Me and that New Genesis Gospel

ryouga_(fm59)Seeing Evangelion 3.0 made me want to revisit the original Evangelion TV series. I haven’t watched it in full since I introduced it to my sister back in early 2010, so I was about due for a re-watch, and just finished it earlier today, so I figured I’d share a few thoughts on the show.

This viewing marks the first time I’ve seen it since becoming an Eva fan after seeing 2.0 in theatre a few years ago, and is the third time I’ve seen it all the way through. I first attempted to watch the series back in high school, in 2005 or so. I say “attempted” because Blockbuster only had the first two volumes and I couldn’t afford to buy the whole thing myself (such is the life of a high schooler), so for a while I knew the story more from Sadamoto Yoshiyuki’s comic version. Even now, it takes some effort for me to remember what happens in the comic versus the anime.

Unfortunately, when I did get a chance to watch the full thing later on, a couple years I think, I was predisposed against it somewhat. Partly, I was uncomfortable with its use of Christian iconography, but more than that I’d read some discussions on the series from people whose opinion I respected on how Evangelion is overrated, largely on the basis of the plot being nonsensical. Basically, they accused the series of taking a bunch of exotic-sounding words from different mythologies and throwing them together in a way that didn’t actually amount to very much.

Besides that, though, I didn’t like Shinji at all. I didn’t understand why he was so weak-willed, he wasn’t the sort of heroic protagonist that I wanted in a story, and, critically, I couldn’t identify with him in any meaningful way.

Now, I did like some things about Evangelion – the character and Angel designs, most of the animation, the music, and most of the characters except Shinji, for example.

Later on, around the end of 2009 or early 2010, I rewatched the show with my sister. I still liked the same things as before, probably more so, and sharing an anime with someone almost always makes it more enjoyable. Shinji annoyed me a little less, though I still didn’t like him.

matsuki_ringoShortly afterward, I mentioned to a friend that I’d recently finished the show. It turned out that he loved Evangelion, and our conversation made me think about Eva more seriously. Up to then, I had allowed my prejudice to cloud my judgement of the show, but after thinking about it on its own terms I began to get an idea of what Anno Hideaki had tried to do with it, and especially why Shinji was the way he was. Though I still didn’t really like Evangelion, I did begin to appreciate it.

So, what about now? Well, I like it. As a seventeen-year-old boy, I didn’t have much interest in or patience for a fourteen-year-old boy, but at twenty-six I can see that Shinji is a perfectly plausible depiction of how a child with Shinji’s background is apt to react to being (more-or-less) forced into a heroic role. I still prefer stories with more traditional heroic figures, because I believe that the best art does tend to uplift its audience, but there’s certainly a place for more grounded characters like Shinji.

Actually, one thing I noticed this time is that Shinji’s not that bad a soldier most of the time; yes, he has a couple tantrums and panics early on, but again, that’s about what one would expect of a slightly depressed fourteen-year-old. Besides, he does pull himself together at the end; yeah, the “Congratulations!” scene is corny as hell, but it’s much better than the completely worthless Shinji of End of Evangelion. In fact, I’d guess that much of Shinji’s reputation as a “spineless” character comes from the first several episodes and End of Eva more than the bulk of the original series.

I also identified with Shinji in his tendency to just drift through life, always staying with the status quo and whatever’s easiest rather than making his own decisions about what to do with his life.

Clearly, the protagonist seems to have been the main obstacle to my enjoyment of the series, and with that removed, I feel like Neon Genesis Evangelion may well be one of my favourite anime. Besides Shinji, though, I also found that the other big criticism I saw doesn’t quite hold water, either; that is, Eva‘s plot didn’t seem as deliberately obscure as it’s sometimes made out to be. It only really gets difficult in the last two episodes, and even there, that’s only because the point-of-view becomes completely subjective, and doesn’t show the audience anything but the characters’ own thoughts.

It’s probably fair to expect a show that’s ostensibly about giant robots to have more action in its climax, but we do get plenty of that in the movies. I suppose it’d be a stretch to say that Evangelion is about Shinji, but the show does begin with him and he’s the point-of-view character through most of it, so it seems appropriate to end the show with him, as well.

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