If you have been reading everything2 for a while, you have probably heard a thing or two about Neon Genesis Evangelion. Most of this is probably technical discussions of what, exactly, an AT Field is, and probably leaves most noders saying huh, and a smaller number saying baka otaku!
I first learned about Evangelion from e2, and from Wigs encyclopaedic writeups on the series. At first, it seemed to me that the series was nothing more then a mixture of crazy mysticism and explosions, but it still seemed interesting enough that I wanted to check it out.
So since I have DSL, I got on gnutella and started downloading episodes. And, after I had sorted out a few things, I was blown away. I am in no ways naive to the ways of literature (I read infinite jest twice, for example), but Evangelion really had some surprising characterization.
Now, it could be that at 22 I am still adolescent enough to think that someone biting their lip during a moment of crises counts as deep characterization, but for some reason, all the pain and angst, as well as the more positive and normal human interaction in this series just feels authentic to me.
I wrote a node about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book that I always loved because it seemed to really communicate how it feels to be poor and left out. And I have always loved books that communicated the precise feelings of growing up, that time when you were young, and a single moment communicates a whole new world for you.
At the same time, I also loved books like The Illuminatus Trilogy!, books that convey how wild and crazy the world could possibly be, where the internal development of character is suspended or ignored in favor of describing the twists and turns of the external world, even imagined ones.
On these two axes of literatures, I have found few works that communicate both of these feelings. Part of the reason I loved infinite jest, I suppose, is how well David Foster Wallace balances a world where New England is a toxic waste dump with a description of the characters thought processes and everyday lives.
Evangelion, for anyone willing to get past the fact that it is loaded with a fair amount of stuff that only Otaku and comic books geeks can appreciate (girls in skintight suits, for example), and for the fact that it is both Animated and Japanese with no apologies, is great literature, and great story telling. It delivers historical story telling over the top, and also gives us authentic insights into the day to day lives of the characters.
Take, for example, episode 9. In this episode, we see Asuka Langley Soryu go into action for the first time, alongside Ikari Shinji. In their gigantic mechas, they attack and manage to partially destroy a gigantic angel. However, since Asuka's ego gets the better of her, the angel is only dormant, and Asuka and Shinji must find a way to destroy it in a week. So, their adult handlers come up with the idea to teach them to do an intricate dance in time with classical music, so that they can attack and destroy the angel in synchronization. The rest of the episodes details their struggles with learning their routine, as well as their squabbling and, perhaps, mutual attraction for each other. The show concludes with them doing the beautiful dance in their gigantic Eva Units, leaving the angel destroyed. However, after it is destroyed, they are left on the ground, tangled up, and carrying on an argument that all the adults can overhear.
Now, why this works so well is, we can leave out both the sci-fi mosters attack Tokyo theme. That has certainly been done enough times. We can even leave out the metaphysical and philosophical speculation into the nature of the angels and the Evangelion Units that comes out later in the series. Even though all of those things are done in an above average manner, they really aren't neccesary for the story. The truth is, if the entire episode was about Shinji and Asuka in a non-sci-fi world, perhaps as nervous, arguing, half fliratious schoolmates working on a dificult math assignment, it would still be great comedy, and would still perfectly communicate how nervous and expectant a teenage male gets when he is around a girl he has a crush on.
In other words, Evangelion succeeds because it is a well developed character driven comedy, and a well developed character driven drama. It could be stated that the science fiction and mystical elements are just icing on that cake. Even more then that, I think they transform and explain the interpersonal and intrapersonal elements in a way that makes them even more meaningful.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is meaningful both in internal thought and external action.