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Shinseiki Evangelion

Entry updated 13 December 2021. Tagged: Film, Game, TV.

["New Century Evangelion" vt "Neon Genesis Evangelion"] Japanese animated tv series (1995-1996). Studio Gainax, TV Tokyo, King Records, Tatsunoko. Directed by Hideaki Anno Kazuya Tsurumaki. Written by Hideaki Anno, Akio Satsugawa. Cast includes Megumi Hayashibara, Yuko Miyamura and Megumi Ogata. 26 episodes of 25 minutes. Colour.

In the year 2000, a devastating "meteorite strike" on Antarctica creates a global cataclysm and Climate Change. It is, however, merely a cover-up for the real emergency, oncoming waves of Alien attacks by supposedly invulnerable creatures called the "Apostles" (shito, translated in both the Anglophone version and in-text in the Japanese version into English as "Angels"). A group of Secret Masters hatches a plan to defend the Earth with hybrid biomechanical Mecha, the titular "Evangelion" units, although only humans born since the 2000 event are mentally equipped to pilot them (see Parasitism and Symbiosis). As a result, the defence of the planet is left in the hands of a Pariah Elite of damaged teenagers, including the project leader's reluctant son Shinji Ikari (Ogata). As apocalyptic battles suggest that the End of the World is nigh, a conspiracy is uncovered within the organization: a mind-melding global "Human Instrumentality Project" (see Hive Mind) that may, or may not have similar goals to those of the alleged enemy.

Steeped in Paranoia and Eschatology, and kamikaze resonances of Japan's World War Two experience, Evangelion refines and perfects many themes from the Gainax studio's previous Top o Nerae (1988). Conceived as a replacement after talks fell through for a Television sequel to Oneamisu no Tsubasa (1987), but also as a commentary and response by fans-turned-pro to the previous generation's Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-1980) and similar shows, Evangelion is a key work in comprehending the scope and attitudes of the "otaku" market of Japanese hard-core Fandom.

Much like the earlier landmark show Uchū Senkan Yamato, Evangelion benefited from changes in demographics and advances in technology: in this case, the widespread adoption of the Internet and the inauguration of the Gainax message board, which allowed discussion of the show's narratives ad nauseam. There was much to dissect, in what was arguably Japanese animation's most involved and multi-layered example of Recursive SF, with ingrained homages to the works of Yoshiyuki Tomino, Gerry Anderson's UFO and Thunderbirds, the Ultraman franchise, and references to the stories of Harlan Ellison and Cordwainer Smith. The religious imagery of the series, which drew (possibly superficially) on Judaeo-Christian esoterica (see Religion), also created memorable visual imagery, with cruciform explosions during the battles, suggestions that the Book of Genesis was a Shaggy God Story, and periodic appeals to the truth of the Qabbalah (see Religion). Despite a broad mainstream following, the show also soon became associated with the lunatic fringe; it was broadcast in the year of the Kobe earthquake and the Aum Shinrikyō subway gas attack, for an audience with a renewed fascination for apocalypse. In 1997, tapes of Evangelion were found at the site of the Heaven's Gate suicide cult.

Studio Gainax was famously low on cash for much of the serial's production, leading to an ironic fluctuation between feast and famine – during production, animators complained that they were unpaid for weeks on end; after the serial's meteoric success, two Gainax employees were indicted for tax evasion. This apocalyptic sense that a great enterprise was being undertaken in the midst of the End Times can make much of Evangelion seem like an allegory of its own creation, with the troubled genius Hideaki Anno self-identifying as the uncompromising leader Gendō Ikari, but also as his anti-heroic son Shinji. Later episodes became notorious for prolonged still images and recycled footage, and the two-part grand finale was controversially presented as little more than an on-screen radio play, packed with musings on Psychology and Identity. With unsure closure and break-neck schedules, anime serials are notorious for vague, numinous Slingshot Endings, but Evangelion's was arguably the most obtuse, veering off the main plotline for a discussion of the lead characters' inner psyches.

