Hideaki Anno, with Masayuki and Kazuya Tsurumaki
1995-1997 (November 9, 2021)
Gainax/Tatsunoko/Toei/Studio Khara (Shout! Factory/GKIDS)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A-
- Overall Grade: A
A quarter century after it was first broadcast, Neon Genesis Evangelion remains one of the most influential and popular series in the history of Japanese animation. The brainchild of director Hideaki Anno, Evangelion revitalized the giant robot genre by not really being about mecha at all. Many of the tropes are still there, and on the surface, the show does appear to be about giant robots battling kaiju from space. Yet neither the robots nor the monsters are what they appear to be. Instead, the show is a mediation on the nature of humanity, steeped in metaphysical speculation.
Evangelion takes place in the years following a global cataclysm called the Second Impact. The agency NERV has been tasked with using giant creations called Evas to protect humanity from the incursion of creatures called Angels, and to prevent the possibility of a Third Impact. The Evas require synchronization with human pilots, and three children are initially chosen for the task: Rei, Asuka, and Shinji, the latter of whom happens to be the estranged son of NERV’s director Gendo Ikari. Yet everything in service of a far darker goal for mankind: the Human Instrumentality Project.
That basic concept provided a framework for Anno to explore the psychology of these children, and by extension, his own mental difficulties as well; the entire production became therapy for him after suffering from depression. He put different aspects of himself into each of the children, with Shinji as the primary focus. Shinji wants to run away from everything because he struggles to find acceptance; his issues with others is a reflection of his inability to accept himself. As another character explains later, Shinji suffers from the Hedgehog’s Dilemma: the closer that he gets to other people, the more that they hurt each other. He doesn’t know how to express his feelings, and has to deal with social awkwardness as well as his burgeoning adolescent sexual awkwardness. The universal nature of all of that is one reason why Evangelion has had such longevity.
The other reason is the fascinating mythology that surrounds the series, which freely combines elements from Christianity, Judaism, the Kabbalah, and much, much more. There are references to esoteric mysticism such as Lilith, the Chamber of Guf, and the Spear of Longinus; the names of all the Angels are borrowed from Judeo-Christian mythology, and even the supercomputers are named after the traditional Three Wise Men. (Never mind the fact that the show also takes deep dives into Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis.) Trying to sort through the meaning of all that is endlessly compelling, though it’s worth pointing out that none of it was intended to have a definitive interpretation. Anno wanted viewers to come up with their own solutions to his deliberately ambiguous puzzle. In the long run, it’s best not to overthink Evangelion, because part of its power comes from the inscrutable mystery. Just sit back and enjoy the sound of one hand clapping.
The television series for Neon Genesis Evangelion consists of 26 episodes that originally ran in Japan from 1995-1996. It was a somewhat chaotic production, with episodes being completed at the last minute, and the overall plan for the series being revised constantly. There were also issues with budgets and resources, forcing cost-saving measures like static shots and repeated cyclical animations. All of that came to a head for the final two episodes, which discarded the intended apocalyptic finale in favor of a far more introspective one with limited animation. That’s usually blamed on budgetary issues with the production company Gainax, but it’s also partly due to Anno’s indecisiveness. To be fair, the finale isn’t quite as far out of left field as it may seem, as the concept had already been established as early as episode 16, and it’s actually a satisfying conclusion in terms of how it resolves Shinji’s arc. Still, Anno is never satisfied, so he reworked all of it for the two feature films which followed.
Note that due to issues with music rights, the international versions of Neon Genesis Evangelion no longer include the closing title song Fly Me to the Moon, in any of its myriad variants; the credits now incorporate instrumental music from the soundtrack instead. That won’t matter to viewers who are unfamiliar with the show, but it’s a little jarring for long-time fans. It shouldn’t be a deal breaker for anyone, but caveat emptor.
