Evangelion: More than an Anime, an Existential Experience

Evangelion: More than an Anime, an Existential Experience

Neon Genesis Evangelion, often abbreviated as Evangelion or NGE, is a groundbreaking anime series that has left an indelible mark on the world of animation and storytelling. Created by Hideaki Anno and produced by Gainax, this series first aired in 1995-1996 in Japan and has since become a cult classic and a touchstone for both casual viewers and avid anime fans alike.

The Premise

At its core, Neon Genesis Evangelion combines elements of science fiction, mecha, and psychological drama to weave a complex narrative. The story unfolds in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity faces the threat of enigmatic beings known as “Angels.” To combat this existential threat, the organization NERV develops massive bio-mechanical robots called “Evangelions,” piloted by a select group of teenagers.

The series follows Shinji Ikari, a reluctant and emotionally conflicted teenager who is recruited to pilot one of these Evangelions. As the story progresses, it delves into the personal struggles, traumas, and psychological challenges faced by the young pilots, who are forced to confront their own demons while protecting Earth from the Angelic onslaught.

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Themes and Symbolism

Neon Genesis Evangelion is renowned for its deep and thought-provoking themes. It delves into topics such as the nature of identity, the impact of trauma, existentialism, and the blurred line between human and machine. The series uses intricate religious and philosophical symbolism, drawing from various belief systems and mythologies, to add layers of complexity to its narrative.


The characters in NGE are well-crafted and multi-dimensional. Shinji’s internal struggle to find his place in a world that seems to reject him is at the heart of the story. Other notable characters include Rei Ayanami, a mysterious and emotionally distant pilot; Asuka Langley Soryu, a fiery and competitive Eva pilot; and Gendo Ikari, Shinji’s distant and enigmatic father who plays a central role in the series’ overarching plot.


Neon Genesis Evangelion’s impact on anime and pop culture cannot be overstated. It introduced a level of psychological depth and philosophical introspection rarely seen in the medium. Its complex narrative and vivid character development have inspired countless discussions, fan theories, and academic analyses.

The series has also spawned movies, video games, manga adaptations, and merchandise, solidifying its place in the annals of anime history. In 2021, Hideaki Anno revisited the series with “Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time,” providing a conclusion to the original story and offering fans new perspectives on the characters and their world.

History and Plot

Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) is a series renowned for its intricate and often enigmatic storyline. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the series unfolds against the backdrop of an Earth under constant threat from mysterious entities known as “Angels.” To combat this peril, the organization NERV constructs biomechanical giants called “Evangelions,” or Evas for short, which are the last line of defense against the Angelic threat.

The series revolves around Shinji Ikari, a 14-year-old boy who is reluctantly recruited by his estranged father, Gendo Ikari, to pilot one of these enigmatic Evas. Shinji’s arrival in the bustling and secretive city of Tokyo-3, where NERV is headquartered, marks the beginning of his journey into a world teetering on the brink of destruction.

As Shinji becomes an Eva pilot, he is thrust into the middle of a complex web of political intrigue, personal turmoil, and existential dilemmas. He is not alone in his battles, as he joins a group of other teenage pilots, including Rei Ayanami, an emotionally distant and mysterious girl; and Asuka Langley Soryu, a fiery and competitive Eva pilot. Together, they must confront both external threats in the form of the Angels and their own inner demons.

One of the central mysteries of NGE is the origin and nature of the Angels, as well as the true purpose of the Evas. As the series progresses, it becomes evident that there is much more at stake than just Earth’s survival, and the narrative delves into metaphysical and philosophical themes.

The character development in NGE is profound. Shinji’s struggles with identity and self-worth are at the forefront, as he grapples with the expectations placed upon him and the emotional distance between him and his father. Rei’s enigmatic origins and her complex relationship with Gendo Ikari add layers of intrigue. Asuka’s fiery temperament masks her own insecurities, making her character arc equally compelling.

Throughout the series, the personal stories of these characters interweave with larger mysteries, including the truth about NERV, the enigmatic organization SEELE, and the mysterious Eva Unit 01.

As the series progresses, it takes a surreal and psychological turn, delving into the psyches of its characters and exploring themes of isolation, depression, and the nature of humanity itself. The story becomes increasingly abstract and symbolic, leaving room for various interpretations.

Neon Genesis Evangelion challenges traditional narrative conventions, inviting viewers to contemplate its intricate web of plot threads and symbolism. Its unexpected twists, mind-bending revelations, and deep philosophical questions have cemented its status as a landmark in the world of anime and storytelling.

Character Development

Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) is known for its complex and deeply developed characters. Over the course of the series, these characters undergo profound changes in their personalities and relationships, influenced by the challenging circumstances and psychological themes explored in the show.

Shinji Ikari: Shinji’s character arc is perhaps the most central and compelling in the series. Initially, he is portrayed as a withdrawn and emotionally conflicted teenager who struggles with his self-worth. As the series progresses, Shinji’s experiences as an Eva pilot force him to confront his fears and insecurities. His relationships with other characters, particularly Rei and Asuka, challenge him to grow emotionally. While Shinji’s development is not linear, by the end of the series, he has gained a deeper understanding of himself and his place in the world.

Rei Ayanami: Rei, the enigmatic First Child, undergoes subtle changes throughout the series. Initially stoic and emotionally distant, Rei’s interactions with Shinji and Gendo Ikari reveal her growing curiosity about her own existence and her desire to understand human emotions. Her character development revolves around self-discovery and her evolving sense of identity.

