25 Days of Anime - #1: Neon Genesis Evangelion

From the outset of my compiling this list, I knew that the top two ranked anime would be neck-in-neck. Both of them are phenomenal and rank among the best series (anime or otherwise) that I have ever indulged in. When it gets right down to it, my decision for which series would be ranked number two and number one was by the smallest of margins, but ultimately Neon Genesis Evangelion won the day.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most complex and intelligently written series I've ever watched. To this day, it is one of the most highly-contested anime of all time, with fans discussing the different endings and underlying religious themes. It's a series that spends as much time exploring the inner workings of the characters' minds as it does toying with those of the viewers. In keeping with many of the anime on this list, it maintains a balance between the action and the thought-provoking moments. Except that in the case of Evangelion, it makes you think actively more and more as the show progresses. Rewatching the series a second and a third time, I picked up on discrepancies that I did not during my initial viewing, and it's pretty crazy to think just how much attention to detail Hideaki Anno and his creative staff paid when crafting this story.

There are many viewers who would say that Shinji Ikari is a boring, whiny and annoying lead character. Personally, I think his presentation is perfect. He, Rei, and Asuka are all fourteen years old and learning to cope with a number of changes within themselves, let alone the ever-present threat of the Angels. Asuka wants nothing more than to display her skills as an Eva pilot to everyone, while Rei was created for the specific purpose of being an Eva pilot. Meanwhile, Shinji originally doesn't want to go into battle, largely because of his rocky relationship with his father. At the end of the series, he still doesn't want to pilot Eva Unit 01, because people he cares about continue to get hurt. But if he doesn't pilot it, even more people will end up hurt, and so there is a constant inner struggle piled on top of his lack of understanding of girls, his unresolved daddy issues, and his fear of closeness that both results from and perpetuates all of these problems.

What Mobile Suit Gundam did in defining the standards of mecha anime, Neon Genesis Evangelion does in breaking all of those conventions and then redefining them. It's a wildly experimental anime for its day - one that dared to push the boundaries of the familiar and turn many staples of science fiction on their heads. It's an incredible mixture of mecha action, religious symbolism, teenage angst, and Freudian psychology - one that I feel is unparalleled to this day. What begins as a somewhat unorthodox series of teens thrust into saving the planet from monstrous angels breaks down the ideas of just what it means to be human, with the best plot points emerging from the darkest of scenarios.

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