I Haven’t Seen Evangelion, but I Will Someday: What I’m Looking for When I’m Watching Anime Now

This serves as your official notice: I have not seen Neon Genesis Evangelion. Now you can stop being surprised by that fact.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

No matter how many people I tell that I haven’t seen Eva, it seems there are always more who remain to be surprised. It’s an amusing trend; after all, not having seen something is hardly a fact, but when it comes to Eva it seems all bets are off. Which is sort of the point of this post. While more pronounced with Evangelion because of the impact it had on the anime industry and many fans, there’s a handful of anime out there (particularly from the mid-90s to early 2000s) that people just seem to expect me to have seen. And I get it—somehow I’ve become a reasonably prominent voice in this community, and when that happens or when you’ve just been around for a while people assume you’ve seen the Big Shows.

But I haven’t seen Neon Genesis Evangelion and I don’t intend to do so until the time for me to watch it comes. Let me explain.

Back when I was first getting into anime, I watched a lot of stuff just to watch it. I sat through the entirety of things like Magical Warfare and Wizard Barristers just because they were there to be watched. Everything was new, keeping up with simulcasts was exciting (I remember stalking Crunchyroll’s front page constantly waiting for the next new episode of anything), and it felt there was no show I would ever drop because even the bad ones were anime! With an exclamation point!

Magical Warefare 1-1.jpg

I’m not the same kind of anime fan as I was then, which is perhaps an obvious thing to say, but it’s only been recently that I’ve realized how the way I engage with anime and think about engaging with anime has changed. To put it simply, I think I’ve become a better curator of my own tastes. On the whole, I don’t think the things I want from anime have changed a whole lot since I first started watching. Sure, there have been some genres and tropes and other elements that I’ve come to like that I didn’t before, but I’d argue that things like “liking anime idols” are really just a natural extension of a predisposition I always had—it just found a new expression in that specific fondness.

But what is different about my tastes now is that I’m more aware of them. I know that I like both personal character dramas and sweeping space operas, that I find particular compelling spiritual resonances in the ideas idol anime present, and that shows with particularly genuine expressions of romantic love tend to really get to me. And you know what? Those things I most value aren’t always found in the established classics? Or, even if they are, I might need some time to fully appreciate them. There’s no way I would have liked SDF Macross had I tried to watch it when I first got into anime. Heck, I probably wouldn’t have even cared to try it! And Gunbuster I started and dropped once before watching all the way through!

Gunbuster 1-9.jpg

And Gunbuster got me to watch Diebuster, which motivated me to give FLCL another try, which—even though I didn’t really care for it—moved me a step closer to actually watching Evangelion. I don’t know if I’ve ever really thought about my anime watching as a progression until recently, at least not in deliberate terms, but that’s really what it is. As is so well known, anime is a medium with a densely interconnected history—and somehow my own history has become interwoven within it.

But I should say that just because GunbusterDiebuster, and FLCL are all “Golden Era Gainax” shows that all point to Eva in someway doesn’t mean that the overall arc of what I’m doing as an anime watcher is so simply. I wanted to watch Diebuster, so I watched Gunbuster first. And then I wanted to watch FLCL because it was also directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki, who I’d heard somewhere (although I don’t know if it’s true) was something of an influence on Rie Matsumoto’s style.

And another part of why I want to watch Eva is because I want to watch RahXephon, which I want to watch because I’ve come to like robot shows and because it’s part of an ongoing project I have to see all of studio BONES’ anime. 

I’ll stop indulging myself in tracing paths of interests now, but the point is that I stand on this gigantic web of anime, following traces of logic and personal taste and academic interest and straight-up whims in a trail that probably looks completely random from the outside.

But it makes perfect sense to me. And more than that, it means something to me.

More specifically, it means that I’m creating meaning out of a series of ephemeral experiences. I watch a show, and finish it, and it disappears, in a way. I can’t watch something for the first time again (although rewatching it may become its own unique dot on the map).

All this feeds into why intentionality has become a larger part of my anime watching experience as of late. The proliferation of anime simulcasting is great, but I’m not sure it’s great for those of us who are watching. It lends itself, I feel, far too easily to only engaging with things because they are there to be engaged with it. The constant rush of the new begets a near-uncontrollable appetite for mindless consumption. Which is fine, I guess. Maybe? Or not. In strictly personal terms, it’s no longer something I want from anime.

When Macross Delta came out, it was a big deal for me. At the time, I had been diving into Macross as a whole (watching the entirety of SDF with a good friend, marathoning all of Plus in a single night, experiencing Frontier) and it had been a series of events for me, memorable points in my anime-watching life. Delta‘s announcement was an absolute thrill, because for the first time ever I was going to be there for the inception and broadcast of a new Macross series. I think for a lot of people Delta was just another seasonal anime, but I didn’t want it to be that, and I didn’t treat it that way.

