This serves as your official notice: I have not seen Neon Genesis Evangelion. Now you can stop being surprised by that fact.
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!
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!
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 Gunbuster, Diebuster, 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.
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.”
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. Glasslip, Gundam 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. [Author’s note: as of September 13, 2019 at approximately 9:00 PM Central Time, I finished watching Eva.]