When Does Neon Genesis Evangelion Get Good?

by Hazel

Neon Genesis Evangelion,” a groundbreaking anime series created by Hideaki Anno and produced by Gainax, has captivated audiences since its debut in 1995. Known for its deep psychological themes, complex characters, and unique blend of mecha and existential drama, “Evangelion” has earned a reputation as a seminal work in the anime genre. However, opinions vary on when the series truly hits its stride and becomes “good” in the eyes of viewers. This article explores the pivotal moments, themes, and character developments that contribute to the series’ acclaim, providing a comprehensive look at when “Neon Genesis Evangelion” becomes compelling for its audience.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Background and Premise

“Neon Genesis Evangelion” is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is threatened by mysterious beings known as Angels. To combat these threats, the organization NERV deploys giant mechs called Evangelions, piloted by select teenagers, including the protagonist Shinji Ikari. The series delves into the psychological struggles of the pilots and the enigmatic motives behind NERV.


Initial Reception

Upon its release, “Evangelion” garnered mixed reactions. While some viewers were immediately drawn to its innovative storytelling and complex characters, others found its slow start and dense narrative challenging. Over time, the series has gained a cult following and critical acclaim, often being cited as one of the greatest anime of all time.


The Slow Burn: Episodes 1-6

Setting the Stage

The first six episodes of “Evangelion” primarily focus on world-building and introducing the main characters. These episodes establish the basic premise, the existential threats posed by the Angels, and the intricate dynamics within NERV.


Character Introductions

Shinji Ikari: The reluctant and emotionally troubled protagonist who is called to pilot Evangelion Unit-01.


Rei Ayanami: The enigmatic and stoic pilot of Unit-00.

Misato Katsuragi: The operations director at NERV who becomes a guardian figure to Shinji.

Gendo Ikari: Shinji’s estranged father and the cold, calculating leader of NERV.

Early Conflicts and Development

During these episodes, viewers witness Shinji’s initial struggles with piloting the Eva and his reluctance to embrace his role. The episodes mix action with moments of introspection, setting up the psychological depth that will become a hallmark of the series.

The Turning Point: Episodes 7-13

Increasing Complexity

From episodes 7 to 13, the series begins to delve deeper into its characters and the underlying mysteries of the world. The battles with the Angels become more intense and creatively executed, showcasing the strategic elements of the series.

Character Arcs and Development

Shinji’s Growth: Shinji starts to show more determination and begins to form bonds with his fellow pilots and NERV personnel.

Rei’s Mystery: More about Rei’s enigmatic nature and her connection to NERV’s secrets is hinted at, deepening her character.

Asuka Langley Soryu: Introduced in episode 8, Asuka brings a new dynamic with her confident and brash personality, contrasting sharply with Shinji and Rei.

Key Episodes

Episode 9: “Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!” – This episode is notable for its lighter tone and character development as Shinji and Asuka must synchronize to defeat an Angel.

Episode 12: “The Value of a Miracle” – Highlights the escalating stakes and the pilots’ resolve to protect humanity, marking a significant moment of growth for Shinji.

The Deep Dive: Episodes 14-20

Psychological Exploration

Episodes 14 to 20 are where “Evangelion” begins to fully embrace its psychological and philosophical themes. The narrative becomes more introspective, focusing on the inner turmoil and existential crises of the characters.

Mind Games and Revelations

Episode 16: “Splitting of the Breast” – Shinji’s confrontation with an Angel leads to a profound psychological experience, exploring his fears and insecurities.

Episode 18: “Ambivalence” – A critical episode that delves into the dark consequences of the Eva pilots’ actions and the ethical dilemmas they face.

Shift in Tone

The tone of the series shifts significantly, becoming darker and more introspective. The Angels’ attacks grow more intense, and the true nature of the Evangelions and NERV’s motives come under scrutiny.

The Climactic Build-Up: Episodes 21-24

Revelations and Plot Twists

Episodes 21 to 24 are packed with revelations that recontextualize earlier events and character motivations. These episodes reveal the depth of NERV’s secrets and the true nature of the Human Instrumentality Project.

Character Disintegration

Shinji’s Despair: Shinji faces immense psychological pressure, grappling with his sense of self-worth and purpose.

Asuka’s Breakdown: Asuka undergoes a devastating personal crisis, losing her confidence and ability to pilot her Eva effectively.

Rei’s Identity: The truth about Rei’s origins and her connection to Gendo Ikari is unveiled, adding layers to her character.

Key Episodes

Episode 21: “He Was Aware That He Was Still a Child” – Provides critical backstory for Gendo and the origins of the Human Instrumentality Project.

Episode 23: “Rei III” – Explores the revelations about Rei’s true nature and her existential struggle.

The Climactic Finale: Episodes 25-26

Experimental Narrative

The final two episodes of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” take a bold and unconventional approach, focusing almost entirely on the psychological states of the characters. These episodes use abstract imagery and internal monologues to explore the core themes of identity, self-acceptance, and human connection.

Controversial Conclusion

The series finale is highly polarizing, with its departure from traditional storytelling and lack of concrete resolution. While some viewers appreciate the introspective and philosophical depth, others find it confusing and unsatisfying.

Key Themes Explored

Human Instrumentality: The merging of human consciousnesses and the dissolution of individual barriers are central to the final episodes.

Self-Acceptance: Characters confront their inner demons and strive to find self-acceptance amidst their existential crises.

Rebirth and End of Evangelion: The Alternative Endings

Theatrical Films

Due to the mixed reception of the original series finale, Gainax released two films: “Death and Rebirth” and “The End of Evangelion.” These films provide an alternative ending that offers more clarity and resolution to the series’ narrative.

“The End of Evangelion”

This film is considered by many as the definitive conclusion to “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” combining intense action with deep psychological exploration. It provides a more traditional narrative structure while retaining the philosophical and existential themes of the series.

Impact and Legacy

“The End of Evangelion” is praised for its visual spectacle, emotional depth, and ambitious storytelling, solidifying “Neon Genesis Evangelion” as a masterpiece of the anime genre.

Conclusion: When Does Evangelion Get Good?

Determining when “Neon Genesis Evangelion” gets “good” is subjective and varies from viewer to viewer. For some, the series becomes compelling right from the start, with its unique blend of mecha action and character-driven drama. For others, the turning point may come during the deeper psychological explorations of the mid-to-late episodes.

Critical Phases

Episodes 7-13: Introduce more complex character dynamics and creative battles.

Episodes 14-20: Embrace psychological and existential themes.

Episodes 21-24: Deliver critical revelations and intense character development.

Episodes 25-26: Offer a bold and introspective conclusion.

Overall Impact

“Neon Genesis Evangelion” ultimately becomes “good” through its intricate storytelling, multifaceted characters, and profound themes. It challenges viewers to think deeply about the nature of identity, human connection, and the existential struggles we all face.

Whether you appreciate the series for its action-packed mecha battles, its psychological depth, or its philosophical musings, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” offers a rich and rewarding viewing experience that has left an indelible mark on the world of anime.


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