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The Momentous Return of ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’

The ‘Recappables’ podcast takes on the classic anime show that Netflix has rescued from the brink of obsolescence

Netflix/Ringer illustration

On Friday, Netflix started streaming two classic anime titles: the 1995 TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion and the 1997 theatrical film conclusion to the TV series, The End of Evangelion. The premise is simple enough: Teens fight monsters to save humanity. Gradually, however, Evangelion transforms into a much more startling and profound meditation on individuality and human relationships. It’s a show about total collapse. Meanwhile Netflix has staged a massive resuscitation of a provocative and influential title which had otherwise gone out of print for more than a decade. For anime fans, the streaming return of Evangelion is a milestone.

Over six episodes on The Recappables: Sound Only, we’ll untangle, analyze, and appreciate director Hideaki Anno’s most startling creation. Evangelion is a knotty, ambitious, one-season anime with enduring and significant cultural capital, despite being off all airwaves for nearly a decade. Evangelion had a few runs on American television in the early aughts, and it was later collected on Blu-ray and DVD, but hasn’t been previously (legally) available online. The streaming premiere deserves a new, broader discussion for long-standing die-hard fans and neophytes alike.

In Evangelion, Shinji Ikari must pilot a giant, weaponized cyborg—the titular Evangelion—to save mankind from extinction. The Earth has been ravaged by supernatural disasters, and the NERV organization (more on this below) stages humanity’s last stand against a series of surreal monsters, known as Angels, as they lay siege to Tokyo-3. (Twenty years in the future, in 2015, Tokyo has already been destroyed twice over.) Shinji is one of several Evangelion pilots, including the subdued, mysterious goth, Rei Ayanami, and the angry, German redhead, Asuka Langley Soryu. Together, the Evangelion pilots must overcome the Angels while also struggling through their own adolescence.

To fully understand Evangelion is to embrace its alternative reality and wonky sci-fi concepts, which we’ve begun to explain without spoilers below. The glossary serves as companion reading and a reference to the most important terms related to Evangelion, which we cover in depth on The Recappables. Keep it handy as you listen.

Glossary

Evangelion: A massive, armored, agile, humanoid weapon designed by NERV to defeat the Angels. There are several Evangelion units, and they each require a pilot despite also demonstrating sporadic, independent sentience. The Evangelion units vary in visual style. Unit-00 is a 20th century robotics design with one eye. Unit-01 is angular with a long horn and two eyes. Unit-02 has four eyes.

Though analogous to the human body in many ways, the Evangelion’s vital organs are located differently throughout the body. For instance, the Evangelion’s head contains no vital organs, though, strangely, destruction of the Evangelion’s head will incapacitate the unit. The entry plug, which houses the pilot’s cockpit, rests in the Evangelion’s upper spine.

The Evangelion is massively powerful but functions on a severely limited energy supply. If plugged into the network of power stations across Tokyo-3, the Evangelion can operate indefinitely. If unplugged and left to its own internal battery, the Evangelion can operate for only a few minutes before deactivating.

Angels: Ghastly monsters that attack Tokyo-3 in hopes of reaching the GeoFront. The Angels are all physically distinct from one another, and their intelligence also varies widely.

Tokyo-3: Japanese fortress city where NERV (below) and the JSSDF (below) lead their combat campaigns against the Angels. Given the violent conditions, Tokyo-3 is heavily fortified, governed by martial law, and largely administered by the local MAGI supercomputer system.

NERV: Non-governmental organization that developed the Evangelion units and deploys them in combat operations against the Angels upon their return from embryonic obscurity. Commander Gendo Ikari and Deputy Commander Kozo Fuyutsuki cofounded NERV 10 years after Second Impact—part of the reason Tokyo is now Tokyo-3—and they lead the organization as senior paramilitary officers. Dr. Ritsuko Akagi, who’s the head of NERV’s technical branch, leads the organization’s day-to-day science operations.

The GeoFront under Tokyo-3 hosts NERV’s central operations, including the Command Center.

NERV Command Center: The main stage for NERV combat operations. Gendo serves as the commander, with Fuyutsuki as the lieutenant commander, and Misato initially as a captain. Misato is a vibrant, overachieving 20-something who essentially coaches the pilots and helps oversee Evangelion operations. Though Ritsuko’s rank is unclear, Ritsuko outranks Misato, even after Gendo promotes Misato from captain to major. The technicians Makoto Hyuga, Maya Ibuki, and Shigeru Aoba execute orders in coordination with the Evangelion pilots in most battles.

