This is some general thoughts on my rewatching of Neon Genesis Evangelion. This won’t be that hardcore of an analysis compared to my Samurai Flamenco series, although I will do a little bit later.
So yeah. Neon Genesis Evangelion was a bit hit in the 90s. Toonami and Adult Swim grew big in the West. Anime was having a bit of a revolution in the West, going from the Dragon Balls and Sailor Moons, to the Akiras, Ghost in the Shell, Serial Experiment Lain, and Cowboy Bebop. Neon Genesis Evangelion was It had a Christopher Nolan-ish feel dealing with scientific and psychological themes we haven’t seen since Kubrick, if ever. It explored a taboo subject especially now in the West, regarding Western religion, Western psychology, surrealist art and mecha designs; the mecha designs are quite unique, thanks to the direction of Hideaki Anno; no surprise if you’ve seen his previous work. It was pretty much seen as a classic, by those who saw the show right away.
For everyone else, baes were hot, as the young-ins say now.
Does it still have that effect now, or after watching it another time, in another era though?
It had a really strong word of mouth. Anime’s rarely have that strong of an impact now. People are going from J-Pop to K-Pop, from the Japanese anime revolution to the Korean, Iranian, Mexican and (Mainland) Chinese and what I call the Superhero New Wave.
However, anime and Japanese brands still remain strong and still are a major export and tourist attraction of Japan.
Japanese anime isn’t new anymore. Some of the shock value that the anime had with taboos sorta had a non-aesthetic, artistic non-merit there, and sorta ended up as a polarizing factor rather than something worth of critical praise. There’s still a bit of Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai in New York City culture I debate. Unsure of the rest of the world. We’ve gotten more kid friendly. Nintendo and Hayao Miyazakis’ brands are still huge. Gaming is still big, yet somewhat shrinking versus the rise of Apple and the iPhone. (Later, I’ll have an article on possible Dreamcast nail in coffin after the news of iPhones outperforming current gen consoles.)
I’m not saying Neon Genesis Evangelion is even less than great, but it was definitely more of an event of water cooler pop culture. It’s not a cult classic, but rather something that pretty much everyone watched and group thought about.
That’s not to say that the show wasn’t without merit. The talk of oral fixations, and Freudian psychology is still rare and still taboo in our society. Most animes, especially of the real robot genre, tend to focus on war, metal and grit. And while not wrong, not ill of art or critically dismissed, business wise, you always want something of high quality or marginal utility, but new and innovative. The impact by the super/real robot by Evangelion drawing crowds back to the genre, after being exposed was there, and if they had went back to this direction as a trend, there would’ve been more innovation and artistic merit that would’ve kept the worldwide trend longer. Imagine if there was actually a Gundam that had went in this direction with the same amount of anti/war themes, but in addition told a larger more surrealistic story about their Gundam models. I wouldn’t say they should go like GaoGaiGar, but a mix of Super and Real on some occasions would be welcome. It worked with Gundam Wing. Some are still fans of G Gundam. SD Gundam and Turn A were great. Hideaki Anno working with Gundam? Could be a good formula to reinvigorate that franchise. Not to sidetrack too much as say that Gundam doesn’t have memorable designs or direction or characters, but just to emphasize the strengths and risks this series took.
Back to the 90s, counterculture was big. The Matrix and breaking out of systems. The rise of the internet, as seen in Shinji’s computers. Indie rock bands in the US. The fact that 70s counterculture surrealists became cartoon producers in the 90s, as seen in many American cartoons. I mean there are conservatives in Japan, but after the 80s, an anti-religion, anti-family, anti-government, anti-establishment show such as this, no doubt hit audiences with their themes of fighting monsters known as Angels, keeping that different and high quality every week, compared to now and previous entries is just astounding, not to mention the 90s post-modern references to religion and psychology after a while.
Also, shows at this time came when fans wanted something darker, more adult. That part of the trending cycle allowed audiences to see blood, kill off characters and just overall become more artistically entertaining and suspenseful. The use of monstrous sounds from the EVAs, blood from the mechs, the fact that the EVAs identities weren’t revealed till the end of the show, the mystery behind religious and government figures attempting to take control of the world, and conspire against you, for their own selfish needs, Armaggeddon.
Why do people enjoy thrill rides at theme parks? The illusion of fear? Haunted houses? Fear of the unknown? Horror movies? The illusion of someone, a character being established in a short amount of time, being killed?
Basically, in simple terms, Neon Genesis Evangelion is praised for being well crafted and imaginative. Some underrated anime shows may have overtaken it, and may have a longer lasting quality, despite not being at the peak of J-pop interests. However, it doesn’t mean Neon Genesis Evangelion wasn’t a classic. Maybe overrated, but it was definitely of great quality.