Neon Genesis Evangelion was produced via traditional hand-drawn cel animation, using 16 mm film for principal photography, and framed at 1.33:1 for its television and home video releases. With the exception of a single episode, the entire series was mastered from the original negatives for this Blu-ray release. While the image quality is limited by the 16 mm source, it’s generally as sharp and detailed as it can be. The natural grain is left intact, and so are any artifacts from the animation process such as cel dirt. There’s a pleasing sense of texture, which is missing from modern digital animation, with the brush strokes still visible on the background artwork. Some shots have coarser grain than others, and either came from different elements, or were zoomed in optically after animation. The colors look accurate, and the contrast range is good, with deep blacks where appropriate. Despite the number of episodes per disc, the series runs at a consistently high bit rate, so there are few compression artifacts to note.
Episode 16 has always been a problem spot for the series, as the original negative was lost long ago, so this version was transferred from a 35 mm internegative instead. It’s significantly softer, with flatter contrast and colors, and has frequent haloing along the edges of objects. It’s been tweaked a bit to try to bring it in line with the other episodes, but it’s still a step down from the quality of the rest of the series.
Primary audio is available in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, and Japanese 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitle options include English, English songs and signs only, and English SDH. (More on those options later.) The 5.1 tracks are definitely superior to the 2.0 versions, with more precise positioning of dialogue and effects throughout the soundstage, and frequent use of the split surrounds—it’s a genuine 5.1 remix, not just a discrete encoding of the original matrixed surround versions. The PA announcements throughout the show are often heard coming from one surround speaker or the other, and there are panning effects whenever vehicles, Evas, or Angels move around the viewer. There’s moderately deep bass to enhance the impact of the action, and Shiro Sagisu’s iconic score sounds very good. (His repeated Decisive Battle theme was inspired by John Barry’s 007 theme for From Russia with Love, and it would later form the core of his soundtrack for Shin Godzilla.) The 2.0 tracks are mastered at a significantly lower level than the 5.1, but even when level-matched and run through a surround decoder, they can’t compare in quality.
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO) A/A-/A-
The first Evangelion feature film was originally released in 1997 as Evangelion: Death and Rebirth, with a running time of 100 minutes total. The first portion, Death, was a recap of the events of the television series, rearranged and re-sequenced to show the arcs for each of the main characters, with a new framing device featuring the four main children practicing for a string quartet. It also used footage that wasn’t included in the original broadcasts, though it would later be incorporated into the Director’s Cut versions of episodes 21-24. Rebirth was the prototype for the new version of episode 25, and with a few alterations, it would eventually form the first part of The End of Evangelion. As a result, it was eliminated from the revised 68-minute version renamed Evangelion: Death (True). That version was itself later slightly revised again to form the final feature Evangelion: Death (True)². Well, final for now, anyway—nothing is ever final where Anno is concerned.
Evangelion: Death (True)² is useful as a synopsis of the television series for those who wish to view The End of Evangelion without having to rewatch all 26 episodes first, but it’s not really necessary otherwise, especially now that the additional footage has been added back into episodes 21-24. On the other hand, it’s still an interesting example of the ways in which the editing process can affect the meaning of footage when it’s placed in different contexts. The series took place in chronological order with occasional flashbacks, but the film completely breaks up the unity of time and place in order to provide more unity for character instead.
The majority of the footage in Evangelion: Death (True)² was originally produced for the television series, so it was cropped from 1.33:1 to 1.85:1 for its theatrical release (though it’s been reframed at 1.78:1 for home video). As a result, the image is a bit softer, while the grain is noticeably enlarged. The framing is too tight for many shots—for example, in the closeup of Misato’s face after she chugs a beer, her mouth has been cropped off the bottom of the frame, so her dialogue comes from off-screen. The contrast range isn’t as strong, and the black levels sometimes appear elevated. It’s a weaker presentation than the television series, though most of the issues are the inevitable result of cropping full-frame 16 mm footage for theatrical release.
Primary audio is available in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, and Japanese 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitle options include English, English songs and signs only, and English SDH. It’s essentially the same audio presentation as the television series, so see that section for details.