Does that make sense? Delta ultimately wasn’t exactly the Macross I wanted it to be, but it was still a chance to be there where the Valkyrie took off, as it were. To me, that was something special.

Macross Frontier 35.png

So maybe it’s only for my own self-satisfaction or justification of the time I spend on this hobby, but I think the ability to generate meaning out of the event of watching, it’s something worthwhile. Something special. And it’s something that I think can easily get lost in the turmoil of the weekly churn. Especially with the industry pumping out the insane number of shows each season it is, and especially when the impulse to keep up just to keep up takes over. We can watch, watch, watch, watch, and then one season ends and another beings and even the best stuff of each season quickly evaporates in our consciousness.

I’ve always been given to sentimentality, so perhaps this isn’t much of a philosophical stretch for me, but… I don’t want that. I’m all for watching anime just because it’s fun to watch, but I want to do so because I want to do so. I want to have the chance to point at a show and say, “It’s you. What I want from you is something only you can do.” And I want that anime to blush and say, “M-me, senpai? Something… only I can do?” And I’ll kabedon that hapless show, look deep into its eyes, and reply, “That’s right.” My Little Seasonal Anime Can’t Be This Cute!

And it’s not that I expect every anime I watch to sit on my heart for years to come. I have a great capacity to love shows, but I’m not that loose with my feelings of deep affection. It’s more that I simply expect every anime I watch to be more than just “that show.”

Gundam Reconguista in G

I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but maybe one way of understanding is a shift in thinking from considering shows as self-contained, and instead seeing them in the grander context of the habit of watching anime—as “events.”

I’ve written about these kinds of shows in the past. GlasslipGundam Reconguista in G, and Hand Shakers are each shows that I’ve valued because I decided I was going to make something out of watching them and for their experiential uniqueness. I’ve been wondering if this means that I’ve turned into a fan who is primarily interested in watching things that are “original,” but I don’t think that’s quite it. Setting aside the fact that everything is derivative, this really isn’t just about the shows themselves. It’s about watching the shows. It’s about the way that I personally imbue the act of watching with meaning.

Which isn’t to say the shows themselves don’t matter. I have no intention of having a love affair with Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor. I have standards. But if the honeymoon of just being able to watch anime because it’s anime is over, then I suppose I feel I’ve decided for myself to enter into a new stage.

And someday, I’ll watch Neon Genesis Evangelion. Really.

Shinji Smile.png

 

18 thoughts on “I Haven’t Seen Evangelion, but I Will Someday: What I’m Looking for When I’m Watching Anime Now

  1. It’s easy to find yourself lost in a chain of interests. It’s like when a book references another book, you just have to find that other book which then references another book. And it goes on and on.

    Evangelion was like that to me too because it introduced me to Ideon, but I think the reason why people want you to watch this particular anime is that it’s so influential. If there is one show that could summarize Japanese subculture, it would have to be Evangelion.

    I find it difficult to avoid seeing Evangelion in the most random Japanese work. It has introduced, for better or worse, a layman’s take on Freudian psychology and the sociology of power in history to unsuspecting anime audiences. Eva is the show that has made people realize that anime can be something bigger and powerful. It is the beginning of the existentialism that will haunt anime, especially slice-of-life shows, forever. Evangelion is a specter that nobody can run away from. Hideaki Anno’s Shin Gojira is basically a parody of Evangelion and there’s one scene where the protagonist says, “Japan will always be Post-World War II.” You could say that Japan will always be Post-Eva too.

    I won’t say go watch it right now. Your reasons are pretty clear, but Evangelion is pretty darn important to Japanese subcultures. You need to get tortured by the show to really understand some creators especially.

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    • It’s influential, but also because it means a heckuva lot to many people—at least so I’ve understood. And it’s interesting you mention Ideon. I want to watch that, too, but because it’s Tomino & I find his idiosyncrasies intriguing. Whether they exist or not in Ideon is thus irrelevant; I have been made to want to experience it for myself.

      I really do look forward to when the time for me to watch it comes. I’m certain it will be a memorable experience.

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      • If Turn A Gundam doesn’t exist, Ideon is his best work. Be Invoked is one of the best movies — on the same level as End of Evangelion — but for some reason, I rarely see discussion of it. Add that to your never-ending backlog. It will be a treat!

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  2. “I think the ability to generate meaning out of the event of watching, it’s something worthwhile.”

    My memories of many anime series are connected to how I watched them. Examples include: seeing mid-2000’s series with college peers in a lecture hall during anime club meetings; marathoning Gurren Lagann on DVD before going to Anime Expo one summer; going to the same movie theater for screenings of The Disappearance of Haruhi, Redline, Wolf Children and other films; and exploring older series and entertainingly terrible movies/OVAs with other people through Skype.

