Ghost in the Shell, Akira, anything from Studio Ghibli, these are some of the major pillars that transformed ‘Japanimation’ into the beloved anime that proliferates in popular culture. Today, another titan of anime lands on Netflix UK: Neon Genesis Evangelion, arguably the most influential anime and the most infamously divisive.
Originally released in 1995, Evangelion takes place in an imagined future of 2015 where the Earth has been devastated by an event known as ‘second impact’. Our hero, a teenager named Shinji Ikari, travels to Tokyo 3 at the behest of his estranged father. He finds a city under siege by a colossal silent monster, later revealed to be one of many angels that have come to earth to trigger ‘third impact’. The angel’s purpose is only known to humanity from a prophecy foretold in the Dead Sea Scrolls, because of course it is.
Humanity’s only hope against the Angels and total destruction is Nerv, a shadowy organisation that deploys techno-organic mecha called EVAs. Shinji has been summoned to pilot one of these weapons alongside other young pilots and a team of specialists. While this may seem like a very straightforward premise, what follows in this 26-episode run is anything but that.
It is important to understand that series creator Hideaki Anno suffers from clinical depression and Evangelion is his expression of that struggle. Be warned: Evangelion is not an optimistic action series. It is a dark, melancholic exploration of the self that gets extremely heavy, overtly sexual and at times verges on the traumatic. Those adjectives might remind you of a certain dragon-centric show that concluded recently and that’s not the only similarity between these monolithic TV series.
The other similarity between Evangelion and that big game of chairs is that the ending of Evangelion has been the subject of much debate over the years. The conclusion has caused several animated, feature-length retellings of Evangelion to be produced, which begs the question: is it worth watching the original Neon Genesis Evangelion now it has come to Netflix UK?
Firstly, having the series in one place in high definition warrants a re-watch from those who have seen it and offers the best introduction for those who have not. Despite its bleak themes and melancholy tone, the colour palette of Evangelion is beautiful. From the scenes bathed in golden sunset and hauntingly empty spaces to the futuristic landscapes, this world is stunningly realised and packed with detail. Secondly, the designs of the EVAs and Angels are unique and when the two clash, the scale of the battles is breathtaking. Thirdly, there’s a penguin called Pen Pen who lives in Shinji’s freezer and that is all that needs to be said about that.
For anyone who enjoyed the Pacific Rim films, Evangelion is a clear influence and worth getting to grips with. Evangelion will also appeal to anyone who enjoyed Netflix Original Knights of Sidonia, another unsettling mecha story. More importantly, Evangelion is for anyone who enjoys an interesting story told through a range of characters. There are so many mysteries that are introduced and not all are explained, but some of the revelations are striking and, unlike a lot of anime, the narrative journey is not laboured.
However Evangelion’s ending sits, there is no denying that Neon Genesis Evangelion is a cultural phenomenon. This show is as big a get for Netflix as Friends, Rick and Morty or any other go-to show in your queue. It will be fascinating to see reactions to the ending from an audience that is more aware of mental health issues and hopefully, Anno San’s opus will find new fans and spark new discussions. Regardless, come to Evangelion for the mid-90s aesthetic, stay for the charming freezer-dwelling penguin.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.