EVANGELION: DEATH (TRUE)² (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO) B/B/A-
The second theatrical film The End of Evangelion was also released in 1997, a few months after Evangelion: Death and Rebirth. It’s essentially a revised version of episodes 25 and 26 from the television series, providing an alternate finale—though perhaps it might be more accurate to refer to it as an alternate view of what happened. Rather than an internalized rendition of the culmination of the Human Instrumentality Project that takes place within the minds of Shinji, Asuka, and Rei, The End of Evangelion shows the external apocalyptic events that are happening on a global scale. Yet as radically different as the two versions may appear, they still work together to achieve the same purpose. For all of the robots, monsters, mysticism, and conspiracy theories, Evangelion is ultimately about Shinji rejecting Instrumentality and embracing his own individuality. After passively allowing himself to be pulled one way or the other all throughout the series, Shinji finally recognizes that his own worth isn’t dependent on anyone else.
Of course, the way that resolution is handled in The End of Evangelion leaves a trail of death and destruction in its wake. The ambiguous nature of episodes 25 and 26 had upset many fans, and there’s always been speculation that the shocking events in The End of Evangelion were Anno’s revenge on them for complaining about it. That may sound plausible, but the reality is that this version is closer to what he had originally intended for the series, before budgetary and logistical issues scuttled his plans. In the long run, it all worked out for the best, as The End of Evangelion would have been less gratifying without the introspection provided by the series finale. The two versions interlock to form an emotionally satisfying whole, which is greater than the sum of its seemingly antithetical parts.
Like Evangelion: Death (True)², the theatrical release of The End of Evangelion was framed at 1.85:1, though it’s also been reframed to 1.78:1 for home video. Unlike that film, the grain is significantly less pronounced for this presentation. It almost looks like the animation was shot on 35 mm instead of 16 mm, but evidence of that couldn’t be found, so it’s likely that some Digital Noise Reduction has been applied instead. If so, it was done judiciously, as the grain, animation artifacts, and textures are still present—they’re just reduced in comparison to Evangelion: Death (True)². On the other hand, the live action sequence was shot on standard definition video and then transferred to film, and all of the swarming noise from that has been left completely intact. With the exception of that scene, the contrast and black levels are improved compared to the previous film. The framing isn’t too tight this time, so regardless of what shooting formats were used for the animation, it was composed with the theatrical release in mind. While this presentation isn’t identical to Evangelion: Death (True)², it has its own set of strengths and weaknesses.
Primary audio is available in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, and Japanese 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Subtitle options include English, English songs and signs only, and English SDH. Once again, see the section about the television series for details.
THE END OF EVANGELION (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO) A-/B/A-
The GKIDS/Shout Factory Blu-ray release of Neon Genesis Evangelion is available in a Standard Edition, a Collector’s Edition, and an Ultimate Edition. The Collector’s Edition consists of 11 Blu-rays that contain the television series and films with new dubs and subtitles; an alternate home video format version of The End of Evangelion; and bonus versions of the television series and the films with the original ADV dubs and subtitles. The discs are housed in 3 separate amaray cases (appropriately labeled 00, 01, and 02) inside a rigid box, which also includes a 40-page booklet and 8 art cards. The booklet breaks down the episodes and features on each disc, and it also includes the notes from the original Laserdisc releases, which serves as a glossary about the Angels and the Evas.
The currently sold-out Ultimate Edition version includes the same discs and content, but adds limited edition Laserdisc artwork, a limited edition Sachiel paperweight, a NERV ID card with lanyard, exclusive artboards, and a 156-page book. The Standard Edition is a 5-disc set that eliminates all of the swag as well as the bonus classic versions of the series and the films, consisting of discs 1 through 5 (listed below). Each of the 11 discs features the following (take note that the episode titles reflect their current incarnations and not the original titles):
DISC ONE: EPISODES 1-7
1. ANGEL ATTACK
2. THE BEAST
3. A transfer
4. Hedgehog’s Dilemma
5. Rei I
6. Rei II
7. A HUMAN WORK
DISC TWO: EPISODES 8-14
8. ASUKA STRIKES!
9. Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!
