One of the most influential shows of all time, Neon Genesis Evangelion, is finally out on Netflix. It sets itself up as a standard mecha show, with teenagers having to pilot robots and stop monsters to save the world, but this isn’t why Evangelion is so beloved. The show dives deep into religion, human nature, philosophy (namely Freud and the hedgehog’s dilemma) all portrayed with realistic and relatable characters who are all fundamentally broken inside. These characteristics are what make Neon Genesis Evangelion an amazing series, and with the show being able to be streamed for the first time on Netflix, tons of people will finally be introduced to the show. While I’m excited for an entirely new generation of people to watch Evangelion, it’s important that it’s being released in today’s social climate.
Most shows or movies have their main characters start out flawed in some way, but have them end up becoming better, most in a miraculous and unbelievable amount of time. Neon Genesis Evangelion’s characters are all fundamentally flawed and broken in realistic ways that almost everybody can relate to, but even by the end of series, they aren’t all fine and have their flaws removed. These are some of the most accurate reflections of human problems shown in media, and the relevance they have has stayed strong, if not increased, in the two decades since the show has come out.
The main character, Shinji Ikari, has immense social anxiety, and most of his actions are done to please people and from a fear of rejection. Eventually he starts to become more courageous and outspoken after being encouraged by the people he loves, and accepts that not everything will always be okay, but that is something he’ll have to live with. As a main character, Shinji excels by relating to the audience, even if not everyone wants to see themselves in his shoes. One common criticism of his character is that he’s too whiny and cowardly, but if you were contacted by your dad for the first time in years, all just to be put inside a robot who’s pain you feel and you could end up dying easily, I doubt that you’d be gung ho about everything.
While I could continue to go on about all of Evangelion’s broken but incredibly relatable characters, like Rei and her struggle of having self-worth, Asuka and her motivation by fame and inability to express her emotions well, and Misato’s struggle with maturity. This only scratches the surface of these characters issues, as well as all of the characters themselves, but that could be dived into more in depth in another article. These are all things that everybody has experienced in one way or another, and these broken characters reflect everyday problems for many people. And just like in real life, nobody’s problems are instantly gone, and many characters don’t even get to fully resolve their issues. While characters with problems have been a thing for as long as characters have existed, Evangelion is one of the finest reflections of human nature through their characters, and they represent aspects of society not always shown in larger productions.
As you might have guessed from what I just said though, while Evangelion does have great characters that show a great reflection of human nature and society, they’re all fundamentally broken and shouldn’t necessarily be looked up to. This is where the problem of stan culture comes in. For those who don’t know, a stan is just a really extreme fan, and it usually relates to a particular person or character.
Obviously, being a fan of characters isn’t a problem, but stan culture generally ends up getting people into arguments and extreme sides. Now, Evangelion is no stranger to crazy fans, as when it was originally released, fans would argue over whether Asuka or Rei were better, which is likely going to be revived with Evangelion being launched back into the cultural zeitgeist. However, this doesn’t excuse stan culture, as these characters shouldn’t be glorified and put on a pedestal that stans do. In fact, Asuka starts piloting Eva to be popular, but her character arc is her learning to validate herself and not rely on everyone else for validation. By putting her on a pedestal it invalidates her character arc, and while tweeting about how empowered she is might show how you like her character, it takes away what makes her character special. I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t like or look up to these characters at points. Shinji’s arc throughout the whole story is downright inspirational, especially in the last two episodes of the series, and I enjoy almost all of the characters and their interactions. But when you start stanning these characters and ignoring their flaws, you lose one of the key components of them, which is that they’re all broken. These characters are meant to be enjoyed in the context of the story and to make you think about your own personal problems, but they aren’t the type of people you should obsess over and model yourself after.
Now, a major part of culture today that wasn’t present when Evangelion first released is social media. But while social media wasn’t present during Evangelion’s airing (maybe AIM and MySpace were, I don’t know, I’m young) the online presence most people have is very similar to some major themes presented in this show. On social media, people try to show off their best versions of themselves, and while they are showing themselves off to everyone, they’re still on their own overall. This is a similar idea to the train metaphor, which has Shinji’s mental state being compared to riding on a train, where you’re surrounded by people, but can still be mentally alone. Social media can really give off this mental headspace, where you can be surrounded by people, but still alone in your own head. Obviously not everyone is going to feel this isolated on social media, some people are just there to post memes, but there are many people trying to present the best versions, even though it’s very much not who these people truly are.
On the topic of social media, a very strong parallel arises between people’s use of it and the reason Asuka pilots the Eva. In the show, Asuka’s main reason is for popularity and admiration for piloting the Eva, and she gets upset once the attention gets pulled away from her. This can be similar to how lots of people use social media to boost their own self-esteem with what they post on there. Asuka never really says that she pilots the Eva to gain people’s approval, and social media is used by people to help validate themselves and show off their best lives, but most people know that they’re not showing the truth, but don’t really ponder it.
One major problem that affects lots of modern movies and TV shows nowadays is the need for there to be constant jokes, even when its totally unnecessary. The MCU is a huge proponent of making jokes when its not necessary, which can diminish emotional moments due to constant one liners. However, Neon Genesis Evangelion manages to have some good comedic moments, while not overusing it, or putting in thematically inappropriate moments. The first half of the show is a more comedic, because the second half dives straight into psychedelic and very dark storytelling. This doesn’t mean there are no jokes though, it just has them taking a back burner so that the story can shine, and that once there are jokes, they resonate more with the viewer.
Along with the aforementioned unnecessary comedy, modern movies and shows have a huge problem of not only explaining everything, but over explaining things. Exposition dumps are prevalent in most blockbuster movies nowadays, and it almost insults the viewer by insinuating they don’t know the basic story that they’re being shown. Now as anybody who has seen Evangelion can tell you, it does not explain everything to the viewer. In fact, at some points the story is very obtuse. But while it’s not the easiest show to fully comprehend, it respects its viewers. The biggest example is the ending which, without spoiling it, is very convoluted and metaphorical, but makes viewers think and doesn’t give a solid answer any direction. While some people might find this lack of explanation frustrating, it helps serve as a refreshing and thoughtful show. This is why I also believe that Evangelion shouldn’t be binge watched, as it doesn’t give you time to reflect on what you watch.
Evangelion’s release nowadays will also help with the continuing effort to have animation be treated as serious storytelling. While most people still think of animation as something for kids, or that adult animation is just raunchy shows like Family Guy, animation is finally starting to be taken seriously. Last year’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was critically and financially amazing, with tons of people praising the animation and different styles, as well as the brilliant story. Now that Evangelion is being released and heavily promoted on the largest streaming service of all time, this is another push in the right direction.
If you somehow couldn’t tell by everything I’ve said, I deeply love and care about Neon Genesis Evangelion and I’m so happy it’s getting the large scale attention it deserves. The story is timeless with some amazing characters, all with a distinct premise due to its differences from other shows in the mecha genre. While it’s a story that can always be pertinent to the modern day, many of the metaphors and character arcs are so reflective of things now in 2019 that it’s as important now as it ever was. This is one of my favorite shows ever, and with its great insights into human nature, it should be a must watch for everyone.