I feel a bit strange putting this out there as a throwback for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column dedicated to the great science fiction of the past. It’s like saying The Beatles are a throwback. ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’, after all, is everywhere in Japan. It’s hard too look without seeing Rei on a can of ice coffee or find a keychain vending machine that doesn’t feature the mecha from the show.
Whatever power ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ has on Japanese pop culture, it’s strong. And I say this having lived there for two years, and a proud owner of far too much Eva memorabilia that I managed to slowly acquire (even a set of trading cards that came with cookies that I really liked). So, yes, it feels strange throwing this out there like a throwback, but the truth of the matter is that it is an old series, and important one, and one that deserves to be recognized as the amazing science fiction that it really is beyond the anime nerd circles.
So what is ‘Eva’ (the shorthand for the ridiculously long and nonsensical name)?
It was an anime created in 1995 that ran for twenty-four episodes. It’s actual title is Shin Seiki Evangelion, which literally means “New Century Evangelizing”, but is usually translated as “Gospel of the New Century”, which really makes it sound as cool as it really is.
So, picture this. The year is 2015, and it’s been fifteen years since “Second Impact” (First Impact being when a meteorite collided with Earth and created the moon), when the first Angel named Adam was awoken and it subsequently destroyed Antarctica, melting the ice which caused sea levels to rise, shifting the Earth’s axis, and sending devastating tsunamis. This new geopolitical landscape carved from climate change, and the death of half of the human population, is the scene in which we enter this amazing series.
Oh, and did I mention that “God” started sending angels about fifteen years later to destroy humanity? I didn’t? Well, that’s pretty important too.
Enter NERV, the organization that spent the years between Second Impact and the angels return developing giant mechas to defend mankind.
The theme of the story is “God is in his heaven, all is right with the world”, an ironic phrase implemented by NERV. The angels, who are eerily designed and not reminiscent of your white-winged humans, are a reminder that when angels are often described in the apocrypha, they are incomprehensible to humans. They also make a frightening enemy for the the heroes, three fourteen-year-olds who are compatible with bizarre mecha creations that seem to be bonded with human souls to fight.
And I’m not kidding when I say this weird scenario creates some of the most hair-raising and gut wrenching scenes ever imagined. There is still an episode, even after fifteen years since the first time I saw it, with a completely bestial mecha devouring an angel that gives me goosebumps even thinking about it.
‘Eva’ has fantastic cast of characters, each one as complex as the next, and still stands out amongst a sea of anime for that, along with its incredible concept. It’s equal balance of female and male characters struggling with similar issues to fantastically different outcomes makes it one of the most amazing viewing pleasures one could ask for.
Perhaps this is why ‘Eva’ has been so enduring. It has an intricate and engaging plot filled with intricate and engaging characters. It uses literary devices consistently, and to great emotional effect. It is constantly self-analyzing, and forces the viewers to ask questions they may never have thought of. Why do I want love/attention? What do I care about? Am I lying to myself? What is strength?
It is also filled with so many Easter eggs that it requires several rewatches to truly understand the depth of the world its makers created. From the constant sound of cicada chirping (which indicates that summer never ends in a country that was once proud of its four seasons), to Shinji’s constant need to stare at his hands (a symbol of his inability to understand how he is capable of the destructive acts that he is complicit in while fighting angels), ‘Eva’ is a fantastic, mind-altering ride accompanied with high-level animation, tremendous voice acting, and intriguing ideas.
It’s been rebooted recently into four movies, with some very significant changes starting in the second movie. While some of these changes I like (the ocean is now red and nearly uninhabitable by any sea creatures), there are others that are too jarring for someone who loved the original series (an introduction of a fifth pilot). Still, its animation is awe-inspiring and its sales and promotion a testament to just how popular this very bizarre show is.
Really, though, if you’ve seen it, rewatch it. If you haven’t, make sure you do. Even if you’re not into that whole anime thing, this is a series that you will utterly appreciate.