In early 1998, I rented a VHS tape of Evangelion from Blockbuster Video. It was shelved in the “Japanimation” section, next to Project A-Ko. Released by ADV, Neon Genesis Evangelion 0:1 contained the first two episodes of the series. Thanks to the stocker at Blockbuster, this tape was subtitled.
Immediately after I finished Evangelion, episode 2, I went to a comic book store and purchased the tape, and Genesis 0:2. I pre-ordered each subsequent release from ADV. The subtitled tapes were ten dollars more expensive than the dubbed tapes. This was a $390 investment, based on the initial quality of those 44 minutes.
In July, 1998, I watched the final episode of Evangelion in San Francisco. I think I felt sick. “Congratulations,” said the text on screen. Congratulations, you will think about this show for the rest of your life. Congratulations; now what?
I read an interview in Animerica with the director. In it, Hideako Anno asked, “What is the nature of evolution? What is humanity's relationship to his or her God? Does god, in fact, exist? What does it mean for the human race if that question can be answered definitively?” A year later, I watched the entire 26 episode show again, in preparation for the End of Evangelion movie.
At a small comic book convention in the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, I purchased a VHS fansub of The End of Evangelion. I was interning at Kopelson Entertainment for the summer. They had an Academy Award for Platoon. They let me hold it. Arnold Kopelson told me a story about meeting with Steven Segal. Segal had taken a gun out during the meeting and placed it on Kopelson’s desk. Kopelson had asked him to leave.
Kopelson Entertainment was located in the building used for the exteriors in Die Hard. This is why I decided to intern there, in that hot summer long before I could legally drink a beer. Fox Plaza was in Culver City, about an hour away from my first sublet in Los Angeles -- a two bedroom house near Western and Olympic. I was house-sitting for two comedians who were on tour in Europe.
The house had no air conditioning.
It did have a small television.
Letterboxing made it seem smaller.
I watched The End of Evangelion on a hot night in July, 1999. For a half-hour after it concluded, I sat in silence and felt ill. Later that week, I watched it again. Sixteen years later, The End of Evangelion poster is the only pop culture poster that hangs anywhere in my apartment.
Since 1999, I’ve watched Evangelion and its finale every year except one, usually in the sweltering heat of mid-summer. Evangelion takes place in a purgatory between the beginning of the apocalypse and its conclusion. There are no seasons in the world of Evangelion, only summer. The only insects left are cicadas; they bleat in the background like a constant car alarm. Like static.
It’s June 22nd, 2015. Today is the day that the first episode of Evangelion takes place. In its anachronistic animated future, there are no iPhones and no ever-present internet. There are no MP3 players, only SDATs. Kids play Sega Saturn on their 4:3 televisions. I like to imagine it’s because the video-game industry was destroyed when the apocalypse began. I like to imagine smart phones don’t work because of destroyed satellites and cell-phone towers. I like to imagine the internet is so slow that it’s not worth pulling up on a PC. I like to imagine Evangelion is still taking place today.
Why has Evangelion stayed with me? It’s not perfect; it’s rushed and incomplete. The story is ultimately unforgiving. The characters of Evangelion are flawed, selfish, cloying, miserable. After the first few episodes, Evangelion is not fun.
But every time I watch Eva, I come away with something new. When I was a teenager, I saw myself in Shinji, Asuka, Rei, Kaworu. Each viewing was an opportunity to project myself onto its young protagonists. I tried to get my hair colored grey in 1999, long before it became trendy in 2015. The salon didn’t know how to do it, and ended up melting my hair. It pulled apart like rubber. So, for the first six months of 2000, I had a near buzz cut, because of Evangelion.
As an adult, I catch elements of my personality in Misato, Ritsuko, Kaji. It’s hard to be an adult. Nobody is very good at it. Most of us are pretending to be adults, because we’re the age of adults. It’s a projection. It’s a performance. That’s something Evangelion really gets.
It also gets that Hell is Other People. Living is made more difficult because of the existence of others. Sure, people sometimes will make life worth living. Love, because of its rarity and its potency, is a reason to live. But every problem we have, day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year, is because of other people.
Still, Evangelion concludes by telling us that happiness is only real when shared. Getting rid of people is not the solution to life’s shortcomings, because life isn’t real without people. Communication between us is frustrated by our own projections and performances; the version of ourself in our own mind is different from the ones that exists in the minds of others. And the two versions will never meet. But still, we must connect. Still, we must try.
I will be watching Evangelion this July for the 18th time.
I believe Evangelion is the story of a young boy saddled with saving the world from the Angels of God. It is the story of a young girl who defines herself through her successes. It is the story of a girl born without the ability to clearly express emotion. The story of an alcoholic looking for revenge. An aloof scientist, desperate for validation from her dead mother. A failed father. Technology versus religion. Communication versus silence. A prediction, a parody, a parable.
And after sixteen years of watching it, Evangelion is my story.