GeoFront: Underground headquarters for NERV and vertical evacuation shelter for Tokyo-3, reinforced by several armor plates installed across the Earth’s crust. The GeoFront houses the Evangelion, the MAGI computer system, and NERV’s scientific resources. During overland emergencies, Tokyo-3 retracts underground, creating the impression of an upside-down city hanging over the GeoFront.

MAGI: A global supercomputer network, the MAGI system controls the GeoFront as well as NERV’s combat operations. Though headquartered in Tokyo-3, NERV also operates MAGI supercomputers in Matsushiro, Beijing, Berlin, Hamburg, and Massachusetts.

Synchronization Ratio: Measure of an Evangelion pilot’s physiological coordination with their Evangelion unit. The higher the synchronization ratio, the more naturally the Evangelion’s movement will reflect that of the pilot, as well as the pilot’s will. The lower the synchronization ratio, the less responsive and generally active the Evangelion will be. The pilot’s synchronization ratio is sensitive to mood swings. If a pilot’s synchronization ratio falls too low, before or during combat, the pilot may be withdrawn from service.

Japanese Strategic Self Defense Force: Conventional military force which defends Tokyo-3. The JSSDF forces are ineffective against the Angels, and they operate at odds with NERV. The JSSDF also operate as local police.

Plugsuit: The Evangelion pilot’s uniform, which shrinks to the pilot’s body with a push of a button on one of the wrist cuffs. The plugsuits all come in different styles and colors. Shinji’s is blue, Rei’s is white, Asuka’s is red. In “Angel Attack” (Episode 01) Shinji has yet to be fitted for a plugsuit and so he enters Unit-01 in his school uniform.

Entry Plug: The long, removable capsule which contains the Evangelion cockpit. The pilot enters the cockpit before the entry plug is inserted into the Evangelion unit’s upper spine. The aerodynamic design allows the entry plug to eject far from the Evangelion unit in case of emergency.

Launch Pad: Tokyo-3 hosts a complex network of retractable surfaces which allow NERV to deploy Evangelion units from the central Command Center to various points in the city. The launch pads are also used to recall Evangelion units to the Command Center.

LCL: The piss-colored “link connect liquid” fills the entry plug, including the cockpit, before insertion and deployment. The LCL is viscous matter which fills the pilot’s respiratory system and feeds oxygen directly to the pilot’s bloodstream. In fact, the LCL smells like blood. However, the LCL shouldn’t be confused with the Evangelion’s blood, which is red, or Angel blood, which is also red.

AT Field: The “absolute terror field” is an orange, glowing force field, which Angels and Evangelion deploy to block any violent force which materializes against them. The AT field is typically static and octagonal, and while the AT field is always active, it only appears to the eye upon violent contact. Through advanced use and a high synchronization ratio, the Evangelion pilot might manipulate the shape of their own AT field and even deploy their AT field offensively, though standard use is defensive.

The AT field is strong, but not unbreakable or impenetrable. The collision of two competing AT fields will often neutralize both fields, thus allowing raw contact between two subjects, most often an Angel and an Evangelion. The term “absolute terror” refers to the subject’s imperative to defend their personal space at all costs. The collapse of a subject’s AT field typically leads to the subject’s defeat.

N² weapon: A “non-nuclear” weapon, e.g., an N² mine, which creates massive explosive force, a wide blast radius, and electromagnetic pulse but without toxic radiation effects. The N² weapons are barely effective against the Angels, though a targeted Angel may at least pause to recover from a direct hit. The N² weapons buy time. They are also useful for destroying land and obliterating terrestrial assets.

Progressive Knife: Standard snap-blade which each Evangelion unit carries.

Pallet Gun: Standard semi-automatic rifle which each Evangelion unit carries.

Pilot Condition Critical: Though a pilot may not suffer physical injuries in direct proportion to the material injuries sustained by their Evangelion, the unit’s injuries do cause the pilot extreme physiological stress. The pilot enters critical status when the stress overwhelms their verbal responsiveness as well as their capacity for self-defense.