Masterfully crafted, and developed with incredibly believable and human characters, Neon Genesis Evangelion is the legendary anime, possibly born of director Hideaki Anno’s artistic reflection of his own personal psyche.
The series largely follows young Shinji Ikari, an average fourteen-year-old boy, at that special time of life when one awkwardly straddles between childhood and adult responsibilities. For Shinji Ikari, the adult responsibility comes at him fast when, out of the blue, he is called in by his largely absent father, to pilot a large robot, called an Evangelion, to fight off monsters called Angels that may just destroy the world, otherwise. Shinji finds himself ambivalent in regards to this, as he is to everything in life. Throughout the story, we come to understand why Shinji is this way.
Aside from Shinji, Anno particularly focuses in on three other female characters who affect Shinji most closely. Misato, his guardian, who lives life surprisingly lightly for a woman partly responsible for the preservation of mankind, Rei, a fellow young pilot, the favorite of Shinji’s father for her obedient nature that goes to the extent of foregoing her own personal wants, and finally Asuka, a talented young pilot from Germany who is aggressively self-promoting, and admittedly, cruel.
For these four characters, along with the rest of the cast, the stakes are high and emotional. The child pilots, Shinji, Rei, and Asuka, when highly synched with their robots, feel everything their robots feel. One becomes very invested in the fight scenes because of this intensity, which ceases to become not just intensity for the sake of intensity, to which many action movies limit themselves, but also for the sake of character development.
As the story follows, Shinji develops but does not grow exceptionally, as goes the rest of the cast. Despite this, the characters in Evangelion are masterfully created, both in their human believability and appeal. Characteristically Asian, the audience comes to know the characters and believe in their characters through visual thought process; scenes that focus on passing, quiet moments, such as a ball in a court, a sunset, or an empty room. The scenes give the audience perspective on the situations of the characters and help to know them better. Thus, the audience becomes more invested in their stories.
This series, not for the easily upset, or even depressed, is especially valuable in the way it uses imagery to convey felt actions, be it through the literal designs of the characters or the close-ups and angles used in dreamlike, mental states. The artists were able to get away with limited animation: long extended single frames held while perhaps the voice actors spoke because the artists were able to give purpose and meaning to each frame. In the end, the most impressive thing about Evangelion is its imagery, sometimes chilling and often, quite feeling.
The highlight scene of the series, in terms of impressive, feeling imagery is the chilling, Director’s Cut Scene, in which Asuka’s mind is probed by an Angel, and her repressed memories are pulled up, memories that are so traumatic to relive that for the rest of the show she can no longer can pilot as she used to.
In said scene, Asuka relives finding her mother dead by suicide. As sad and shocking as this is, yet another layer of tragedy unfolds as we learn that her mother, in her last days, saw Asuka only in a doll she caressed in her hospital bed. She could not care for a human Asuka with her own identity and needs and so projected a simpler Asuka onto a doll, in the end, delusionally imagining that her little doll Asuka would die with her.
Knowing how strong the bond between a mother and child is, one can imagine Asuka’s pain as she watched her mother fondle a doll. Little Asuka would do anything for her mother’s love, for her mother to look at her, to the extent that, as a child, she would willingly die with her mother so long as she would not stop being her mother and loving her. Asuka’s scene ends with a heart-wrenching, chilling scream as Japanese text flashes across the screen.
A human understanding for characters, such as intense longing for others, for love, for specifically the love of their parents that the characters in Evangelion never had, has never been portrayed so intensely on the screen for an audience. Traditional animation was the best medium for capturing this, as it combines art, the expression of humanity, in a very tangible way – through a pencil, with no in between forces such as computer rendering to get in the way of the human side of the artistry.
In the end, Evangelion has fully-realized, three-dimensional characters, who carry themselves as such. Despite this, there is an undercurrent of voyeurism by watching these characters who act so incredibly human, without having to actually engage with them either. There are quite a few instances, within the series, in which some scenes were mostly created with the intent to simply titillate the audience. The story, already so incredibly rich, and with characters, already so appealing, would have done well without resorting to this. It, unfortunately, sometimes lessens the very human tenderness that the series sees between the character interactions, such as when Shinji, stops himself from kissing the skimpily-clad sleeping Asuka when he sees a tear fall down her cheek and he realizes that she is as much of a child as he is, still wanting her mother, despite her self-sufficient cover-up.
While criticized for its confusing and narratively incomplete ending, the final two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion do an incredible job of fleshing out our four main characters in their logic and reasoning for their issues. The audience may even find themselves nodding in understanding as Misato cries into her hands at the end, hearing what she is, through the eyes of others. While the narrative ends illogically, the mental processes of the characters end logically.
-Brilliant, unique and rich, lessened only by its lack of narrative resolution and weak redemption arc.
-Beautiful character designs and poignant imagery
Character Development: 4/5
– Feeling, human grasp and understanding of people that is lessened by an often objectifying portrayal of characters that cease to treat the characters with tenderness.
-Excellent use of often limited frames.
-Very human and heartfelt story, lessened by the overall depressing tone, the fact that most of the characters are emotionally unresolved in the end, and the use of “fanservice.”
“Evangelion: Artistic Tension and Failure.” http://loopingworld.com/2013/04/27/evangelion-artistic-tension/. Accessed 11 November 2016.
Mike Crandol. “Understanding Evangelion.” Anime News Network. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/feature/2002-06-11. Accessed 11 November 2016.