[Spoiler warning.]

Christ, I feel scammed.

It's been half a year since I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion, and it still infringes on my thoughts due to being such a frustrating and ultimately underwhelming experience. The only thing I really gained from it is being able to say that I've watched an 'essential' anime.


Leading up to my decision to watch the anime, I'd heard nothing but praise for it. I encountered fans throwing around descriptors like 'masterpiece' and 'mindfuck' and 'this broke me'. I knew that Evangelion had psychological themes, and I was hyped. I like dark philosophical sci-fi; Blade Runner and The Matrix are two of my favourite films and I'm a fan of Philip K. Dick. Ghost in the Shell had given me a great first impression of sci-fi anime.

Episodes 1-7

I knew and liked the Evangelion OP long before watching the anime. So hearing it paired with the opening visuals was pretty exciting. It did look and sound like the start of a great series.

The first few episodes were interesting enough. I thought Shinji was a relatable character. NERV seemed like an intriguing 'evil corporation', and I was looking forward to discovering more about Evas and Rei. I liked the art (especially the Evas' and Angels' designs), soundtrack and hints at worldbuilding, as well as the occasional bits of insight into the characters' personalities. The show definitely appeared to be going somewhere, albeit very slowly. Several things irked me, though. You may accuse me of nitpicking, but this is supposed to be one of the greatest anime of all time and I am merely judging it with that in mind.

Why does Gendo have Shinji brought to NERV just as the first Angel attacks, without giving him any training with Unit 01? Why risk insta-killing Shinji and damaging a presumably precious piece of military equipment? Is Gendo relying on Unit 01's ability to go berserk and possibly win the fight? That would be stupid. If it's guaranteed that the Eva will win, what's the point? Intimidation? (If Gendo hates Shinji that much, why does NERV let him try to quit later?) If he does want his son dead or at least scared into submission, why does he bother persuading him to get in the Eva? Why not send in some henchmen to forcibly shove him in?

Why do Shinji and Rei go to an ordinary school even though they work for a top-secret military organisation? (So that kids can relate to the show, I guess.) Why does there just happen to be a high-tech rifle that can kill Ramiel? If NERV is powerful enough to seize all of Japan's electricity and known to use children, why isn't Toji afraid of the possible consequences of beating up a NERV employee? Why does Misato never get in trouble for being unprofessional? Why doesn't NERV guard Shinji more closely, given that he's often non-compliant and now knows some military secrets? How on earth was it that easy for him to run away? Why is he given the option to quit? Does NERV need him or not? If they do, why don't they take measures to force him to comply?

A major detail that bothered me was that the high-stakes nature of the Eva vs Angel battles wasn't conveyed very well. The impact on the Eva pilots is clear; but how am I supposed to feel afraid for the whole world when I don't see any civilian casualties and only hear about one (Toji's sister), who was injured rather than killed? It was odd seeing the Evas and Angels battling it out in a city that is sterilely empty. (Gotta conserve that animation budget, I guess.)

Episodes 8-13

While the first quarter or so of the series had its flaws, they were bearable, and I was engaged. I did enjoy some of it. Episodes 8-10, however, had me thinking "Are you fucking serious?" at least once every 5 minutes.

Asuka is one of the most insufferable fictional characters I've had the misfortune of seeing on a screen. If Anno's intention was to make me violently hate her, he succeeded. Shinji is disliked by viewers for being a wimp, and Rei is disliked for being emotionless, but I found both of them sympathetic. Asuka, meanwhile, is mean-spirited, self-absorbed and obnoxious, displays no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and can't go 2 minutes without throwing a noisy tantrum. Despite what the other characters say about her, she kind of sucks as an Eva pilot, because she tends to to rush into fights and fuck things up. Anyone who refers to this sociopathic bitch as a 'waifu' is probably doing so ironically. Only a certified beta would do it sincerely.

Asuka's introduction into the show came with a onslaught of silly bullshit that I found just as excruciating. Misato takes Kensuke and Toji onto the ship carrying Unit 02, because what I thought was a military mission is apparently a cute boat trip open to random civilian kids. Asuka and Toji flash each other on the deck of the battleship because that's super funny and quirky and not the most retarded thing they could do in front of the military. Asuka somehow doesn't get into trouble for a reckless unordered attack on the Angel that shows up. Toji and Kensuke take photos of Asuka in the locker room at school because that's super funny and quirky and not a sexual offence. Asuka somehow doesn't get into trouble for rushing into another attack on an Angel, fucking up and causing Units 01 and 02 to end up upside down in the ground. Asuka and Shinji prepare for the next attack by playing DDR in matching outfits, and kill the next Angel with a goofy dance because...I don't fucking know man. A synchronised attack is a cool concept, but that's what they went with? Then, in episode 10, there's a fucking hot springs scene, with more coomerbait retardation...am I still watching the Neon Genesis Evangelion praised as an artistic and insightful masterpiece?

