Neon Genesis Evangelion is an amazingly successful anime series and companion manga. The anime, directed by Hideaki Anno, consists of 26 episodes first broadcast in 1995-1996. The manga, written by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto and originally produced as a marketing tool for the anime, ran from 1995 to 2011. Other spin-offs, such as video games and toys, have made this one of the most profitable Japanese franchises. This despite the production company having financial difficulties that severely compromised the ending of the series as originally envisioned. A revised ending, supposedly closer to the original intent, was presented in the 1997 film The End of Evangelion, but it did not meet audience expectations. The first of four animated films (collectively called Rebuild of Evangelion) to remake the series was released in 2007, with a second in 2009. The first three movies of the new series are slated be an alternate retelling of the TV series and the fourth movie will be a completely new conclusion to the story.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is an apocalyptic action story that tells of the efforts by a paramilitary organization called NERV to fight merciless invaders called Angels. The story never really explains what the Angels are or why they are attacking Earth, although it is implied they are aliens. NERV’s primary weapons against the Angels are giant mechanized humanoid-shaped exoskeletons called Evangelions that are piloted by specially chosen teenagers, one of whom, Shinji Ikari, is the main point of view character.
Shinji is a reluctant hero. As the estranged son of the Evangelions’ designer, he is pressed into service against his will. Much of his motivation seems to be his desire to please his cold-hearted father in the hopes that their relationship can be mended. As an Evangelion pilot, Shinji witnesses many terrible sights that contribute to his melancholy. Nevertheless, Shinji perseveres against the horrible odds with which he is faced, sometimes using only his force of will to move forward against his numbing fear.
Against this backdrop, the series presents a number of philosophical, psychological, and religious themes; using symbols and allusions drawn from both Eastern and Western spiritualisms. However, reaction to the bizarre ending of the series was mixed at best. The revised ending of The End of Evangelion was perhaps even more incomprehensible.
In an attempt to rectify the original’s shortcomings and to employ the latest animation techniques, writer Hideaki Anno and directors Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki, and Masayuki produced Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone (2007) and Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance (2009). The two films retell Shinji’s story with better production values and a leaner plot. The Angels have a much more alien appearance, and much of Shinji’s high school antics are omitted, leaving the core battle with the Angels as the central focus. It retains Shinji’s conflicted emotional and proto-sexual relationships with co-pilots Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Shikinami. There is a new subplot, however, of an Evangelion prototype being manufactured on the moon for secret reasons. Unfortunately, the resolution to all the loose ends will have to wait until at least 2012 when the third and fourth movies are scheduled to be released in Japan; who knows when they will surface in the U.S.