Neon Genesis Evangelion – thoughts on the anime from a Rebuild fan and my history with the franchise

I’ve just finished watching the series Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’m a bit late to the party I know – it’s an anime classic released 1995-1996. However, I was an Evangelion fan starting from last year – when I watched Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone.

I thought it would be interesting for me to list my thoughts on the series from the perspective of one who has seen the Rebuild series first, rather than the other way around.

Warning: This is a very long post, written over several days, in numerous sections.

First, a background into how I got into Eva:

My Evangelion History:

I’ve mentioned before that I really only got into anime seriously last year, after my first Japan trip (incidentally, my second is in October!). I had always heard the name Neon Genesis Evangelion, but didn’t know much about it, apart from that it was classic anime. Everyone, including some colleagues, seem to love it. I’d heard the most popular pachinko machines were Evangelion based.

Anyway, so I was hanging out in Akihabara in June 2010, outside the main Sega arcade there was always a short trailer playing on a big screen, on repeat, all day, every day. It was for the Bluray release of Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance. It was the song which really got stuck in my head. Turned out it was Tsubasa no Kudasai. When I got back from Japan, I really wanted to check out more anime, so of course, with that song still stuck in my head and knowing Neon Genesis Evangelion was a classic, I thought I’d check out that film. Wikipedia showed me they were “remaking” the series and that was the 2nd film. The 1st film, Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone, was available in the UK on Bluray. So I bought it. Mecha never had any appeal to me but I gave it a go anyway.

Upon first viewing, I loved the way it screamed Japan to me. The Lawson’s convenience store. Ebisu beer. The ridiculous cables hanging over the streets. I was really impressed by the visual quality of the film as well, and loved the religious imagery. What I didn’t really like was the mechas, and the fights (how they were so short and there wasn’t actually any action), and the designs, and the characters. Well, I liked Misato, and could relate to Shinji, but didn’t see why every otaku on the internet seems to love Rei and has fifty million figures of her. I didn’t like the stupid ridiculous “fanservice” and childish bits. And the comedy aspects didn’t seem to fit in with the seriousness to me.

However, I did like Misato, and did really want this one figure of her, due to this review. Anyway, apart from how it reminded me a lot of my Japan trip, and Japan as a country, I didn’t like the film much. However, I really wanted to see it again. So I did. Many, many times. Something obviously really struck with me. I really wanted to see the sequel – but it wasn’t out in the UK yet. I had this DVD in about July 2010. And I couldn’t wait to see the sequel – I thought I’d rather see that than the original series. I spent months waiting and re-watching 1.11 until I finally got the change to see Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance in the cinema at the end of November 2010. It was playing at some animation festival in Leeds. I had to take a 1 hour train ride to a city I’d never been to before, walk an hour to find this tiny cinema to see the film. And man, was it worth it.

Again, with 2.0, I hated the comedy elements, the fanservice, and the stupid slice-of-life music and thought it really distracted from the seriousness. But the whole film was so amazing – especially the ending with the 3rd Impact starting. And the hints of what was to come after the credits. And the way there were so many unexplained mysteries. I really wanted to see the film again. But I couldn’t – that was the only showing. I had to wait until April 2011 for the UK release of the DVD/Bluray. I had it pre-ordered months in advance. In between, I resisted temptation to watch the original series, and bought myself that Misato figure and a set of 5 gashapon (I actually bought these after watching 1.11 on Bluray and wanting a Misato figure).

When the Bluray finally arrived I watched both 1.11 and 2.22 back-to-back. And then proceeded to watch 2.22 the next few nights in a row. I was hooked. Some time after that, with the release of 3.0 not even announced, I thought I’d check out the original. But the price of the UK DVD releases was too high. They are out of print and the boxset is rare and goes for a lot – I almost ordered them all separately, but some volumes are impossible to find. I didn’t want to pirate Evangelion – it was too special to me.

Eventually, I caved and bought the cheap US cardboard box set of the Platinum Edition DVDs (but I still do not have a multi-region player to play them on) but then a few days later I saw the TIN BOX UK Platinum Edition DVDs on ebay for a really good price and nabbed them. They were half the price of the cheapest ones I’d seen before. I’d also started buying the manga, not realising again that some volumes are out of print and ridiculously expensive. I read volume one before I started watching the series. And read volumes 2 – 4 after watching the relevant parts of the series. I’ve just finished reading volume 5 before starting writing this post. I only finished episode 26 of the original series last night. Didn’t watch the Director’s Cuts yet. The 3 DVD boxset of Death & Rebirth and End of Evangelion arrived today. So I’ll watch Death & Rebirth tomorrow night, then the episodes 21-24 director’s cuts the following night along with End of Evangelion.

Right now I’ll get on to my thoughts on the main series, especially how it feels to a fan of the Rebuild series:

Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series impressions:

First I’ll comment on the visuals, as expected they are a huge step down from the Rebuild. They appear very “old” anime. Not surprising given that its now 15 years old. The style seems outdated and a lot of the animation stilted. They really wanted to show it was handdrawn though, with lots of scenes with deliberate pencil marks etc. There was a lot of boldness – or experimental directing, in this series. Static shots that went on forever. They really added something, but it is strange to see them in such a well-known and critically acclaimed anime.

The music is very good but often hidden far too low down in the mix. The screams of the characters are a lot less intense that that in the Rebuild, which detracts from the feeling you get. The opening theme I didn’t think was very good – but that could just be age. And its strange to use “Fly Me To The Moon” as the ending theme – although I liked how it was always a different version. I also appreciated how they incorporated classical music near the end of the series.

