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In late 2018, Netflix made one of the biggest moves in anime history by acquiring the streaming rights khổng lồ the mightily influential series Neon Genesis Evangelion. The legendary 1990s series began streaming on Netflix on June 21, making it easily accessible to lớn both anime connoisseurs & the anime curious for the first time ever.

To those familiar with the property, its arrival on streaming is the realization of a longstanding dream, a seeming impossibility after years of licensing entanglements kept the Japanese cartoon off shelves & streaming. But to lớn Netflix subscribers who rarely peruse the site’s anime section, this level of hype — and the show itself — may seem inscrutable. For as much as Neon Genesis Evangelion is a Japanese pop cultural force, a work inextricably connected to lớn the elevation of anime’s chất lượng and visibility, it’s also a dense, thematically obscure one, rife with philosophical questions and confrontational storytelling. Fun and easily marketable fare à la Pokémon or long Ball, it is not.

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And yet Evangelion is extensively beloved and celebrated; its reputation has now preceded its streaming debut for two decades. Netflix’s acquisition is a momentous occasion not just for the streaming service but for the Western anime industry at large.

There are several reasons this show about fighting robots & existential crises has endured. Here are the eight biggest things a newcomer should know about Neon Genesis Evangelion, and why its Netflix debut is such a big giảm giá khuyến mãi — & not completely without some backlash from longtime fans.

1) Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most important anime ever

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a Japanese animated cartoon (a.k.a. Anime) that aired on TV in japan from October 1995 through March 1996. Developed by the innovative animation studio Gainax, the show ran 26 episodes, followed by a feature film in July 1997. Ten years later, in 2007, a four-part series of “rebuild” movies launched in theaters, with the aim of remaking và reinventing the TV show’s stories. (The fourth and final of these films is due in 2020, eight years after the third film’s 2012 premiere.)

The premise of Evangelion, which fans typically refer to simply as Eva (pronounced ay-VUH), sounds straightforward on its face. The year is 2015 — đôi mươi years in the future from the series’ 1995 debut — và Earth has been irrevocably damaged by an event called the Second Impact. The United Nations is working with a special military organization, Nerv, to lớn protect survivors from the fallout: the arrival of several extraterrestrial killer mechs, known as Angels, that are hell-bent on taking out what remains of the human race.

Only Nerv’s manned robots are strong enough lớn take on and defeat the Angels. These robots are called Eva Units; there are only four of them, & they require a special physical và mental connection with their pilots. Enter Shinji Ikari, a depressed teenager who happens lớn be the son of the mastermind behind the Eva Units’ software; thanks khổng lồ some good ol’ fatherly emotional manipulation pushing him to help out his dad, Shinji travels to lớn Nerv’s base in the dystopian city of Tokyo-3 to lớn become an Eva pilot.

Robot battles ensue, with increasingly mortal consequences. But Eva has little in common with its forebears, lượt thích the globally recognized Transformers or the fan-favorite franchise Mobile Suit Gundam, both anime about humans và their big, sentient, rock ’em, sock ’em robots. Because Evangelion also tackles headier concepts: What does it mean to be fighting a battle you don’t believe in? When your body toàn thân becomes a war machine, what will your purpose be when the war is over? If there’s a God, why would that God be so cruel to lớn their supposedly beloved creation, humanity?

All of these stories and the questions they raise coalesce to lớn become one of the most powerful, visually stunning, intellectually probing anime in the medium’s history. Eva’s not exactly the most fun watch out there, but it’s always a compelling one.

2) Eva’s controversial ending remains famously polarizing

Evangelion fans have often characterized it as two shows in one. The first half of the series is relatively formulaic: Shinji doesn’t want to lớn pilot the big robot because he doesn’t want lớn get hurt in a fight against an Angel. Shinji’s dad makes him pilot the big robot. Shinji gets hurt in a fight against an Angel. (Sub out Shinji for one of the other teenage pilots; rinse, repeat.)

And then episode 14 rolls around.

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Episode 14 recaps the previous 13 episodes’ storyline for about half of its runtime. The rest of the episode then shifts gears & tweaks the anime’s tone from that point on. What was previously an action-oriented, even comedic cartoon — there’s plenty of awkward teen romance và high school hijinks amid the self-reflective stuff — suddenly becomes an existential text slathered in religious symbolism và shocking character revelations.

Eva’s next 12 episodes then lean into its percolating nihilism; they culminate in a two-part conclusion that left Japanese viewers dissatisfied upon its initial premiere in 1996. Much of that dissatisfaction was due to rumored budget cuts, tight scheduling issues, & creative differences on how to over the show, resulting in a finale that excises all the fighting robots và turns inward for 40 minutes of an introspective back-and-forth between the characters. We won’t spoil any of the details, but suffice to lớn say that Evangelion’s ultimate treatise on the nature of existence overwhelms any of the action that viewers may have been drawn in by at first.

