There’s a good chance you have Netflix. I hear it’s a pretty popular service these days. I’ve done my share of Netflix binges, as seems to be the current paradigm of media consumption these days. Whether it’s “Stranger Things” or “Umbrella Academy,” the service has churned out its share of good, original television. But there’s a show coming to Netflix this month that’s not quite so new. Like “Citizen Kane” or “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it’s a well established classic that I had long heard lauded, but also one where my initial viewing left me conflicted. It’s also a show I’ve more and more come to appreciate. With the arrival of “Neo Genesis Evangelion” on Netflix, perhaps more people will now share in that appreciation as well.
Like many other anime, “Evangelion” belongs to the broad tradition of the “mecha” genre, a sort of science fiction that generally focuses on humans piloting giant robots. The white, blue and red machines of Gundam or the colorful motley of Voltron are passingly familiar pop culture icons. The slouched purple menace that is the series titular robot, EVA-01, is probably less familiar.
At its core, “Evangelion” is a show about a young man using a giant purple robot to fight otherworldly monstrosities (called Angels). The execution is less Saturday morning cartoon than that set-up suggests. The battle against the Angels has apocalyptic stakes, and even when the show isn’t dwelling on that existential terror, the mood is melancholic if not straight gruesome. “Evangelion” does not gloss over or idealize its depiction of child soldiers, and its young heroes are often left bleeding (or worse) for their cause.
Perhaps part of the show’s enduring legacy is the interiority it affords its characters. Whether it’s the reluctant hero, Shinji, conceited teammate, Asuka, or aloof father, Gendo, characters are less noble than they are human. “Evangelion” is a story of flawed people fighting against impossible odds in a broken world, and the show doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable brinks they are pushed to.
The show“Evangelion”’s legacy is also notable for its esoteric mythology. Calling its monsters “Angels” only scratches the surface of its weird religious allusions. For many viewers, there’s sure to be appeal in piecing together the cerebral mystery of what broke the show’s world. While I do share in that fascination with the show, I’m not sure how confidently I could answer its overriding questions. The show only grows more obtuse and psychological as it goes on, and that holds true right up to its infamously bizarre endings – both of them.
If anyone has been inspired to watch the show, a word of advice: some fans will tell you to skip the original episodes 25 and 26. Due to budget constraints, these episodes abandon straightforward narrative for an expository monologue with limited animation. The end result feels like an art house piece. While I’m fond of the sequence’s strange stream of consciousness approach, it is admittedly not the most accessible viewing experience. The follow-up movie, “End of Evangelion,” also on Netflix, provides a more traditional narrative conclusion, though raises just as many of its own questions.
“Evangelion” is a niche show, even under the already niche umbrella of anime. When I first watched it four or so years ago, I wasn’t certain it lived up to the high expectations that had been set for it. But I’ve found that viewing has stuck with me, with the show’s characters and grim imagery lingering in my mind. As much as I’d encourage checking the show out, I recognize it may not have a great deal of mainstream appeal. With the show’s arrival on Netflix, however, perhaps a new generation will be able to discover a foundational piece of media, giant, purple robot and all.
Evan Orbeck is a Messenger staff writer.