One thing that really struck me was how the series changed. It was in definite big arcs. In the Rebuild films, they introduce some of the mythology a lot quicker, whereas it was really only near the end of the series it was introduced. This gave the Rebuild films more intensity (I’m reminded of Lost In Translation here, more intensity) as you knew what the purpose of the Angels was and why they needed to be defeated. In the series, there was no real explanation, they just appeared and were fought by the Evas.

The first six episodes are very similar to Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone. And indeed the manga as well. There are a few differences – the most striking being Unit 01 moving its hand to protect Shinji. I initially didn’t like this, but only after watching everything do I understand the significance.  There is also some added stuff at school and to do with Shinji’s running away, but its mostly the same, but with far less striking visuals and less intensity.

Episode 7 was a big surprise for me and I still find it out of place. This is the episode where another agency showcases a nuclear powered robot – Jet Alone – and Misato saves the day. Its slightly bizarre but now I see how it builds Ritsuko’s character, and the workings of Seele, and how Nerv fits in politically with the outside world. This especially comes into play during the End of Evangelion.

The “action arc”, episodes 8 through 12, seem completely different to the first 6 episodes. After the big climax with Rei in episode 6, she is thrown aside and Asuka is the lead girl. Its very stupid comedy, its very “monster of the week” where they don’t seem to give much threat, and there is no real feeling of danger or why the angels are attacking and why Nerv has to stop them. I was very very surprised at the “almost kiss” between Asuka and Shinji.

So, we have 6 introductory episodes, a strange break, a series of “monster of the week” introducing Asuka episodes, then a strange episode based on computer hacking – which goes to build Ritsuko’s character. The series has changed quite a bit already, but is still lacking the “meat” and mythology that it is famed for. The 3rd quarter is again, different. We have scenes which  start taking place in people’s minds, with that eerie music going on. And the whole Fourth Child arc – which the Rebuild loses.

The series really gets going around Episode 20 – when the mythology develops. However, the animation takes a turn for the worst here. I understand that Gainax were running out of money – and hence corrected the last lot of episodes later with Director’s Cuts and films.

I was really bemused at Episode 20, when Shinji “vanished” into Unit-01 and then reappeared 30 days later. I understand a bit more now but at the time though “what the hell was going on?” and “what’s with the strange psychological scenes in Shinji’s mind?”. The last quarter of the series has a lot of this scenes, but they are very strange, and very unexpected as there is nothing of the sort in the Rebuilds.

The next four episodes finally divulge a lot of the mythology and give “meat” to the series. I am not going to discuss what happens, as there are plenty of forums and websites devoted to that. I am going to say that I felt all this came too late and would have been better spread throughout the series. Nevertheless, some characters were much more developed than I realised and I was shocked at some of the revelations.

And then the  final two episodes – the ones which End of Evangelion replaced due to fan outrage? Well, they were very surreal. I was very disappointed to find out what instrumentality was. However, I didn’t think they were a bad end to the series per say. They weren’t excellent, or bad, they just were. It was like “oh, well, that’s that then”. It was very strange seeing that alternate universe classroom scene, I do wish they hadn’t of included that. But the last two episodes really show you want Hideaki Anno was going through and feeling at the time of writing Neon Genesis Evangelion. He was suffering a lot and going through a low point in life, these episodes show that.

Director’s Cuts and End of Evangelion:

After watching all 26 episodes. I watched Death & Rebirth. Of course, we actually have Death(true)² in the English DVDs. Firstly, with the Manga DVD releases, the quality is terrible. Very overexposed and its not in anamorphic widescreen, which really hurts the image quality. Its a shame that the license is separate to the ADV series license, so we have to separate Neon Genesis Evangelion from being whole and also have this dip in quality. I’m hoping for a proper future Bluray release including everything.

Anyway, I didn’t like Death. It was rushed and the order wasn’t the same as the series. I was surprised that they began with these new scenes of Second Impact though. I really enjoyed the new string quartet bits – I have mentioned how I love the use of classical music near the climax of Evangelion. I also really enjoyed the intermission between Death & Rebirth. Bold and excellent. Reminded me of the static scenes in the later episodes (such as the famous elevator scene).

Rebirth really surprised me – it was like the real world interjecting after all the weird mythological bits. And then, the climax of Rebirth, Asuka becoming awesome. What a finale. It makes you understand why we spent so long with Asuka throughout the series and the importance of it. It also really makes you want to watch End of Evangelion.

But before that – I went back and watched the Director’s Cuts of Episodes 21-24. So I was now on the “prime” route as would watch End of Evangelion, aka, Episodes 25′ and 26′, directly afterwards. The Director’s Cuts are so much better than the standard episodes. The animation quality goes up, and we see far more into the mythology and also character development. I was amazed at each of the new scenes. This is the real Evangelion.

And it all leads to “The End Of Evangelion”. Seriously, without the Director’s Cuts and The End Of Evangelion, I wouldn’t like the series half as much as I do now. As stated, Rebirth ends on the high note of Asuka being seriously awesome, and then Air has all the action scenes which blew me away. I still don’t understand how they could have made the “mass production” Evas, since all the tests with the S2 engines previously failed, let alone the dummy plug Kaworu and clone Lances.

The title Air for Episode 25′ is really nice as well, and I liked the use of the classical piece again. The final episode goes very very sci-fi mythological and is crazy. But this is really the epic climax needed for this epic story. I’m actually off to watch End again now.

It seems they’ve just announced Evangelion 3.0: Q is coming out Fall 2012. That’ll be at least the end of 2013 for the English release then. Sigh. Glad I made the decision to not wait for it and instead watch the series. The new trailer is awesome though. Asuka in space???

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