously epic. The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and animated. It is a shining example of a post-apocalyptic themed anime series and is still really popular today. Proof of this is the fact that NGE merchandise is still being mass produced and bought up like hotcakes by very hungry anime fans.
The series may get a fair bit of flack for its mythology, pussy of a main protagonist (Shinji) who is scared of everything, and confused multiple endings, but for me I think if you are looking for a show to chill out and enjoy and you just want to watch some awesome mecha fight crazy-assed monsters and then this is the show for you. Plus as an added bonus, if you get your kicks from deciphering the philosophical workings behind one of the most complex anime storylines out there, then this show is for you as well.
One thing I will say about Shinji though, his dad maybe the biggest a-hole in the Evangelion universe, but he can’t be that bad for these two specific reasons.
- He gives Shinji the opportunity to pilot a very cool mecha, save the world and look cool doing it? I personally would love to pilot a giant mecha…I think it would be awesome!
- He gets to hang all day with two very hot chicks. A feisty red head and a very cute blue haired girl who is passive to the point of submission (for the most part, when she is not slapping him in the face for ragging on his dad).
Below is some awesome artwork from Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Were you a fan of the series? What did you think of it? What is your favourite bit of artwork? Let me know in the comments section below.