I could tolerate the monster-of-the-week Angel fights up to a point. Now it really seemed like the show wasn't going anywhere. What kind of tone was it going for? Was I supposed to be taking this show seriously or not? Obviously NERV is meant to be corrupt and barely organised, but holy shit they're so ludicrously incompetent that there's no way they're defeating Angel after Angel with such ease and so few casualties. Why is everyone in this show so damn lucky? I was exasperated. In the hope it would get better, I kept watching.

The next 3 episodes, while sticking to the Angel-of-the-week formula, were more tolerable due to a marked decrease in dumb shit. (Though I'm still annoyed that the mystery of who sabotaged NERV's electricity was forgotten so quickly. You'd think that would be a big deal for them.) The Angels' designs were getting progressively more abstract and interesting. I enjoyed episode 13, probably because Ritsuko, the most competent person in NERV, was the main focus.

Episodes 14-24

The show did get better. After the recap in episode 14, more than halfway through, things finally started to pick up. To my relief, the episodes became less formulaic and an actual plot began to develop. I was once again interested. The worldbuilding and lore became more fleshed out, and the emotional intensity and darkness increased. At long last, I felt like I was getting what the fans had sold me.

Episode 18 was one of my favourites due to the brutal situation it portrayed...and then the show pulled its punches by having Toji survive. Tension-killing cop-out aside, how on earth is he still alive after Unit 01 crushed his entry plug like an empty soda can?

Asuka remained a menace, but the revelation of her past explained her personality well enough to somewhat reduce my hatred. Had she shown an iota of self-awareness or humanity earlier, I might even have started sympathising with her.

After the climactic events of episode 24, I realised that while the story was nowhere near any kind of denouement, there were only 2 episodes left. Would Misato pick up Kaji's quest for the truth about NERV? Would I find out more about Kaworu, Adam and Lilith? Would Asuka get any kind of redemption? Would Shinji find himself? Would Rei find herself, or find out the truth about how she was made? Would the three of them come to understand each other? Would I find out more about how Eva pilots are chosen? Would I find out more about who Seele are and what they want? What about the fate of NERV? What about the true nature of Evas? What about the Lance of Longinus, which is still orbiting the Earth?

Everyone is telling me that Evangelion is a brilliant show, I thought. So the ending probably does wrap everything up in a striking and clever way that I wouldn't have seen coming.

Episodes 25-26

...never mind.

The last 2 episodes feel like a fluff fanfic created by someone who thought, "Man, I feel bad for the Evangelion characters. Wouldn't it be nice if they had a group therapy session?" The writing especially is reminiscent of a fanfic; the characters take turns to get psychoanalysed, everything is prosaically explained with complete disregard for "show, don't tell", and the ending is literally the 'and everyone clapped' meme. Hooray, they're all happy now!

If this ending had indeed been a fan creation, I'd have found it cute. I liked the art style changes and philosophy, and the part where Shinji wakes up in a normal life got a chuckle out of me ("You're finally awake! Angels? Evas? NERV? The Third Impact? What are you talking about? Come on Shinji, let's go to school and meet the new girl"). Unfortunately, it is the real ending. I felt cheated.

Obviously, I was pissed that absolutely nothing had come of the story that the past 10 episodes had built up so intriguingly. Moreover, I was annoyed that the characters' acceptance of themselves and each other is achieved through the decidedly lazy and contrived solution of putting them all in one place and having them make extensive confessions. Why not, you know, have them gradually figure out themselves and each other through their interactions over the course of the series?

Overall Thoughts

My main issue with the Evangelion series is the aggravating lack of cohesion and consistency. The tone is all over the place, from "goofy kids' show with robots" to "explicit portrayal of mental illness and trauma", two things that can't be combined without a careful, organised approach. The main tonal shift about halfway through is so sudden and awkward that the show seems like two different series mashed together, one a 'dark re-imagining' of the other. The plot is full of dumb contrivances, which are forgivable in a kids' show but not in a more mature work, and gaps/dead ends, which are forgivable in neither.

Eva fans will say that if I want to understand the plot, I should just read up on the lore. Ridiculous. The show doesn't have to completely explain its worldbuilding, but it has to give sufficient context to make the plot coherent on its own.

The most common defense of Eva having such messy, half-assed storytelling is that "it isn't about the plot, it's about the characters". That's no excuse. It has a plot, therefore the plot shouldn't suck. It's like getting a suit that falls apart into its component fabric panels and then having the tailor tell you "it isn't about the thread, it's about the fabric". Bullshit. If Eva's plot really doesn't matter, why was it made to be so complex? Also, if the characters are the main focus, then the real meat of the show is contained within the second half, and the inane monster-of-the-week crap goes on for way too long to be excused as merely introducing the characters and their interpersonal dynamics.

