Most Japanese animation, or “anime,” that comes out is weird, but it can be very fun to watch. Other movies and shows made in this technique, however, may make you want to take a shower once you’re finished watching. The Netflix re-release of the influential 1995 series Neon Genesis Evangelion on June 21 started off as the former, but then turned out to be the latter in one of the most nihilistic shows I've ever seen.
The show focuses on three teenagers struggling with mental illness, Shinji Ikari (Casey Mongillo) with daddy issues, Asuka Langley Soryu (Stephanie McKeon) with depression and mommy issues, and Rei Ayanami (Ryan Bartley) who realizes she’s a God-like being. All three have been tasked by a division of the United Nations (of course the UN is made a hero) called NERV to save the world from monsters (called Angels) with giant robots known as the Evangelion.
It starts off as your standard giant robot cartoon, only with the robots bleeding. But after episode 18 it all goes downhill in terms of content by getting darker and more cynical as it progresses. It’s no wonder many reviewers have compared it to the equally bleak graphic novel, Watchmen. Episode 19, titled Introjection, actually begins with Shinji threatening to kill everyone at NERV after his estranged father forced him to injure his friend.
But the 26-episode series is nothing compared to the confusing and trippy theatrical movie which serves as the show’s conclusion, The End of Evangelion. That movie has body dismemberments, blood splatter, sexual content (the film actually begins with the young teenage main character masturbating), brief showings of drawings of body dismemberments done by abused children, and ends with Shinji destroying the world by wishing everyone would die.
Of course, the media won’t give any criticism of this kind of content. In fact, they actually embrace the show by relating it to today. Otaku USA magazine did some climate fear-mongering by gushing over the show’s love for the UN and misuse of Christianity:
As we face a looming climate catastrophe (a UN report gives us 20 years to prevent its worst effects), there’s something scarily plausible about Eva’s post-apocalypse. A world with no polar ice caps, trapped in a state of perpetual summer. Cities designed for frequent evacuations, with buildings that sink into the ground. Traumatized children forced to correct the mistakes of the previous generation. Evangelion paints a picture of humanity on its deathbed, watching the planet spring back to life as the last remnants of civilization struggle to find meaning in their own demise. It’s appropriate that the story draws heavily from Judeo-Christian mythology, with its floods and locusts and rivers of blood promising retribution for humanity’s sins.
And, of course, Otaku USA wasn’t alone. The Verge, a division of Vox Media, called the show “timely,” and even inserted hard-left talking points into the show:
Watching it now is unsettling because of how timely it feels. The idea that we are required to help the people who can’t help themselves — anyone materially threatened by the current regime — is powerfully resonant. It feels like an emotional guide for what to do next.
Nowadays, it also feels like social media has turned the experience of using the internet into its own kind of society-wide hedgehog’s dilemma; private abuses can be broadcast to a global audience instantly, and that is its own terrible intimacy. When children die in government-run camps for migrants, for example, or when police shoot unarmed black civilians, to take another, more common scenario, we hear about it through platforms like Twitter and Facebook; we’re close enough now to feel the spines.
I hate to break it to The Verge, but using an ultraviolent Japanese animated cartoon with mentally ill teenagers as heroes to make political statements does not make it relevant. The wildly popular Peanuts comic strip has dealt with adult themes such as depression as well, but at least that franchise dealt with them in a light-hearted way.
Overall, if you don’t like confusing content, flashing lights (there are a LOT of them throughout the show), bizarre imagery, ultraviolence, glorification of mental illness, and getting depressed, this is definitely not the series for you.