Much of the drama in Evangelion's conception lies outside the show, in an ever-slipping production schedule that led to last-minute dashes to the broadcaster and concomitant backlashes against episodes transmitted without prior network scrutiny. Such content, including particularly gory battles and a controversial bed-scene, was relatively tame in the anime world, but still something of a shock on primetime. A more censorious attitude in subsequent years incentivized many later anime producers to dilute the content of their shows between terrestrial and non-terrestrial (satellite, cable or video distribution), leading to split narratives such as that in Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999).

Translation idiosyncrasies, still in contention 25 years later in the serial's Netflix release, and the chaos of the show's original denouement, both onscreen and behind the scenes, have largely obscured its relatively simple plot, which was only truly confirmed and clarified in the materials accompanying the PlayStation 2 Videogame Shinseiki Evangelion 2 (2003). The Forerunners Adam and Lilith (see also Adam and Eve) are revealed as rival biological agents of Panspermia, arriving on Earth in the distant past. With Adam placed in stasis (see Stasis Field), as two planetary seeders cannot co-exist on the same world, Lilith proceeds to populate the Earth with her own genetic material. The Second Impact that precedes the television series is revealed, in the briefest of asides, as the accidental awakening of Adam by human Scientists, causing a global cataclysm and the subsequent onrush of Adam's "children", the so-called Angels, held off with man-made bio-Weapons deriving in part from Lilith's DNA. The seventeenth Angel, Kaworu, created from Adam's own genetic material, realizes that it is Lilith and not Adam who has Terraformed the planet, and voluntarily sacrifices himself, on the grounds that humanity (as represented by Shinji) is essentially worth saving. Much of this backstory, however, is only dimly apprehended in the television series, often as mere snatches of dialogue, since humanity is more concerned with its own Ecological and societal problems, Disaster relief, and a subplot in which a secret organization (see Secret Masters) attempts to effect the Uplift of humanity. In a quintessence of Little, Big contrast [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], the final two episodes of the original series withdraw from the apocalypse into the mind of Shinji as he frets over the nature of becoming one with the Posthuman Hive Mind. The story concludes with him on the cusp of his decision, thereby creating a confusion of divergent timelines, some of which investigate the possible results of such a Jonbar Point.

The unrepentant Anno regarded the television series, as broadcast, as merely a work-in-progress, tinkering with many episodes before their video release, and turning the show into an ever-evolving palimpsest of reworkings. This attitude, however, came to tax the patience of many fans, particularly in Japan, where DVD box sets can be substantially pricier than in the West. A promised feature film finale itself turned out to be a stopgap measure. Death and Rebirth (1997) comprised a feature-length reprise of the first 24 episodes, followed by the first 40 minutes of the real finale. This was subsequently refashioned as yet another film, The End of Evangelion (1997), which delivered the content long promised for the last two episodes, although by now, Anno regarded fandom's ire as petulant, ungrateful, and uncharitable towards the more personal, psychological emphasis of his original broadcast ending.

Evangelion's artistic heritage is broad and enduring. If it appears hackneyed today, that is only because of the dozens of subsequent anime that have stolen from it. Its characters and situations, originally intended as the last word on Mecha shows, were now largely co-opted as the default norm by many later imitators. Its merchandising juggernaut became a fundamental basis of Gainax's subsequent earnings, encompassing everything from laptops to egg timers. Its unfinished form, never quite fixed, left it open to further alterations in DVD re-releases and discussions, never quite actualized, of a live-action remake.

Ten years later, the story was retold as a four-part animated film series, Rebuild of Evangelion, beginning with Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone (2007; original title Evangerion Shin Gekijōban: Jo). Despite the outward appearance of a simple summary of previous episodes with some bonus footage, the first film offered rich pickings for fans who remembered the original, presenting radically different assessments of many lead characters. Its sequel, Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance (2009; original title Evangerion Shin Gekijōban: Ha) departed more radically from the original storyline, but contained background details that appeared to recall it, suggesting that the films were not a remake at all, but a sequel, set aeons after the original (see Time Abyss). The remaining films are Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo (2012; original title Evangerion Shin Gekijōban: Kyū) and Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time (2020; original title Shin Evangerion Gekijōban). [JonC]

see also: Hisashi Kuroma; Xenogears.


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