Note: This Review has Spoilers for The Evangelion Anime Series, The Evangelion film Death and Rebirth, and the Evangelion film, End of Evangelion.
This’ll be more of a ramble. I finally finished End of Evangelion after spending several months on and off again watching the entire anime series of Evangelion and then the Evangelion Death and Rebirth hour-long film on Netflix. I have mixed feelings all around. Now, I can only base my judgment off of the Netflix dub as I barely recall the few episodes of the ADV dub that I watched and the only film I watched to completion prior to the Netflix version was the ADV version of End of Evangelion because the full film had been available to watch on Youtube many, many years ago and I had randomly decided to watch it around the beginning of the Asuka fight scenes and onward. My memories of watching End of Evangelion were fond memories and I had always felt bad about not knowing the full context, so I decided to try to watch the whole series, but I have mixed feelings.
My main issue with Evangelion’s anime series is that it was an absolute snorefest. I wanted to like it, but the first few episodes were so sluggish with barely anything interesting happening. Asuka’s introduction helped a bit, but Asuka’s addition only transformed the story into a Monster of the Week formula that – while fun to watch at times – has been far outshined by newer anime series. The latter episodes leading up to and past the point of Kaji’s death, while intriguing and adding depth to the characters, was executed very poorly and seemed to have been dumped too quickly to allow it all to sink in for the viewers. In fact, this is likely the reason why the Death and Rebirth film was made, so that people could understand the important characters more concretely. However, the Death and Rebirth film only serves to supplement and give greater context for what was a failing on the anime series part in the first place. Due to how the latter-half of the anime series just seems to be splurged randomly (especially in regards to Asuka), it gets worsened by the fact that a lot of these deeper motives and character perspectives aren’t balanced well; that is, it does more telling via lengthy monologues of who they are as people than showing it through their actions at times. Whereas there was appropriate build-up for Toji’s revelation of being the 4th Child (or 4th Children in the Netflix dub for whatever stupid reason Netflix decided on to name them in that way), the more important elements of Asuka’s life seems shoehorned in. Perhaps just as terrible, while Misato gets enough build-up with how she sees her life and her mixed feelings on her father, it doesn’t help that after having sex with Kaji in one scene, she randomly goes on a monologue about her father and how she sees her father in Kaji. It feels hamfisted and undercuts the story’s intrigue. This is a shame because there is good writing spliced in with a lot of this hamfisted content. The entire storyline where Toji becomes a pilot, the Dummy Plug is built-up as an important back-up, and the consequences of Toji’s new Eva-unit being contaminated and turned into an angel with Gendo ordering the Dummy Plug to activate to destroy the angel was very well done. Yet, along with it come two chief problems that show bad writing as a consequence. Whatever romance between the Class President and Toji is very obviously dropped, Toji doesn’t really react to Shinji’s Eva having butchered him which he experienced within the contaminated black Eva-unit, and I would argue that the biggest missed opportunity is that Toji didn’t die. Why do I say this? Because the only thing we learn about Toji and Kensuke after this point is that their families have left and migrated somewhere else from a random and easily missed infodump by Shinji. If Toji’s arc was done, they should have just killed him off. The event was supposed to impact Shinji’s mental wellbeing, it would have been more narratively powerful for Toji to have just died as a result of the altercation. He and the others disappear afterwards anyways. The plot could still have had Shinji quit being an Eva-pilot, only to change his mind because he saw the head of Rei’s Eva-unit 0 and feared the worst. The second problem is that even choosing this Toji storyline made the entire series feel completely redundant insofar as Shinji’s actions. He leaves due to fear of being hurt by others and closes himself off in the beginning of the series, then returns to try to open his heart to others before the Monster-of-the-Week formula kicks in with Asuka’s introduction, and then leaves because he feels used and hurt because of what happened to Toji, but then he decides to be brave by not giving into his fear of running away and self-loathing, so that he can latch his self-worth onto others again. He ends-up killing Kaworu and shuts down again. And the cycle repeats itself again in End of Eva’s beginning. It is believable . . . but it is too redundant and somewhat boring, because it is so formulaic. The Kaji storyline of his detective work, how it fits into Misato’s storyline, and Rei storylines are far more interesting and well done up till the last two episodes where nothing is really explained about the long-running mystery up until the End of Evangelion film. If I had not randomly watched End of Evangelion first, I would have no idea what the last two episodes even meant. That being