Updated: Nov 21, 2019
Eva is a story that repeats. It is a story where the main character witnesses many horrors with his own eyes, but still tries to stand up again. It is a story of will; a story of moving forward, if only just a little. It is a story of fear, where someone who must face indefinite solitude fears reaching out to others, but still wants to try.
-Hideaki Anno (in a movie launch announcement made on February 17th, 2007)
Neon Genesis Evangelion, in Japanese 新世紀エヴァンゲリオン(or Shin Seiki Evangerion in Hepburn romanization), is a big deal to the world of anime. Between its release in 1995 until 2007, the title made over 150 billion yen (about 1.4 billion US dollars). Originally airing from October 4, 1995 to March 27, 1996 on TV Tokyo, the title has 26 episodes, a recap movie, the End of Evangelion movie, as well as rebuild movies which take the characters to a totally new universe. However, in this article we will primarily be looking at the 26 episodes of the show as well as the End of Evangelion movie, which together have a run time of about 11 hours and 54 minutes.
All in all, this anime is incredibly loved, and it is hard not to love such a piece. In 2006, the Japan Media Arts Festival ranked Neon Genesis Evangelion as the most popular anime of all time. I think it is a bit bold to call it the most popular anime of all time especially against internationally renowned titles like Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon, but regardless the popularity and influence this anime should not be sneezed at. On IMDb, the series is ranked at 8.6 out of 10 from over 39,000 users and on MyAnimeList, the series is ranked at 8.34 out of 10 from over 439,359 users. Great scores!
The story is both relatively simple and incredibly complex at the same time. From a birds eye view, the show is mostly just a simple monster of the week story in which the moody main character Shinji Ikari, along with his moody comrades in arms Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu, fights angels inside a giant mecha called an Eva. However, at the same time the story is also a psychological horror piece in which Shinji battles his loneliness and depression in the wake of the end of the world. The funny part is both of these descriptions match the show perfectly. It just depends which part of the series you are on. I generally think the show makes this drastic genre and topic change between episodes 13 to 15 of the series.
But what were the influences of this curious show? In the spirit of “great artists steal”, nothing is without influence and Hideaki Anno, the director and writer of Neon Genesis Evangelion, has pulled from so many great manga and anime artists for Evangelion. First, the aesthetic of the show and it’s fight scenes pull from a tradition of mecha and action shows including Ultraman, Space Runaway Idean, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Armored Trooper VOTOMS. In fact, Anno loves Ultraman so much as an icon that he will be directing a new movie called Shin Ultraman with Shinji Higuchi.
There are more influences on the show than just the mecha elements, though. For example, the entire theming of the show and the aesthetic of the End of Evangelion movie is heavily based on Go Nagai’s Devilman, which was published in 1972. Yoshituki Sadamota, a character designer for Gainax at the time of Evangelion’s development, said the following in 1999 about this influence:
When the very first meeting was held before the title had even been decided, Anno had already provided the theme of ‘a battle between gods and humans.’ Both Anno and I- our generation- was influenced by Go Nagai, so making it on that scale meant it ended up like Devilman.
Looking at the endings of these two brilliant pieces, the similarities are uncanny. The apocalypse of Devilman and the Third Impact of Neon Genesis Evangelion use almost the same imagery.
Artists are not only influenced by other art pieces in their genre, and NGE pulls from some interesting source material. For example, the idea of the Evas being made from the pilot’s mother comes from Yushiyuki Sadamato watching documentaries on Japan’s public television. He said the following:
I was watching the NHK program Brain and Heart and learned oof the existence of the A10 nerve, and I told Anno about the idea that popped into my head at the time. That was the idea where the dead mother is inside the robot which is operated by the mental bonding with the child.
On top of this, Anno pulled from pretty simple sources for the characters’ names. He wrote the following on July 17, 1995:
Shinji’s name came from a friend of mine. Misato’s name comes from the hero of a manga. The name Ritsuko came from a friend of mine in middle school. I borrowed from everywhere. Even names that have no bearing on anything actually came from countless rules that govern these things. It might be fun if someone with free time could research them.
It is clear that Neon Genesis Evangelion pulls from a plethora of different content and parts of Anno’s life, and this article could never give justice to every small influence the series had. However not only does Evangelion draw from an enormous amount of content, but it has inspired an enormous amount of content, and has become a pop culture icon across the world.
First, let’s take a look at some of the bigger titles that NGE has had an influence on: Gurren Lagann, Kill la Kill, Darling in the Franxx, and FLCL. All of these are huge titles within the industry. Gurren Lagann and FLCL are the most obvious of these titles, as they are even made by the same studio as Evangelion: Gainax. As for Darling in the Franxx and Kill la Kill, both these animes are made by Studio Trigger, which is generally considered the spiritual predecessor to Gainax. You can learn more about the link between Gainax and Studio Trigger here. All of these stories follow a similar structure as Neon Genesis Evangelion along with different aesthetic properties of the animes (such as certain characteristics shared between the main characters Shinji, Simon, and Hiro).
Second, there is an enormous amount of content both made in and out of Japan that call back to Evangelion. I think it would be impossible to list all of these out, but here are a few of my favorites:
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic - there is a paper made pony that is dressed like Rei Ayanami (as well as Bulma and Sailor Moon).
Regular Show - they make an entire parody of Evangelion’s OP.
South Park - there is a character in 2013’s episode “Titties and Dragons” that looks exactly like Misato Katsuragi.
Spiderman - The entire premise of Peni Parker’s universe and characterization is based on Evangelion. There is even a panel in which Shinji, Kaworu, Asuka, and Rei make an appearance at Peni’s school.
And lastly, there are significant cultural references to Evangelion made outside of media. While a title’s importance can be seen in how other works of the same media treat it, you can also see such importance in things like statues, cafes, and theme parks. Evangelion has a plethora of this:
There is an entire exhibition dedicated to NGE at Fuji-Q Highland, an amusement park near the base of Mount Fuji.
The largest Evangelion statue in the world is located in Shanghai, China. The figure stands 24.8 meters tall!
There was a massive Evangelion mural featured in Akihabara, a district dedicated to Otaku and electronics in Tokyo.
A custom Fender electric guitar with Rei Ayanami’s face on it sold for over $100,000 USD.
There is an Evangelion themed bar in Ikebukuro, a district similar to Akihabara.
There used to be an Evangelion themed store in Harajuku, an artsy and posh district in Tokyo.
With this, I think it is important to remember that this series came out in 1995, and there is still so much physical manifestation of the show. I think the only thing comparable to this cultural relevance in the west is The Simpsons, which has areas in theme parks dedicated to the series as well as shops themed from the show. However, The Simpsons has been running since 1989 and has over 600 episodes which translates to well over 200 hours of content (not even including the other side content the show has). Compared to Evangelion’s 11 to 12 hours of run time, this is a huge difference.
It is clear that Evangelion is a classic of the anime industry and will stay alive as long as the medium stays present, which is why it is so great the series is now watchable on Netflix. Though, Netflix has received a plethora of complaints over certain changes of the show: most notably changes to dialogue between Kaworu and Shinji and changes to the ending song from “Fly Me To The Moon”. While these complaints may or may not have merit, I think it is undoubtable a good thing that more people will be able to watch and understand this pivotal piece of art. Watching it on Netflix is definitely better than watching it on strange streaming sites that either buffer to oblivion or pack you with awful ads.