    I now feel like I have to be in the mood to watch a particular anime and I want to watch it intently if it’s my first time seeing it. I end up digging into only a handful of new series during a simulcast season, despite having a moderate level of interest in about a dozen other series from that same season. (My interest in the ones I put off until later often comes from a single concept or staff member.)

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    • Yes, it seems that memories of who they were with and where they were (whether physically or in life) are big for a lot of people. I don’t know that I have that same experience (at least with anime, specifically), but it’s one that makes sense to me.

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  3. OK, but if you like sweeping space operas and you haven’t seen/don’t want to see Legend of the Galactic Heroes I’ll never get off your case about it. /jk
    (But seriously, LoGH is awesome and you should give it a shot if you haven’t already.)

    I got into anime in the ’90s, and back at the time everything was so new and rare (especially as I’m not in the US) that I watched everything I could get my hands on, including stuff I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole today. So finding out what I enjoy and what I don’t was a pretty quick process. For a time I tried to watch everything labeled “must watch” but it felt so much like a chore that I gave up pretty fast. Nowadays I’m pretty confident in my anime experience that I can tell what I’m going to be interested in and what I won’t at first sight, and pretty much just watch whatever catches my fancy, ignoring the rest. This way maybe I miss out on something I would’ve genuinely liked (VERY unlikely), and maybe I’m completely out of step with the “anime Zeitgeist” but… well, this is a hobby, I don’t want it to feel like a chore.

    Funnily enough, Evangelion was one of the shows I did in fact watch, and it left me mostly cold. Maybe because I was older at the time and already had a lot of stuff under my belt (not anime but books, movies, etc.) about the same/similar things that Evangelion is about, but I never had a kind of “OMG THIS IS GENIUS, IT CHANGED MY LIFE” moment with it. So yes, I understand its influence and everything but… yeah. I think you can safely live your life and be a fan of anime without having seen it.

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    • I’m vaguely interested in LoGH, but the time when I’ll watch it is far distant, I fear. Like, after I watch the very first Precure distant.

      I actually almost wrote in here about how I have the impression that folks that have been around in the anime fandom for a while (since the 90s or since the early 00s when fansubbing culture was really taking off) have an fascinatingly distinct sense of anime as “events” due to the fact that it was so difficult to get a hold of back then. Like you say, you watched everything you could touch, cause it was anime, dammit! That whole time period of the Western anime fandom is very interesting to me…

      And yeah, I know I don’t have to see Eva. Which is why I’m waiting until I want to see it.

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      • SF was like that when I was growing up in the 70’s… We had Star Trek in syndication, and that was it. So we watched every garbage movie, every crap TV show, anything we could get our hands and eyes on. (And even though we were dying of thirst in the desert, we looked down on Star Wars.)

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        • Same is true for video games when I was growing up in the 80’s. When home gaming wasn’t ubiquitous yet, and you had to travel to an arcade or a local pizza parlor armed with a pocketful of quarters if you wanted to play the latest and greatest video games (and hope the one you wanted to play was still there and hadn’t been replaced yet), it was much more of an “event” activity than any jump-in-and-play-24/7 online multiplayer could ever hope to be.

          Not that I want to go back to the days of having to watch an anime I wanted to see on a borrowed 5th generation VHS tape, mind, but there’s definitely something about scarcity and limited access that makes things feel more special than when you have all your entertainments “on demand” at home whenever you want them.

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          • The same is true for a lot of things… shared-experience “events” are few and far between nowadays what with 24/7 connectivity and streaming media. Though it still exists around weekly TV shows and to a lesser extent book releases… (Hmm… I’ve been noodling around on a post on seasonal anime watching. You and Bless given me a new angle to ponder.)

            But I still remember the shock when I went to the mall on cruise night and found my favorite pinball machine replaced with this weird TV looking thing. Shakes cane.

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  4. It’s a timely post for me. A few weeks back I took about an hour to delete all 800+ entries in my MAL. I got fed up with keeping track, and especially with keeping rating shows, but I knew I wouldn’t stop as long as I had that list. Whether this has any effect on my viewing habits, I don’t know. It’s too early to tell.

    For me, weekly anime serve two functions: to relax after/before work, and to help me remember what day of the week it is (early season is always a little confusing, because I don’t yet remember what airs when). I always watch one or two shows I don’t really enjoy all that much, but if I drop those shows it seems they just pass on the baton. Shrug

    For me, personally, Evangelion is a bit of a strange casse. It’s very interesting, and I remember intense emotional involvement, but I feel sort of indifferent about it. But at the same time, I’ve had multiple experiences where people who love the show point out influences in my short stories (they’re very specific, and when I look up the scenes, they’re almost always scenes that left a strong impression with me). Basically, Evangelion seems to have become part of my unconscious.

