Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995-1996)
End of Evangelion (1997)
Directed by Hideaki Anno

Artistic Value: * *
Entertainment Value: * * *

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Hideaki Anno's twenty-six episode animated television program Neon Genesis Evangelion is generally entertaining, but the final two installments of the series were so poorly done that the director created the two part End of Evangelion as a new conclusion. Since the program is completely unsatisfactory without End of Evangelion, and the two form a coherent whole, they are reviewed together here as a single work. Sadly, even with its second conclusion, the series is still deeply flawed.

In the year 2015, the Earth faces repeated attacks by beings called Angels, who are vulnerable only to Evas, enormous robots built and maintained by a mysterious organization called NERV. The Evas can only be operated by teenaged pilots, and Shinji, the son of Dr. Ikari, the head of NERV, has been chosen for such a position. Soon thereafter, he comes into contact with the first Eva pilot, the enigmatic Rei, moves in with his commander, the apparently irresponsible but very sexy Misato, and eventually meets the third Eva pilot, the cocky and abrasive Asuka.

While by no means a great success, Neon Genesis Evangelion is entertaining. The characters are fun to watch, if not brilliantly conceived. The fight sequences are exciting, and the story, although frequently silly, is engaging.

The program is also extremely uneven visually. The series' character designs are attractive, but the animation used to bring them to life is decidedly unsuccessful. Its cheapness is made so obvious on so many occasions as to be a real distraction. To avoid animating moving lips, for example, a character will frequently be shown holding his hands, a coffee cup, or some other object in front of his mouth. Numerous scenes consist of a camera panning across a still painting. On occasion, the director does not even bother to move the camera and simply shows a static image. The concluding episodes of the series are especially poorly done and are made up of little more than such images combined with photographs and text.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is also burdened by incessant, pointless Christian references. The monsters being fought are Angels. The body of the first Angel, kept in NERV headquarters, is referred to as Adam. There are also countless crucifixes, a mysterious weapon known as the Lance of Longinus, some being called Lilith, a triad of computers governing Japan named the Three Magi, and so on. All these various elements are completely meaningless and tiresome and contribute absolutely nothing positive to the series.

Throughout the program, Anno complements such empty symbolism by inserting countless portentous utterances into his characters' mouths. Instead of imbuing Neon Genesis Evangelion with any intellectual depth, however, these vacuous remarks remind the viewer only of the director's pretensions. Cryptic utterances are more likely indicative of a lack of coherence and insight than of the presence of any profundity, and anyone who gives even a brief moment's thought to the statements made here will realize how completely muddled and vague they are.

One of the series' most frustrating elements is its recurring tendency to introduce into the narrative one new complication after another. Plots, mysterious motives, and strange happenings are hinted at, and the director uses these to create a sense of tension by building up the viewer's expectations about the nature of their resolution. Unfortunately, the program ends without anything being revealed. The viewer is left as much in the dark as when the various complications were first intimated and feels frustrated and dissatisfied as a result. Even the series' second conclusion, End of Evangelion, fails to address these mysteries.

Finally, I should note that while the characters in Neon Genesis Evangelion are not particularly distinctive, most are well realized and enjoyable. Only Asuka is grating during most of the series. Toward the program's end, however, Shinji becomes increasingly annoying as well. Rei remains little more than a physical presence. There are frequent hints about her mysterious past, and the viewer is repeatedly made to expect some revelation about her, but that moment of truth never arrives. Rei ends the series as a hollow, uninteresting figure about whom we have learnt nothing. Misato, of all the characters, is perhaps the most engaging. We do learn a fair amount about her and are able to engage with her. Unfortunately, she is not the program's central character.

Despite its numerous and severe faults, much of Neon Genesis Evangelion is entertaining. Even though the ending is not satisfying, the series is enjoyable to watch. Do not, however, expect a masterpiece.

Review by Keith Allen

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