Few series can cause a stir more than twenty years after their premiere. Becoming a trending topic, grabbing headlines and being on everyone's lips is usually reserved for the cultural events of the moment, the new among the new, relegating the past to worship and the judgment of history. But that is not the case with "Neon Genesis Evangelion".
Upon its announcement that it will be streamed for the first time on Netflix, the anime series got it to be talked about again as if it had just been released. But why is there a huge commotion?
The easy thing would be to say that the main reason is that being a series that does not have a decent domestic edition nor has it ever been broadcast by streaming, the possibility that it reaches a new generation of viewers has made people decide to be part of the new audience, although then we would be jumping directly to the conclusion.
The real reason for the commotion, the basis that underlies so much spirited spirit, is that Evangelion is a cult series that has achieved what every cultural product aspires to: being an intergenerational reference that transcends its market niche.
The Origins of Evangelion
"Neon Genesis Evangelion" aired between October 1995 and March 1996 with, in principle, a not-quite-classic target audience in mind: adult otakus with a genuine interest in giant robot stories. This was exceptional because, historically, this type of anime or animated story has been directed at children.
And while it is possible to affirm that sagas like "Mobile Suit Gundam" or "Armored Trooper VOTOMS" can hardly be considered childish, the idea of making a series of explicitly aimed at adolescents and adults was not common for the time.
Now, "Neon Genesis Evangelion" did not deceive anyone. Already from its first episode, it was evident that violence, the psychology of the characters and aesthetics of them and other elements in the anime counted for more than action or the mere display of mechanical brutes. Something that it had from the beginning was a loyal audience that would follow the anime with real enthusiasm.
What is it about? Basically, based on an alternative present where mysterious giant creatures, called angels, have brought humanity to the brink of extinction, the last line of defense of all this resulted in a series of humanoid robots, called EVA, which are robots that can only be piloted by a series of very specific people who can emotionally synchronize with robots.
And as it is well known by all, when the human being is most emotionally sensitive (and unstable) it is during adolescence. Hence, all its pilots are young adolescents fighting to the death against creatures that nobody knows where they come from in monster machines that, necessarily, will have to traumatize them for life.
In the end, the entire series revolves around that idea. The psychological impact that battles have and the inherent responsibility are placed on them. After all, we are not talking about soldiers. Not even adults. We are talking about people in the most emotionally vulnerable stage of their lives, having to synchronize with biomechanical monsters to destroy creatures that want to destroy humanity.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Everything from the moment in which they go to the institute – the extension of the desires of every human being – is discovered, and what it means, is to live in society. That is the reason behind its popularity and why it was revolutionary in many ways.
In Evangelion it was possible for the viewer to feel identified with the characters. Any teenager could be reflected in the insecurities of its protagonists. Any adult could recognize themselves in these secondary characters always between anguish and trying to enjoy life to the fullest, trying to pretend that, deep down, they do not continue to have the same anxiety and insecurities as adolescents, but with more mechanisms to manage them.
In other words, "Neon Genesis Evangelion" is not a story of heroism. It is as accurate a reflection of human anguish.
The Influence of the Anime
It is not exactly a secret that Evangelion had a foundational role in the development of the moe, that is, the aesthetics of beautiful girls who awaken in those who see them the instinct to protect them. One of her main characters, Rei Anamiya, had all the traits that, from then on, would be repeated throughout dozens of characters, even today: blue hair, indifferent gesture, a certain congenital clumsiness and an exaggerated way of reacting before things, if only in contrast to his typical coldness. Something that another character, Asuka Langley, would contribute to being her opposite: redhead, always accurate and extremely passionate and ineffective at hiding her own emotional fragility.
In this way, between these two characters conceived as complete opposites, the entire imaginary of what we know today as the moe would be created. Those are traits that make female characters attractive by awakening a protectionist instinct in those who see them. But that would not be all of Sadamoto's credit.
It was his the idea of turning Misato, head of security for the NERV organization and legal guardian of the protagonist, Shinji, into an ambivalent "girl next door" so incapable of taking charge of his life as well as perfectly professional when it comes to taking care of angels and pilot safety. This was something that was a great success and it was received with loud interest.
In the end, this is all important because the audience loves Rei, Asuka and Misato. And although all the characters in the series generate fierce adhesions and revulsion, the point at which they reach is inconceivable in practically any other anime.
The amount of fanart, cosplay, and generally subsequent influence they've had on other people's creations is so outsized that it would require a single item to just start exploring. In fact, this is undeniable. Part of the series' brilliant success was precisely the complexity and interest of its female characters.