In 1995, Hideaki Anno, a well-known anime creator known for “Wings of Hommenaise” “Gunbuster” and “Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water” created the series NEON GENESIS EVANGELION. The series became a huge hit, although one in part that’s often perplexed/confused viewers and inspired much debate ever since.
It’s the year 2014, which we’re a bit beyond now in real life of course. A teen, Shinji Ikari, has arrived at Tokyo-3-the rest of Tokyo being partially flooded by some catastrophe, to visit his estranged father, Gendo.
Meanwhile, artillery, tanks, and combat helicopters await….something. Suddenly, a massive monster emerges, impervious to all that is thrown at it, and only minorly damaged by a small nuclear device.
Amidst the chaos, Shinji is rescued by Misato Katsuragi, one of her father’s employees, and taken to an underground base, the “Geofront”.
Turns out Shinji’s father works for the mysterious organization NERV, which is tasked with defeating these mysterious monsters, called “Angels”. To do that, they need Shinji’s help, as for some reason he’s the only one that can ‘sync’ to the robot.
After some difficulty, the angel is defeated, but more are coming.
Sounds a bit like your typical mecha series, right? Teen gets into robot, becomes it’s pilot, fights monsters or other mecha. Well, not quite.
For starters, although other mecha shows deal with angst a great deal, Evangelion touches it up another notch. Shinji-and many other characters-have severe abatement issues, with pretty much every character having lost a parent or significant other. Shinji’s mother-and Gendo’s wife-dissiapeared while running a test on Eva-01 (and it’s strongly implied that Eva-01 contains her soul). Other incidents in the series also depresses Shinji-and others-greatly. This was due, in part, that Anno was suffering from depression himself. This is one of the aspects of Evangelion that’s definitely not for everyone, as well as the usual concern some might have about it’s content (It’s actually fairly gory for an anime TV show, which often prompted complaints in it’s home country).
Second, there’s NERV and it’s parent organization, SEELE. Much like the mysterious syndicate in the X-FILES, NERVE and SEELE have their own agenda, although it’s one that’s generally known mostly to the higher-ups and not the regular crew like Misato. It involves the true nature of the Evangelions-it’s made clear from pretty much the first episode that they’re not technically robots-the angels, and something called the “Human instrumentality project”. Plus they’ve got what appears to be some form of angel in the basement.
Evangelion also involves a great deal of symbolism-crosses, terms (Angels, Lillith, Dead Sea scrolls, even the title itself etc) although it’s mainly been stated that this doesn’t really mean too much, as the actual story is more kind of based on the “progenitor race/Ancient aliens” concept, although this is really not something really stated in the series.
Here’s a rough attempt to explain it, as it’s still very complicated. Basically, two alien creatures-Lilith and Adam (Some more symbolism there)-sent from an alien civilization as seeds of life-crashed on Earth, the same planet, when only one was supposed to be there. Lilith managed to subdue Adam though, and created life which eventually became humankind. Adam remained dormant in Antartica for millennia.
So basically, it’s sort of like the Prometheus/2001: A Space Odyssey thing with echoes of “The Thing”
Until he was woken up, and experimented upon. This ended up pretty badly, destroying Antartica (including Misato’s father), explaining why some of the seas are red, Tokyo is partially underwater. The event is known as “Second Impact”, with Lillith and Adam’s first arrival being known as “First Impact”.
Adam’s revival, 15 years later, triggers the Angel incursions into Tokyo, with the Angels trying to trigger third impact by invading the Geofront (Which is in fact, Lillith’s vessel) so they can become the dominant lifeform. Or something like that.
Each Angel is almost completely different, and pretty much requires a totally different strategy every single time to defeat it. For instance, Ramiel had to be shot at from a distance using a giant rifle powered by most of Japan due to it’s laser and shield radius, while others could be fought hand to hand, it often had to be done with different ways, such as the splitting angel Israfel, in which Shinji and Asuka had to train to synchronize their attacks.
Getting back to the rest of the series, Shinji is eventually joined by two other pilots, Rei and Asuka.
Rei is quiet, withdrawn, has very limited accommodations and emotions. She’s also the pilot of the Evangelion prototype. She also bears an uncanny resemblance to Shinji’s mother. Coincidence? Of course not, but I don’t want to get into too much spoiler material than I already have.
Asuka is the polar opposite. She’s loud, brash, often arrogant, and doesn’t have much patience for Shinji or Rei, although the two eventually start to develop more of a friendship. She pilots the EVA-02 which is somewhat more advanced than Shinji’s model, which is the only the “Test type”. However, Asuka has her own demons.
The show of course has many supporting characters. There’s Dr. Katsuragi, who, although she works with Misato, clearly has secrets of her own. Misato herself becomes Shinji’s guardian and mother figure for most of the show. Her ex-boyfriend Kaji-a sort of double agent trying to figure out what’s really going on with NERV-also adds a bit of mystery. There’s the three Nerv officers who pretty much are minor characters but do have some depths. There’s Shinji’s classmates Toji and Kensuke, who often add the show’s comic relief, along with Misato’s penguin Pen-Pen.
Now the series itself ended with two weird episodes that were mostly just narration over still images, sketches, and narration. This confused many fans, to say the least.
Eventually however, two movies were made. The first Death/Rebirth is mostly a recap. The Second, End of Evangelion, has a more detailed-and better animated-finale to the series. Although spectacular, it’s not for the squeamish, partially because of these guys, the Mass produced Evangelions:
Who made a bizarre toy appearance in the Robin Williams drama One Hour Photo (Robin Williams himself was an Evangelion fan).
Evan after that, Evangelion didn’t truly end. Manga adaptations, and tons of merchandise are still made to this day.
There’s evan a Schick razor promotion! “Shave impact”
There’s even rides. One at Universal Japan!
Not only that, there are three other movies, with the fourth on the way. These movies, called the “Rebirth” series, feature updated animation, but also take the series in a divergent direction from the TV series, featuring new Evangelions, a new pilot (Mari) Angels and story twists. Three have been made, with a fourth and final film in production.