The characters become really tiresome to watch due to how stagnant they are. Over the course of the show most of them don't develop; they just keep handling situations the same way. The only character for whom I thought 'fair enough' was Rei, whose death and resurrection reset her to character development square one before she has the chance to find herself. Asuka is the only character who actually changes; however, she doesn't get a complete character arc (something I was hoping to see).

Frustratingly, the characters either lack self-awareness, or possess just enough self-awareness to acknowledge their dysfunction. None of them try, let alone want, to better themselves. If they'd shown the smallest hint of desire to improve, I would have been much more invested. Even (and perhaps especially) if they failed, watching them try to solve their problems would have made the show so much more interesting.

"You Just Don't Get It"

This is the main rebuttal employed by Eva shills against people who disagree with them. To explore this argument, I decided to research how the show was made. Surely I would be enlightened as to how the seemingly messy and directionless Eva is in fact a masterpiece cleverly constructed from coordinated artistic decisions.

Turns out, Eva is indeed a directionless mess. Its production was fraught with scheduling issues and a lack of resources. The story was scrapped and re-written multiple times. At any given time, only 3 Gainax employees were working on the series. The sudden focus on psychoanalysing the characters in the second half of the series was caused by Anno developing an interest in psychology after a friend lent him a book on it. The script of episode 25 was abandoned completely for a new one. The series ending was affected not only by budget cuts and time pressure, but also by Anno's inability to come up with an ending until right before the episodes needed to be made. The creators themselves were dissatisfied; Tsurumaki, the episode director, said in an interview that due to the schedule being an 'utter disaster', 'there were some places where...the quality suffered'. He also reported that 'there were some opinions to the effect that, "If we can't do satisfactory work, then what's the point of continuing?"'.

The impression I get is that Eva bit off more than it could chew, and its fans do the chewing for it. Incorporating deep/important themes doesn't automatically make something good. Firstly, any midwit can throw references to philosophy into their work, and other midwits can watch it and say, "Look, a philosophy reference! I'm so smart for noticing, and the creator is so smart for putting it there to be noticed by other smart people like me!" A good piece of art has its themes seamlessly woven in. I definitely wouldn't call Eva's surplus of expositionary navel-gazing sequences a seamless weaving-in of the psychological themes.

I suspect that Eva's creators weren't thinking about half the stuff the fans and critics say the series does when they made it. This view grows stronger when I think about 1) how generally unsubtle Eva is in referencing its themes, from the Hedgehog's Dilemma name-drop to the preachy ending, and 2) Tsurumaki saying outright that the religious imagery was merely intended to make the series visually 'interesting' and 'exotic'.

Themes don't matter without solid execution. Eva almost had me fooled with its flashy animation and soundtrack and general intensity, but when the adrenaline wore off and I started thinking about what I just just seen, I wasn't so impressed.

Eva doesn't confuse people because they're too low IQ to get it. It confuses people because it keeps shifting what it's doing and where it's going. The people who find it impressive are a mixture of children wowed by baby's first psychological anime and adults who are nostalgic for it. Some fans claim to like the show because of how it reflects Anno's and Gainax's struggles, and that's a sentiment I can get behind, as opposed to that of the Redditors who hail it as a genius masterpiece and shit out endless video essays about it.

"For an idiot, anything the more complicated it is the more he will admire it. If you make something so clusterfucked he can't understand it he's gonna think you're a god cause you made it so complicated nobody can understand it." — Terry Davis

Yes, I Did Watch The End of Evangelion

After finishing The End of Evangelion, I felt much the same as I had after finishing the series — frustrated and underwhelmed after I'd gotten over the sensory overload. At least the film didn't have any awkward tone changes.

I had spent the series wishing for character development. The film delivered, albeit in a rushed and disorienting way that killed any remaining investment I had in the characters. Shinji instantaneously transforms from wimp to deranged coomer in a scene that provides nothing besides shock value. Asuka takes all of 15 seconds to get over her mother's death, then becomes stupidly OP. Rei suddenly decides to reject Gendo and cause the Third Impact. At least Ritsuko and Misato's actions make sense. Even, much to my dismay, the scene where Misato goes full nonce just before meeting a painful death. (What a way to mar an otherwise moving scene.)

EoE is full of the same tedious nihilism that caused part of my frustration with the series. The plot and worldbuilding remain chaotic and obscure. None of the characters achieve or even attempt self-improvement or mutual understanding. The mass extinction had no emotional impact on me because I'd long given up on these aggravatingly hopeless, mostly irredeemable people. At least the Third Impact sequence looked cool.

No, I Am Not Going to Watch the Rebuilds

I'm admittedly curious about what a tighter version of Evangelion — a final draft of the rough draft that was the original series — would be like, but based on what I've heard about the Rebuilds, that's not what they are. I have little interest in more content to be dissatisfied with. I've had enough of this cursed franchise, and I am reassured to find that I am not the only one.