But the animation studio Gainax sought redemption from the fans who derided the anime’s heavily philosophical finale. Its efforts took the khung of End of Evangelion, a feature film that came out in theaters in 1997 & that shirked the constraints of basic cable TV & 22-minute runtimes. The movie offers a gruesome, violent, relentlessly cruel take on the original ending, a horror film lớn the TV show’s psychological drama, and one that directly comments on fans’ critical response of the original ending. End of Evangelion is something of an expansion on the series, then; while it’s a must-watch for any Eva viewer, it’s more lượt thích the opposite, bloodier side of the TV ending’s coin than a separate coin of its own.

3) Eva remains artistically influential

When Evangelion debuted in nhật bản in October 1995, the “mecha” genre of anime — in which characters pilot their own personal giant robots to fight other giant robots — was already well-known to Japanese anime fans. Mobile Suit Gundam, which kicked off another hugely influential mecha anime franchise, had been around since 1979, & one of the genre’s most popular series, Gundam Wing, had debuted earlier that year. Eva could have slotted right next lớn Mobile Suit GundamGundam Wing as more of the same: an action series full of fun moments và ever-intensifying battles, but little else.

But then Eva deconstructed the entire genre of mecha anime, và in a sense all anime, in that it was only nominally about fighting robots; at its core, it was a deeply philosophical exploration of humanity and what being “human” even is. Its characters giảm giá with past trauma; experience sexual awakenings; explore death, rebirth, and eternity; & struggle to find personal meaning in a time of apocalypse.

Not only was the series hugely existential, it was also extremely religious, full of references to lớn Judaism & styled as a sci-fi retelling of the biblical Book of Genesis. Most significantly, creator Hideaki Anno spoke openly & frequently about having a mental và artistic breakdown while working on the show, and funneling all that anxiety into its storytelling. The whole series doubles as a metaphor for uneasy artistic creation, for depression, và for life itself.

Eva wasn’t the first anime to marry fun kích hoạt tropes with deeper religious symbolism và an overarching metaphysical tone. But it was the first anime lớn combine those elements so successfully, and to such high critical and popular acclaim. And, crucially, this type of project had very rarely been shown on television before.

Prior lớn Eva, anime series tended to lớn run for hundreds of episodes, be based on either preexisting manga (Japanese comics) or English-language literature, & have a much broader, more mainstream appeal. Eva, by contrast, was a wholly original series conceived as a limited series of only 26 episodes, và far from trying khổng lồ attract a wide audience, toward the end, it even seemed khổng lồ be attempting khổng lồ alienate what niche viewership it had. (It was through Eva that Gainax ultimately gained a reputation for producing wild endings.)

But its deliberate subversion of anime conventions and audience expectations was what made it so popular. In Japan, Evangelion spawned countless anime tropes, và moreover provided a template for integrating stylish genre tropes with serious themes, high artistic aspirations, and deep characterization. It also opened the floodgates for original anime series, as well as anime series that deconstructed their own genres, anime aimed exclusively at adults, & anime that was just plain weird. Other influential anime series lượt thích Revolutionary Girl Utena and Serial Experiments Lain feel directly influenced by Eva, while many others, lượt thích Cowboy Bebop, feel lượt thích evolutionary steps forward in the sandbox that Eva built for creators lớn play in.

Essentially, Eva instigated a scramble to lớn create original Japanese series that did what Eva did. Suddenly, Japanese TV was full of anime that more overtly flaunted its artistic and literary aspirations, risked seriously dark themes, winked knowingly at viewers, và didn’t cater khổng lồ the widest audience possible. This proliferation of smart & serious anime is commonplace today. But just how American animation evolved with the advent of The Simpsons, these anime arguably needed a landmark forerunner lớn push producers into putting them on the air. That landmark was Evangelion.

4) Eva’s pop cultural impact extends far beyond Japanese anime fandom

For all of Evangelion’s divisive quirks & experimental indulgences, the series’ import was immediately undeniable. At a time when the Japanese entertainment industry viewed anime as lowbrow và pandering, Evangelion challenged the medium’s boundaries và its audiences’ expectations.

Eva’s release was also well-timed. Its premiere followed an especially tumultuous year for a Japanese population already struggling to lớn pull itself out of an economic downturn. In 1995, a debilitating earthquake in Kobe và a shocking terrorist attack in Tokyo happened within two months of each other. The country was devastated, culturally speaking, its citizens left with a strong sense of malaise.

But in anime và manga, many people found hope again, as comparative literature scholar Gabriel F.Y. Tsang explained in a năm nhâm thìn paper on Eva’s societal parallels.

boom, especially based on a shift of kinh doanh target from children to adults, significantly revealed a social phenomenon,” Tsang wrote; “the general public in nhật bản had begun to merge their everyday life with cartoon culture, which enabled them khổng lồ alleviate their daily căng thẳng through consuming virtual images và messages that were encouraging, funny, satirical, hilarious or bold.”

It also got them spending money. Và with Evangelion already tapping into a renewed nationwide interest in anime, it was also able to capitalize on myriad other kinh doanh opportunities. It remains common to see characters like Shinji, Rei, và Asuka appear in advertisements or pachinko parlors throughout Japan, & the series’ iconography remains widely recognizable in the country. Modern anime reference Eva liberally, often khổng lồ comedic effect. Even its theme song is still a huge mainstay at karaoke bars, which makes perfect sense, because “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” is good as hell, whether you’ve seen the show or not.

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