11. The Day Tokyo-3 Stood Still
12. She Said, “Don’t make others suffer for your personal hatred.”
13. LILLIPUTIAN HITCHER
14. WEAVING A STORY
DISC THREE: EPISODES 15-20
15. Those women longed for the touch of others’ lips, and thus invited their kisses.
16. Splitting of the Breast
17. FOURTH CHILDREN
20. WEAVING A STORY 2: oral stage
DISC THREE: EXTRAS
- Title Free Opening (HD – 1:30)
- 30 Second Next Episode Previews (HD – 9:34)
- TV Commercials (Japanese VHS Release) (SD – 1:34)
- TV Commercials (Original Soundtracks) (SD – :30)
- TV Commercial (Sega Saturn Game) (SD – :17)
- TV Commercials (Magazines) (SD – :31)
- TV Premiere Promos (SD – :47)
- Japanese Voice Auditions (HD – 4:58)
- Genesis 0:0 – In the Beginning (SD – 29:23)
- Image Board Collection (SD – 4:43)
- Japanese Blu-ray Box Commercial (HD – 2:02)
- Music Video: The Cruel Angel’s Thesis (SD – 4:04)
These extras are a combination of vintage Laserdisc and VHS features, as well as a few more recent ones from DVD and the Japanese Blu-ray releases. Voice Auditions is an audio-only collection of the original auditions for the primary Japanese voice cast. Genesis 0:0 – In the Beginning is a promotional video that was sold as a preview for the upcoming series, featuring clips from the show as well as interviews with the cast and crew. The Image Board Collection is a set of character design sheets drawn up to provide continuity for the show.
DISC FOUR: EPISODES 21-26
21’. He was aware that he was still a child.
22’. Don’t be.
23’. Rei III
24’. The Beginning and the End, or “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
25. Do you love me?
26. FINALE: Take care of yourself.
DISC FOUR: EXTRAS
- Animatic Collection: Episode 9 (SD – 20:46)
- Animatic Collection: Episode 15 (SD – 20:43)
- Animatic Collection: Episode 18 (SD – 20:42)
- Animatic Collection: Episode 19 (SD – 20:42)
- Animatic Collection: Episode 20 (SD – 20:46)
- Animatic Collection: Episode 21 (SD – 20:46)
- Animatic Collection: Episode 22 (SD – 20:46)
- Animatic Collection: Episode 23 (SD – 20:41)
- Animatic Collection: Episode 24 (SD – 20:46)
- Animatic Collection: Episode 25 (SD – 20:51)
- Animatic Collection: Finale (SD – 20:56)
Note that episodes 21-24 are the Director’s Cut versions, which are designated as 21’, 22’, 23’, and 24’. The Animatic Collections were originally included in the Japanese Blu-ray release. They’re rough versions of each episode that were used as guides for voice recording. When compared to the final versions, they provide an interesting look at the production process for an animated television series.
