The mecha series for people who hate mechas, an exercise in artistic subversion, an apocalyptic thriller, NGE at first follows a predictable format---a youth is chosen as one of the pilots of a series of anthropomorphic mechas to defend Earth and humanity against an alien invasion---But not all is as it seems. . .
The series revolves around the lives of the pilots of the biomechanical mechas, officially called "Evangelions", though usually refered to as "Evas", fielded in defense of earth by NERV, a heavily funded agency of the U.N.
The protagonist, Ikari Shinji, is the estranged son of the Director of NERV, Ikari Gendo, who abandoned him to pursue the research which culminated in the production of the Evas.
The pilot of the prototype, Ayunami Rei, seems to be afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome, though as it turns out, the reasons for her socially awkward, emotionless behavior are deeper.
The third pilot, who arrives after a few 'monster of the week' episodes which serve to gradually reveal the other central characters and the dysfunctional relationship between Shinji and his father, is the brash half-German, half-Japanese Asuka Langley.
Gradually, it is revealed that NERV, and its Director, have agendas other than the defense of Earth against the aliens, called Angels on the basis of a correspondence to a Khabbalistic reading of the Dead Sea Scrolls; and that the Evas themselves are not quite what they seem.
Gradually it is revealed that every single character (with the possible exception of Eva Unit 01--though explaining why the mecha counts as a character would be a spoiler) is dysfunctional and deeply lonely even in the midst of the apparent comraderie of their efforts against the Angels. (Even the comic relief, the 'warm water penguin', which lives with Shinji and his guardian and immediate commander, Captain (later Major) Katsuragi Misato, is a drunkard.)
Is the ending a happy one, or a sad one? The viewer is left to sort through the surreality of the last few episodes to decide that on his or her own. The surreal ending, the appeal to teenage angst in the flawed characters, and the sometimes inappropriate, sometimes oddly appropriate, use of Christian imagery and references to Jewish mysticism have lead some to see in the series more depth than I think it actually has.
Well-animated, well acted, the music is uninspired but doesn't interfere with the enjoyment of the series (though the choice of the old lounge standard "Fly me to the moon" in English as the end-title surely ranks as one of the oddest musical choices in anime).
One of the 'must see' series, but hardly my favorite.
Not one for the kids: lots of violence, suicide, sexuality (a kiss for amusement, implied sexual intercourse, homoerotic expression), and (actually worse than all of those) the really dysfunctional characters and relationships.
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