Asuka Langley Soryu: Asuka is introduced as a confident and brash Eva pilot. However, as the series progresses, her façade begins to crack, revealing her deep-seated insecurities and vulnerability. Her complex relationship with Shinji leads to moments of growth and self-realization, but it also contributes to her descent into emotional turmoil.

Misato Katsuragi: Misato, NERV’s operations director and Shinji’s guardian, is a multifaceted character. She initially appears carefree and indulgent, but as the series unfolds, her traumatic past is revealed, shedding light on her motivation and her complicated relationship with NERV. Misato’s character development is marked by her transformation into a more responsible and determined leader.

Gendo Ikari: Shinji’s distant and enigmatic father, Gendo, plays a pivotal role in the series. His motivations and actions are shrouded in mystery, and as the narrative progresses, his true intentions become clearer. Gendo’s character development revolves around his obsession with achieving his goals, even at the expense of his relationships with his family and colleagues.

Kaworu Nagisa: Introduced late in the series, Kaworu’s character serves as a catalyst for significant developments. His enigmatic and charismatic presence challenges Shinji’s understanding of the world and himself. Kaworu’s brief but impactful appearance prompts profound introspection in Shinji.

Controversies and Critical Reception

Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) has been surrounded by numerous controversies and has elicited a wide range of critical responses from its release to the present day. These controversies and criticisms have significantly contributed to the series’ notoriety and cultural impact.

Controversies Upon Release:

Ambiguous Ending: The conclusion of the original TV series was widely debated and polarized viewers. The ending was surreal and abstract, leaving many questions unanswered. Some fans found this approach innovative and thought-provoking, while others deemed it frustrating and confusing.

Mature Themes: NGE delves into mature and psychological themes, including depression, trauma, isolation, and the complexities of human relationships. Some viewers and critics were taken aback by the series’ unflinching exploration of these issues, while others appreciated its willingness to tackle such topics.

Religious and Philosophical Symbolism: The series incorporates complex religious and philosophical symbolism from various belief systems, including Christianity and Freudian psychology. This use of symbolism sparked discussions and debates about its deeper meaning and significance, with some viewers finding it enriching and others finding it bewildering.

Critical Reception:

NGE’s critical reception has evolved over the years, with initial reactions varying from mixed to highly positive. Here’s an overview of its critical reception both at its release and in contemporary assessments:

Initial Reception (1990s): Upon its original release, Neon Genesis Evangelion garnered attention for its innovative storytelling, character depth, and thought-provoking themes. However, its ambiguous ending and the surrealism of its later episodes left some viewers and critics perplexed. Despite this, the series gained a dedicated fanbase and received critical acclaim for its boldness.

Contemporary Assessment (Today): Over time, NGE has come to be regarded as a classic and a groundbreaking work in the anime medium. Its influence on subsequent anime and storytelling is widely acknowledged, and it continues to be studied and analyzed in academic circles. The series’ complex characters, intricate plot, and philosophical depth have earned it a place in the pantheon of great anime series.

Rebuild of Evangelion: The release of the “Rebuild of Evangelion” film series, starting in the 2000s, reignited interest in NGE. These movies offered a reinterpretation and expansion of the original story, receiving praise for their updated animation and reimagined narrative.

Adaptations and Merchandising

Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) has extended its influence far beyond the original anime series through various adaptations, including manga, video games, and an extensive range of merchandise.

Manga Adaptations:

Neon Genesis Evangelion Manga: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, the character designer for the anime, created a manga adaptation that ran from 1995 to 2013. This manga offered an alternative take on the NGE story, with more in-depth character development and supplementary details not covered in the anime. It was well-received and is often considered a must-read for NGE fans.

Spin-off Manga: Several spin-off manga series explore alternative universes or focus on specific characters. Examples include “Neon Genesis Evangelion: Campus Apocalypse,” “Shinji Ikari Raising Project,” and “Angelic Days.”

Video Games:

Evangelion Video Games: Numerous video games have been developed based on the NGE franchise, spanning various genres such as action, role-playing, and visual novels. These games allow players to immerse themselves in the world of Evangelion, often featuring intense Eva battles and complex narratives. Titles like “Neon Genesis Evangelion: 2nd Impression” and “Neon Genesis Evangelion: Girlfriend of Steel” are notable examples.

Crossover Appearances: NGE characters and Evas have made appearances in various crossover video games, including “Super Robot Wars” and “Battle Orchestra.”


Figurines and Collectibles: NGE has a vast array of figurines, action figures, and collectibles featuring the series’ iconic characters and Evas. These items cater to collectors and fans who want to own a piece of NGE memorabilia.

Clothing and Apparel: The franchise has inspired a wide range of clothing and apparel, including T-shirts, hoodies, and accessories adorned with NGE imagery and logos. This allows fans to display their love for the series through fashion.

Model Kits: Model kits of the Evas in various scales and levels of complexity have been released, appealing to hobbyists and model builders.

Art Books and Soundtracks: Official art books and soundtracks have been published, showcasing the series’ stunning visuals and iconic music compositions.

Posters and Wall Art: NGE posters and wall art are popular for decorating fans’ living spaces with the series’ distinctive artwork.

Home Video Releases: The series has seen multiple home video releases, including Blu-ray and DVD box sets, often featuring remastered visuals and special features.

Apparel and Accessories: NGE-themed apparel, accessories, and jewelry items are available, ranging from Eva-themed watches to jewelry featuring angelic motifs.

Cafes and Theme Parks: Themed cafes and theme park attractions dedicated to NGE have popped up in Japan, offering immersive experiences for fans.

Phoneia.com (September 7, 2023). Evangelion: More than an Anime, an Existential Experience. Recovered from https://phoneia.com/en/evangelion-more-than-an-anime-an-existential-experience/