What would we do without giant robots? Whether they’re defending the Earth or tearing it apart looking for Energon, they do a great job of entertaining us with their mechanical exploits, whether they’re autonomous automatons or mecha. And mecha media is super-popular, with the Japanese institution Mobile Suit Gundam and Hideaki Anno’s legendary anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, the latter of which is now on Blu-ray for a whole new generation to discover.
The mecha – giant robots that need to be piloted by an individual – in the series are the Evangelion(s) of the title, or Evas for short, which have been built to defend the post-cataclysmic Earth of 2015 from the Angels, a race of rampaging monsters who appear to cause havoc for the city of Tokyo-3. Thrown in the deep end is Shinji Ikari, a teenager who is recruited to pilot an Eva by his estranged father. Ikari is mentored by Misato Katsuragi, part of NERV, the government organisation responsible for the Evas, who helps him come to terms with piloting an Eva with no prior training.
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Together with fellow pilots Asuka and Rei, the Evas go through various trials and tribulations as they try to adapt to the increasing challenges of the Evas. Simultaneously, the teenagers go through the rigours of growing up amidst their different personality types; Shinji is shocked by having to deal with his father’s distance despite requesting him for the job, Asuka tries to act grown up to hide her emotions, while Rei has no friends and seems to like it that way. Much of the show looks at ways to connect them, with Asuka and Shinji having to work together despite being irritated by each other.
On the NERV side, Misato spends all of her time coming up with plans for defeating the Angels, liaising with various other government departments about the damage caused and who has jurisdiction, and cutting through the bureaucracy. She has her own reasons for fighting the Angels after her father was killed during what is known as the Second Impact, an extinction-level event that was thought to have been caused by a giant meteor à la the dinosaurs but came about because of the Angels. She also has a genetically-enhanced penguin as a pet, named Pen Pen.
Neon Genesis Evangelion looks amazing, and you can tell how much work has been put into its visual style. The sequences where the Evas fight the Angels are spectacular and often feature different tactics to counter the unpredictable, with the animation presenting the surprisingly nimble mecha in a wonderfully fluid style. The shot design is very thoughtful at times, using efficient composition to reflect emotional states, especially with silhouettes, which makes the show look quite beautiful.
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What really comes through during the 26 episodes is the intelligence of the show and its thematic complexity. Neon Genesis Evangelion is all about humanity and its flaws, delving further into discussions of self-worth, family relations, sexuality, and emotional repression, and that’s only really scratching the surface. It uses the giant mecha and their fights to explore these themes, initially subversively, with the second half of the show moving into the heavy territory of psychological drama, with much of the finale playing out in Shinji’s mind.
It also plays around with various moral quandaries, especially concerning the Evas and their creation. Shinji’s father, Commander Ikari, is portrayed as someone who is happy to manipulate everyone he comes into contact with if it suits his needs and the needs of NERV and the Evas. The emotional and psychological fallout from this is very much at the centre of the show.
The Blu-ray features all episodes of the show across four discs, with a final disc featuring the two sequel films that add further closure to the story: Evangelion: Death (True)² (aka Death and Rebirth) and The End of Evangelion, which were both released in 1997, a year after the show ended. The show is presented in 4:3 standard TV format while the films are in 1.85:1, and on the whole they look fantastic, the clarity of the picture allowing for a full appreciation of the wonderful visuals, although there are moments where some individual shots are of lesser quality. The audio is presented in both Japanese and English, with both stereo and 5.1 options for each, and it’s a full-blooded affair with a fantastic balance, be it explosions or the music of Handel and Bach.
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A generous amount of bonus features have also been included, with original TV commercials, music videos, vintage promotional featurettes, and the voice auditions for the original Japanese cast. There are also supplements based on The End of Evangelion, with a deleted live-action scene and a featurette about the making of the scene, along with trailers, TV spots, and an alternate take on the final scene. Unfortunately, the deleted scene itself is not subtitled.
One thing of notice is that the subtitles and English dubbing are the newer versions, and not the ones that were used on the earlier ADV video releases. There has been some controversy over these, with some translation differences, and while I didn’t find any issues, I did not see the earlier versions.
Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion is a stunning piece of science fiction that transcends the mecha genre while deconstructing it. It’s beautifully told, in some admittedly abstract ways, and its themes and messages are important and will always be important. A work of absolute brilliance in a set that looks and sounds fantastic. Essential.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is out now on Blu-ray from Anime Limited.