I approached this series with a certain amount of apprehension. On the one hand, it’s widely regarded as a great classic. On the other hand, many people will tell you that it has a terrible ending–in fact it’s the series that inspired the term “Gainax ending” .
It actually wasn’t all that bad, and I’m prepared to give it a qualified recommendation. If you have watched lots of anime and consider yourself something of an expert, you really need to watch this, if only so as to know what the other fans are talking about. If you have only watched a few series you should watch this only if the description below really appeals to you–otherwise there are plenty of other series that you will enjoy more. If you have never watched any anime but you are curious about it, and somebody told you that this is the greatest series ever made, you should stay far away from it. If this is the first anime series that you watch, you will probably never watch another.
Original TitleShin Seiki EVANGERION (New Century Gospel)
GenresScience Fiction, Mecha, Religious Allegory
LanguagesJapanese with subtitles, English.
Contents26 Episodes on 7 DVDs (1 Box Set)
Character DesignYoshiyuki Sadamoto
Art DirectorHiroshi Kato
Mecha DesignHideaki Anno, Ikuto Yamashita
Chief AnimatorShunji Suzuki
BroadcastTV Tokyo 1995-1996
Region 1 PublisherADV Films
At the beginning the series seems to be following the standard conventions of a mecha story: there is an alien threat which can only be fought by means of giant robots, which for some reason can only be piloted by teenagers. But even from the start the series strikes an unusually dark and depressive tone.
Most animes can be counted on to emphasize certain basic themes such as:
- You must always do your best (gambatte). If you give it everything you’ve got, you can accomplish miracles.
- Teamwork is vital. Even the hero can’t do it alone.
- A hero can succeed only if he has someone that he wants to protect.
- Don’t take all the burden on yourself, even to protect your friends. You owe it to your friends to let them support you.
In Evangelion we constantly encounter a different sort of message:
- Humans are always lonely.
- The word “kanojo” (she, girlfriend) means “the woman who is far away.” 
- Humans made dolls in their own image. If God exists, we may be nothing more than dolls to him.
- There is no reason for me to exist any more, because no one will look at me.
Of course these messages are two sides of the same coin. Anyone who buys into the first set will, in his darkest moments, hear the second set.
I don’t think it is possible to enjoy this as an action-adventure story. It is best to view it as an allegory, either religious or psychological.
Though the religious symbolism is mostly Christian or Kabbalistic, the fundamental outlook is Buddhist. However it is not mainstream Buddhism; it is a Buddhism that has been infected with Judeo-Christian apocalyptic ideas, a combination that has been tried before with generally unsettling results.
A psychological interpretation is also tempting since there are many allusions to psychoanalytic ideas.
The ending turned out to be less upsetting than I expected; in fact it ultimately seems surprisingly upbeat. However it is hard to follow and it is easy to see why many of the original viewers were angered by it.
In fact the ending leaves a strong impression that the production company ran out of money and the director was forced to come up with a minimal cost way to complete the last two episodes. In place of the almost balletic action sequences of the earlier episodes, the last two give us still images with voice-overs, and almost no real animation at all. Perhaps this was an artistic choice, but one can’t help but be suspicious.
This series is inappropriate for pre-teenage children due to bloody violence, sexual situations and large helpings of loneliness, alienation and depression. I don’t think most teenagers will be harmed by it, but I might worry about a teenager who liked it too much.
Premise and Characters
The original television series attracted a large audience, most of whom were frustrated and upset by the ending. Partly in response the studio created a series of movies that were released in 1997, several versions of which have been released on DVD.
The version available in America is a 2 DVD set. The first DVD, called Evengelion: Death and Rebirth can profitably be skipped. It consists mostly of a recap of scenes from the TV series, too compressed to be comprehensible to anyone who has not seen the original. The remainder consists of scenes from the second DVD.
The second DVD, The End of Evangelion, provides an alternate ending, effectively replacing the last two episodes of the TV series. While the TV ending was confusing, low-key and ultimately upbeat, the movie ending is a bloody horror. Many people thing that Director Hideaki Anno intended this as a slap in the face for fans who complained about his original ending.
In my opinion the two endings are basically the same. The original ending contained numerous hints of sort of bloody events that are shown in the movie version. The movie shows the complete story of the ending while the TV ending focuses on just the part of the story that the director considered most important.
Possibly the movie ending shows how Hideaki Anno would have ended the TV series if he had not run out of money.
More recently Anno has begun a series of four movies, called Rebuild of Evangelion, that will retell the entire story. The first, Evangelion 1.0: You are (Not) Alone, was released in Japan in 2007. It has not been released in America.
ANN Encyclopedia entry.
Wikipedia main entry. Wikipedia includes a series of spoiler-filled articles that describe the underlying mythos in great detail. I don’t recommend reading them before watching the series. Whatever value this series has lies mostly in the emotional impact, and it is best watched without preconceptions. As with all mecha stories the technical explanations are pretty random and are not really important to appreciating the story.
 Most people would probably translate it literally as “that woman over there”, since kano is a variant of ano.
 In the Japanese dialog she is referred to with the English phrase “First Children”. Ordinary English plurals tend to be problematic for Japanese speakers; irregular plurals must be murder.
“…the ending leaves a strong impression that the production company ran out of money…”
In fact, that’s exactly what happened, but it hit around episode 16. Animation quality craters in that episode, and never improves… leading to the debacle that is the last two episodes.
Of course, as you point out, that ending is actually somewhat cheerful, quite the contrast to the rest of the show.