How a Favorite is Born: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Back in middle school and high school, I spent a lot of time on TvTropes. While the idea of TvTropes was an interesting, albeit controversial way of looking at stories, it was also a cool alternative to Wikipedia. (Some) Explanations were more readable, and some of the most obscure things had articles. So I’d get into a webcomic, like Ansem Retort, and through that site I’d have a source of knowledge on it. I could retread through some of my favorite moments and learn about common threads connecting TV shows and games.

Neon Genesis Evangelion was a name that appeared everywhere on that website, usually alongside the word “deconstructed”. I knew it as the depressing-sounding anime that YuGiOh abridged used a song from.

It was about a kid who hated himself. Instead of being about him getting better, it ends with the world being destroyed. And he’s left alone with a toxic love interest.

I picked up a lot more knowledge looking through TvTropes. I tried watching the show in middle school, but lost interest 3 episodes in. In high school, I decided I had to watch all of it, even if I already knew everything about it. The themes had impressed me to the point it was necessary. Plus, it had a great theme song.

It took a while for me to finish. When I was about 19 episodes in, I checked out Gurren Lagann and nearly finished it before deciding I had to finish Eva first. TTGL wasn’t as spoiled for me as Eva was, so it felt a lot fresher, but Evangelion’s lore and imagery was far more interesting.

Like many young Eva fans, I had trouble making friends and related to Shinji. But I saw Eva as far less of a watching experience and more of a thing that existed in itself. I missed a bunch of End of Evangelion because I was trying to skip parts I’d seen on YouTube. Ultimately, the appeal of Eva for me was the convoluted lore – the way it tied in religion with extraterrestrials, and tied that all in with those themes of loneliness and interaction.

I watched the Rebuilds and loved them, not despite, butĀ for their contradictions with the source material. New rules had to mean new convoluted lore explanations. It hadn’t occurred to me that Anno probably wasn’t going to have another set of PS2 game interviews to justify everything that happens in those movies.

For a while, Evangelion 2.22 was my favorite movie. I was absolutely in love with its ending scene, and thought every new element was interesting. I watched 3.0 in low quality, so I didn’t understand a bunch of what was happening, but I liked what I did understand. Shinji was pushed to his lowest point, just like in the show.

The show was a huge obsession for me. Not with the time-sinking enthusiasm I had for Gravity Falls and Kill la Kill, but with a great sense of acceptance and appreciation. I spent the next year writing a fantasy novel that ended in my own take on End of Evangelion. A lot of the time when I felt alone, I would think about Eva, and I tried to use Eva to solve my problems. I didn’t quite realize that Shinji never really gets better, he just accepts the possibility that he can.

In 2015, when I dove head-first into anime, I knew I had to re-watch Evangelion. I tried seeing it with fresh eyes, like it was a new series. In some ways it surprised me. The pacing of certain backstories was far better than I remembered, and I was impressed by the shows ability to pack so much information and so many conversations into an episode. The fight scenes were breezy and effortless to watch. The kids themselves were interesting characters. Shinji wasn’t whiny, he was quiet and obedient until things went too far. Rei’s bond with him, and their rivalry with Asuka made a lot more impact this time.

Episode 4 was also way better on a re-watch. The aesthetic choices and the ending were far more effective after watching Serial Experiments Lain. I gained a lot of appreciation for Touji Suzuhara, as both as person and a symbol of the ways Shinji changes through the series. Asuka’s backstory in episode 22 was brilliant, as was Eva Unit-00’s moment of triumph. When the show got to episode 25, my brain just about exploded, but episode 26 was a little disappointing.

I watched End of Evangelion all the way through. It was sad. It all went by so fast, and so many characters lost so much. I found a new peace with the ending. I think what’s really so disgusting may be that Asuka is able to forgive Shinji. I then re-watched the movie with episodes 23 and 24 and while it still didn’t feel like I was watching the show, I was impressed enough to consider them on par with each other.

The Rebuilds were a disappointment, sadly. The color design sat somewhere between generic and uncanny. The designs were still great, but the story was nowhere near as entertaining. 1.11 was a clear disappointment after my new-found appreciation for episode 4. 2.22 butchered Asuka beyond reason, and the non-finale action sequences didn’t do it for me. The finale still worked though, as did the aquarium scene. 3.33 was closer to my taste in colors, but the beginning of the film was a total mess. I’ve got no qualms about the ending though, except maybe that Shinji was being a bit too stubborn. Rebuild is nowhere near a 10 for me; it feels like a completely different series with the same great designs.

Skimming through Eva lately by way of some reaction videos, I realize a lot of my enjoyment of the series lies in aesthetic and direction. Few shows feel like Eva, and when they do they’re some of my favorite moments in those shows. The show is inherently captivating. Sure, some episodes are pure action, but they don’t bore. Anno’s direction is wired directly to my heart. Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou triumphs similarly, though I don’t think its themes and endnig are up to snuff.

Neon Genesis Evangelion’s themes were important to me as a teenager, and are important to me now. I have learned so much about the series at this point that I am simply incapable of holding some things against it. Its fight scenes aren’t the most detailed, but they hit close to my inner beast. I don’t think it would be hard to make a better Eva, so that makes it all the stranger to me that no one has.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is my heartbeat. It is a nerdy, stylish, and unbelievably beautiful show. I hope people keep finding it when they need to.

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