Recently, Netflix announced that they acquired the streaming rights for Neon Genesis Evangelion. This is a HUGE deal, because it hasn’t been legally available to watch in North America for over a decade. It’s absolutely bananas that such an iconic anime has been inaccessible for so long. It just goes to show how ridiculous corporate red tape can be, I suppose.
Because the series was relevant in conversation again, I saw a TON of folks online crawl out from the woodwork to shit on everyone’s parade. Netflix’s announcement had re-sparked the old arguments about whether Evangelion is truly a masterpiece, or if it’s just an overrated mess.
I love Evangelion very, very much. It’s one of my favorite series, and I truly believe that it’s a must-watch for anime fans. Because of my immense love for the series, it’s my knee-jerk defensive instinct to assume that everyone who hates it are just contrarian trolls. I want to believe that all the criticisms that say Eva is convoluted, fake-deep, and overrated are baseless trash arguments…but they’re not. It’s true, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a deeply flawed series, and it is NOWHERE NEAR as perfect as many fans claim it is. In a way, it really has become overrated.
…but it’s still really fucking good, and deserves to be an anime staple despite those flaws.
It’s honestly very easy, even as a huge fan, to see where Evangelion is less than perfect. Perhaps the most obvious nitpick is the production value. There are scenes that are infamous for being one looped frame or just one frame for minutes. Of course, there’s the argument that these looped scenes were artistic choices – and they may well have been – but these aren’t the only places where it looks like corners were cut. Throughout the anime, there are dialogue scenes where the animators have blatantly put coffee cups, hands, or newspapers over characters’ faces to avoid animating their mouths.
My personal motto has always been that personal enjoyment far outweighs any “objective” critical observations about animation or production. I’ve seen movies that were technical masterpieces…but they had nothing interesting to say, and thus they escaped my mind immediately. Besides, despite not always being the most beautiful in terms of animation quality or even color schemes, Neon Genesis Evangelion has interesting framing and visual set-ups. Many scenes are iconic and are continually referenced in other anime – see last season’s SSSS Gridman for examples.
The anime’s ending is another huge point of debate. Conceptually, I enjoy the stream of consciousness in episodes 25 and 26. It was bold, it was different, and it WAS interesting to watch unfold. As a conclusion, however, it is absolute horseshit. It resolves nothing, and it really does feel like something fell apart in production.
There are a lot of theories about the last few episodes of the anime. Rumors say that the budget ran out and that they simply didn’t know how they could end it cheaply and quickly. This is partially true. Yes, the series had a low-budget, but there was more to it than that. The main issue was scheduling constraints – Kazuya Tsurumaki mentions that this contributed to the tonal shift, because they had to figure out ways to make due with animating less frames. There were also issues regarding the Sarin gas attacks that occurred in Japan as Neon Genesis Evangelion was airing. Elements of the series that paralleled these attacks had to be removed and replaced with something else, resulting in something that was a bit more rushed.
Rumors also say that the television series’ ending made no sense because Hideaki Anno didn’t know how to end the series. Toshio Okada implies that this is true, which leads people to believe that The End of Evangelion was made in bitterness over the fact that fans didn’t like the television ending that Anno finally came up with. Truth be told, there’s not much concrete evidence to back this theory up, but that’ll be have to be another research post for another day. It’s hard to find sources in English!
Whatever the truth is, The End of Evangelion does do a much better job of ending the series. However, it still receives plenty of criticism due to the circumstances surrounding it and the fact that it…still doesn’t make a ton of sense. Giant Rei, people turning into Sunny D, jerking off to comatose girls – it’s all a wild ride, but many felt that it still didn’t tie up loose ends. The gradual shift into more abstract storytelling aggravated some, especially folks who were sticklers for details and plot.
Then there’s the religious symbolism. Folks who criticize this element of Evangelion have completely fair points. The references are heavy-handed and obvious. Crosses are lighting up everywhere, the enemies are called Angels, Lilith is pinned to the cross like Jesus – it’s not subtle. I’ve always found it silly that people praise this element of the series because it really is muddled and has little meaning in the end.
Hideaki Anno himself has stated that he really doesn’t know much about Christianity. Animation producer Hiroyuki Yamaga said in an interview, “I don’t know exactly why [Anno used Judeo-Christian imagery]. I suspect that Mr. Anno may have read some book on it, and there was some thoughts he wanted to express on it.” That doesn’t exactly make it sound well thought out now, does it? My personal favorite is when assistant director Kazuya Tsurumaki straight up said that the Christian imagery was there simply because it’s “an uncommon religion in Japan [and] we thought it would be mysterious. There is no actual Christian meaning to the show, we just thought the visual symbols of Christianity look cool.” It’s true, folks – the symbolism in the series truly is a mess, and it’s not nearly as deep as it is often credited to be.
The thing is, those imperfections and flaws really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s still a gut-punching, hard-hitting series about trauma, freedom, and what it means to be alive. It still spawned iconic characters that feel very real, despite other people’s beliefs that they are “too whiny” or “too crazy” or whatever. The fact that people are even still talking about it after all these years is proof that it did something right. So while detractors are right that the franchise has enormous flaws, it still doesn’t make it some sort of abysmal shit-heap. It just means that it’s not necessarily the perfect 10/10 masterpiece rating that so many folks rate it on MyAnimeList.
So yes, Neon Genesis Evangelion has flaws. Truth be told, the series’ biggest fans know its flaws very well. The thing is, those flaws really don’t matter to them in the end, because they found other aspects of it that they adore. Sure, maybe it’s not as “deep” as people like to say it is, but the fact that people are able to create these conversations about it after all these years shows that it does matter. It’s fine if the series isn’t your thing, and it makes sense that people who didn’t love it might be tired of seeing it referenced constantly. Going out of your way to proclaim that a beloved series is an overrated mess and trying to “prove” that it doesn’t deserve its fandom, however, is just obnoxious.
So please, can’t we put this debate to rest? Yes, it’s not perfect, but people love it anyways. Let us celebrate the fact that we can finally legally stream our show, alright?!