said, the Kaworu episode felt like a plot hole within the context of the series; within the context of End of Evangelion, it doesn’t seem to be. The fact the anime series itself can’t explain him well doesn’t help though. Kaworu seems to just spout random pabulum without much meaning besides the AT Field being a person’s inner barrier against coalescing with other humans. I had thought the dialogue changes with Kaworu and Shinji bathing weren’t a big deal at the time, since it seemed more realistic that a new person would say they liked Shinji instead of going straight to love, but the End of Eva “Kaworu” inside Shinji’s heart being the manifestation of the words “I love you” made me realize that Netflix had probably fucked-up royally and didn’t realize it. Nevertheless, the message of love was conveyed somewhat. On a more positive note, I found myself surprised at how much I enjoyed Rei’s character growth, subtle narrative changes, and the fact her arc felt like her character actually grew in depth in a believable fashion. Gendo kept using her for his own purposes and refused to allow her a natural death, so Rei turned to the only genuinely warm figure in her life, Shinji. This was only after she had proven her loyalty to Gendo and been so thoroughly manipulated into having compassion for him to the point that she died for him. Yet, she wasn’t allowed to move on. The coherence of her arc resolves itself more in End of Eva than in the anime series, but the arc still feels present and there. Asuka’s arc exists and has depth, but there’s too little of it with not enough screen-time given to her after Kaji’s death; something which, yet again, the End of Eva film clarifies and amply fixes.
My own views on plot coherence of the anime series aside; it certainly was brave of Hideaki Anno and his staff to even touch homoerotic love in the 1990s and export that to barbarian cultures like the West which had no acceptance of it at the time. Whereas Japan was open and intellectual to understand that LGBT were human beings too; the barbarian cultures such as the US simply refused to see them as people and even had a “gay panic” that resulted in support for bigotry in the 2004 elections. It is sad to see that we Western barbarians are now attempting to preach our barbarian ways to superior intellectual cultures like the Japanese on the basis of our own hubris. The Netflix translation of the Evangelion anime series suffers from the lack of “Fly Me To The Moon” at the end credits, which is doubly worse since it was arguably a neat tidbit of foreshadowing for the conclusion of End of Eva. A crucial aspect that I think should be nipped in the bud is that nothing about the nudity in Evangelion is pedophilic. That may sound shocking to some Western barbarians incapable of seeing beyond their censorship lenses, but allow me to explain. The story, plot, character interactions, and situations are all geared towards Middle-schoolers usually around the ages of 13 – 14. That is the primary target audience of the show. Now, what do the majority of 13 – 14 year olds growing into their maturity and realizing their sexuality fantasize about? Be honest with yourselves and recall your own fantasies during that age of development. Misato kisses Shinji in End of Eva, was that pedophilic or was it meant to convey erotic teenage dreams of a sexy, hot older woman who exists to fulfill the fantasies of teenagers? If you recall, Misato is depicted as desirable to young teenagers that are Shinji’s age both in the beginning and final episode of Evangelion. How about when Asuka falls asleep right next to Shinji after being hurt that he didn’t break the “walls of Jericho” leading to their misunderstanding? A pushy and socially maladjusted girl who seeks to be desirable to others, even sexually with the two men that she’s grown close to, and who inevitably behaves like a child throwing a tantrum because she’s just desperate for validation. The interactions between Asuka and Shinji throughout the series show romantic interactions that always end terribly, awkwardly, and so on. Why? To present to teenagers going through puberty, primarily male but possibly female too, their worst fears so that they can learn that it is not so bad to have these awkward experiences. Both near the end of the anime series and within End of Eva, the sexual depictions that Shinji experiences seems to vicariously simulate to teenage viewers the experiences of their own adolescent sexual fantasies. Evangelion depicts the most awkward and worst-case scenarios to simulate the average teenager’s worst fears regarding rejection, humiliation, and it is honest about adolescent sexual fantasies. So, that picture of a nude Rei and later a giant naked Rei in End of Eva? It’s mainly for teenage males. The naked image is seen as horrific and confusing; Shinji’s mind seems to break when seeing it. It’s a metaphor for adolescence. The entire Evangelion series is so well-loved arguably because so much of it is a metaphor for fears that adolescents have when going through puberty. The staff of Evangelion created it with 12 – 17 year olds in mind as their target audience, so none of it is pedophilic. They’re just more mature and honest about adolescent sexual fantasies and depict those fears for their adolescent audience; they’re franker than we Western barbarians are generally capable of accepting. You have to keep the target audience in mind.