DISC FIVE: EVANGELION: DEATH (TRUE)² & THE END OF EVANGELION
- Genesis 0:0’ – The Light from Darkness (SD – 26:52)
- The End of Evangelion: Deleted Live Action Scene (SD – 10:51)
- The End of Evangelion: Making of Live Action Scene (SD – 16:31)
- The End of Evangelion: Theatrical Teaser (SD – 1:19)
- The End of Evangelion: Theatrical Trailer (SD – :15)
- The End of Evangelion: TV Spots (SD – :30)
- The End of Evangelion: Final Scene Alternate Take (HD – 3:10)
- The End of Evangelion: Full Song – Musunde Hiraite (HD – 1:22)
- Episode 25’ – Love Is Destructive (Partial Animatic) (SD – 17:32)
- Music Video: Soul’s Refrain (SD – 5:11)
- Music Video: Thanatos – If I Can’t Be Yours (SD – 4:51)
- Music Video: Armageddon (SD – 4:55)
- Music Video: Memories of Heaven (SD – 6:10)
Genesis 0:0’ – The Light from Darkness is an updated version of Genesis 0:0 which was a special ticket bonus during the theatrical release of Evangelion: Death and Rebirth. The Deleted Live Action Scene is an unfinished version of a planned live-action sequence for The End of Evangelion where Shinji dreams of a world where he doesn’t exist. It follows the voice actors for Asuka, Rei, and Misato as they go about their lives. Footage from the scene was featured in the trailer, though only a small part of it remains in the final film. Making of Live Action Scene shows Anno taking his cast and crew on location to shoot the sequence. Though it was scripted, the shoot was loose and improvisatory, and at one point Anno talks about how refreshing that is compared to having to plan everything in advance for animation. The Music Videos all have the option to play with music only, or with added sound effects.
DISC SIX: THE END OF EVANGELION (HOME VIDEO FORMAT VERSION)
- Episode 25’ – Love Is Destructive
- One More Final: I Need You
This is a vintage home video release of The End of Evangelion which has been divided in half to create alternate versions of the final two episodes of the series. It adds closing credits to episode 25’, as well as a preview of the next one (which appears to consist of an improvised dolly shot backwards through the Gainax offices, accompanied by the usual voiceover from Misato). It also adds a different set of closing credits for the finale. It’s mostly a curiosity, though it does give fans the option of watching the series more or less as originally intended by substituting these for the broadcast versions. The video quality is identical except for the credits and the preview, which are upscaled SD. The audio options are limited to Japanese 2.0 PCM, with removable subtitles.
DISCS SEVEN-TEN: EPISODES 1-26 (CLASSIC DUB AND SUB)
DISC ELEVEN: EVANGELION: DEATH (TRUE)² & THE END OF EVANGELION (CLASSIC DUB AND SUB)
Since the most recent dubbing and subtitles for Neon Genesis Evangelion have been controversial, the inclusion of the original versions is arguably the most important extra in the entire set. Each of them has strengths and weaknesses, so it’s nice to have options—even though choosing may be difficult. The new dub features generally improved voice acting, but the translations are questionable. They’re more accurate in the literal sense, but when translating from one language to another, that’s not always the best approach. The words may be correct, but the meaning and nuance can be lost. The old ADV dub had too much over-the-top acting, but it often conveys those nuances more accurately. There’s no clear winner between the two, so it’s nice to have both.
Similarly, the new subtitles are also more literal than the old ones, sometimes detrimentally so. On the other hand, they convey more information, with song lyrics and background conversations running across the top of the screen, while the primary dialogue appears along the bottom. Most of that extra detail was lost with the old subtitles (although for some reason, the toothpick gag in episode 2 was titled in the old version, but it’s not in the new one). Once again, there’s no clear winner.
The only case where the old versions are clearly superior is with Kowaru’s declaration to Shinji in episode 24. A single word has been changed in the new versions, which drastically alters the meaning of the line, and for no good reason. The context is clear with or without that line, so it doesn’t necessarily hurt the scene, but on the other hand, that makes changing it even less defensible.
Hideaki Anno has been the guiding force behind many classic anime series such as Nadia: The Secret of Blu Water and His and Her Circumstances. He’s also helmed notable live-action films like Shin Godzilla. Yet Neon Genesis Evangelion is still unquestionably his magnum opus, and it’s become his life’s work as well. Not content with the original series and features films, he’s also been supervising a radical re-envisioning of the entire franchise with the Rebuild of Evangelion films, the first of which was released in 2007, and the last of which finally appeared in 2021. Evangelion has been a work-in-progress for Anno since 1995, but it’s justifiably considered an anime classic in any of its iterations.
– Stephen Bjork
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