    On the other hand, I’ve tried four times to watch FLCL and I always drop out some time into episode one. I can tell its good, but its direction is too erratic and there’s this aura of brooding male teenage frustration that really puts me off. Not for me.

    Are there must sees? Who knows? If watching anime isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong. Everyone has classics, I suppose, they forever intend to see one day (Utena and Kino for me). Sometimes you actually end up seeing them after all.

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    • I don’t think I’d want to delete my MAL personally, just because I like having a record of my web (and also cause I’d forget what I was watching LOL). But like you say, you’ve got some particular uses for watching anime—and that’s cool! So what you watch and why you watch it differs from me in more ways than just our particular tastes.

      Ah, that’s fascinating, your encounters with others who like it and its impact on you. Proof you don’t have to love things or have them be your favorites for them to leave their mark on you.

      FLCL is neat from a craft standpoint, but I really don’t care for the story aside from episode 2.

      And we’ve got to have our golden gooses, our “someday” shows. The platonic ideal of a show we haven’t watched is often better than the show itself, heh.

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      • I wouldn’t recommend deleting MAL entries, even if you don’t need them anymore. It’s drudgery. I had to do it, because I have an obsession with lists, and at some point not having entered a show yet becomes stressful, and then I feel I have to rate it, even though I think a single-number rating is silly, and then, and then, and then…

        When I was a child, I had this file with animal cards, and I’d spend hours and hours sorting them according to different criterea. I think I just love lists. But I don’t trust them to be all that useful in real life. It’s a weird interaction; at some point the hobby and keeping track of it come at odds. Since I’m that compulsive with lists, I felt the only way to keep on watching anime and stay sane was to delete the list. I used the activity to listen to an Orange pod-cast from the Wave Motion Cannon blog. (I have trouble concentrating; I prefer reading to listening. But when I’m doing mindlessly dull tasks, like deleting list-items one by one, I can get through spoken content, too.)

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  5. There were two things in here that particularly resonated with me:

    “As is so well known, anime is a medium with a densely interconnected history—and somehow my own history has become interwoven within it.”

    It’s interesting to see someone else point this (and the web of context elaborated on afterwards) out. One of the reasons I haven’t actually seen Eva yet either is because I’ve spent an unnecessary amount of time trying to watch stuff to achieve optimal context and understanding for Anno, Eva, and the Gainax/Trigger creative progression as a whole to enrich the experience of watching it as much as possible (which, admittedly, is probably a less organic motivation than the similar motivations you describe).

    “So maybe it’s only for my own self-satisfaction or justification of the time I spend on this hobby, but I think the ability to generate meaning out of the event of watching, it’s something worthwhile. Something special.”

    I think this is a really important point about engaging with art. Whenever I’ve performed some piece of music over the years, the context of the time when I practiced it and performed it — emotionally, socially, even academically — is inextricably linked with what I feel whenever I go back and think about it or listen to it. I think this also applies to music one only listens to, albeit to a lesser extent.

    While I probably don’t feel that strongly about this with anime as I do with music, I definitely agree that the personal context of watching something can be just as meaningful as the context of the work itself. Part of my appreciation for some of my favorite anime has to do with it coming at the right place and the right time emotionally when I first watched it. Hibike! Euphonium might be the best example. I was probably going to love it no matter when I watched it, given that it’s basically KyoAni exhibiting all of their best qualities on a story that lovingly portrays an activity that constituted some of the most significant and meaningful parts of my high school life. But part of the reason why I love it as much as I do is the context. That I saw the previews for it, desperately wanted something portraying this activity to be special, and then got to experience two seasons of it actually being special was an incredibly rewarding experience. The fact that both seasons also came during two of the rougher stretches I had in college and provided something that so consistently brought me joy to watch (as corny as that sounds) probably didn’t hurt either.

    Reading back through your post before posting this, I realized I probably interpreted this more as the context a show carries afterwards than establishing your own context to watch something (which I think was more the intention), but I definitely understand that too. It’s probably the reason I’ve had Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex sitting on my hard drive for four months but I decided to power through 25 episodes of Idolm@ster in the span of a few days this week. Not every show is right for every situation.

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  6. Eh, in my opinion Evangelion is a big steaming pile of crap. I was ready for it to be more. It seemed like it was aiming to mean something. And then about halfway through it just…. committed story suicide. And nothing after that meant anything. Normally if I don’t enjoy an anime I also don’t care much about it. But this one makes me actively angry. The only reason I finished it (and watched the movie finale) was because my husband really wanted to. He also found it disappointing, but doesn’t get as mad about it as I do. Great OP song though. lol Still, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts about it. When you do watch it, I hope you’ll write up some pieces here about it.

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