Insofar as the Netflix version of the Evangelion anime series and Death and Rebirth film, keeping in mind all of the positives and negatives I mentioned and assessing them within the context of the anime series of episodes and how it ended, I’d rate them and these two components of the series as follows: 6.5 / 10. I think I would have cherished this series had I watched it when I was in middle-school, but I watched it much later than that. I think this series (including End of Evangelion) are great for middle-schoolers who have patience and can handle sexual content more maturely, but Evangelion’s shortcomings can’t be ignored in my view.
As for the End of Evangelion film, I had wondered how I would rate it after getting the full context of the anime series . . . and I am pleasantly surprised and happy to say that I would rate it the same as what I did before. Although, I prefer the old dub, but that may just be my own personal preference. The old dub comparing prayer to a selfish wish had surprised me and parts of that are still apparent in the Netflix dub. Yet, strangely, the Netflix version seems more simplified in its dialogue than what I remember from the older dub version, but it could just be a bias on my part. The overall meaning is still conveyed; Shinji decides that he needs to shape himself back up and away from the blissful Oneness within Lilith’s rapture. He finally believes in himself because the voice of Lilith (Rei’s true form) and those others who love him show him that he can change all that’s wrong with his life just by being alive and being willing to work for it – even if it means being emotionally hurt again. For me, the most interesting part is that this Shinji is not the Shinji of the anime ending. The anime ending Shinji accepted instrumentality and learned not to hate himself, realizing others didn’t hate him and that it was his own reclusive self-image that was the cause of his problems, and he finally attained happiness by learning to love himself with the acceptance of all others being his reward. The End of Eva Shinji is less sure of himself; he doesn’t know the right answers and Lilith guides him, but doesn’t try to impose her will. The Rei, Kaworu, and even his own mother seems to be reflections of his own heart. End of Eva Shinji seems to decide that it is worth the emotional suffering to change the course of his life and try to find happiness in living with others despite their being up and causing misunderstandings, emotional pain, and other forms of suffering for Shinji in the future. Shinji chooses the struggle of emotional bonds over the easy acceptance of a world without any bonds where everyone easily understands and is part of each other. The overall message, generally of adolescents, is that you can change the way you feel your life has gone wrong at any point and that so long as you continue living and search for emotional bonds in others then eventually you will find opportunities for happiness. It doesn’t matter how much wasted time, failed opportunities, awkwardness, humiliation, self-loathing, self-hate, or anxiety you feel so long as you continue to try and change it with the belief that you can change it for the better. Regardless of if you feel filthy, disgusting, wretched, and whatnot. You can change it at any point in time and that it’s never “too late” so long as you’re alive. I felt this message was conveyed better in the original dub, but the Netflix dub is adequate in conveying the central message of End of Eva. My final score for End of Evangelion is precisely what I gave it for the original version, it seems no matter what version, it’ll always be a masterpiece: 10/10.
Evangelion Anime Series: 6.5 / 10
Slightly above average with an equal amount of pros and cons.
Evangelion Death and Rebirth Film: 6.5 / 10.
Adds better coherence for the failings of the Evangelion Anime series and little more than that.
End of Evangelion: 10/10
An absolute masterpiece in themes, message, story, and conveying the idea to adolescents not to be stuck in self-loathing by having an entire show and this film ending where literally nobody worked out their problems, then fell into the depths of their worst despairs, and mostly gave-up on themselves thus causing the end of the world. And only after the end of the world, two of them realized life isn’t so bad and decided to struggle to make their lives happier from then on. Despite everything, allowing themselves the risk of emotionally hurting each other to try again at attaining happiness with each other and the world.