Eva Post 2.0: How Evangelion Changed (Mecha) Anime

How many times has one small thing changed life as we know it? How has the computer and development of electronics around it changed our world? What about advent of the internal combustion engine? The smart phone? Airplanes? Cars? I can keep going, but I think you know where I’m going with this. One invention or appearance of something can change life as we know it. This a truth that can be applied to any medium and art form including anime. Akira is considered by many to be the first modern anime, but I believe that’s wrong. My firm position is that the modern era of anime started with the advent of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Believe me, I see traces of it everywhere. It has as many references in anime culture as Star Wars does in ours. Twenty-two years later, it’s still here and just as popular as it was when it first appeared. It changed anime as we know it, but this is mecha anime month, so I am going to focus more on this mecha side of the story with a glance at the general.

Some quick examples of how eva changed anime in general. The character archetypes are the most obvious one. How many copies of shinji main character archetypes have you seen recently? An incredibly obvious one is Future Dairy. The next question is how many Rei Ayanami clones have you seen recently?

rei clones.jpg
All those Rei Clones

To me, Kyoko from March Comes in like a Lion is an obvious but well done clone of Asuka from Neon Genesis Evangelion.


So many series copy off of the archetypes of characters from Eva, but few even know how to handle them in the same way or with the same amount of layers. Besides from that, so many series have copied individual scenes from Eva. The Gendo and Fuyutski is everywhere from the close up to the far-off office shot, the Gendo and vague council of who knows what they are is everywhere in some shape or form, there are an endless amount of scenes that borrow from Misato drinking beer with the exact same frames being used (the latest being the teacher from Demi-chan at home), and so many other scenes that I haven’t named yet.


Even on a thematic level, there have been a lot of series psychoanalyzed characters the same way as Eva does while not giving the audience an obvious answer. So yes. As a whole, Evangelion has had some positive and negative effects on the anime world at large. Now back to mecha that this month demands.

After Evangelion came out, there were immediate copy cats that wanted to make money off of its success. This seems to happen in every industry so it is a part of the idea cycle. RahXephon is seemingly the most blatant one, though how it presents its ideas and themes. I would never call it a complete knock off. There is also shows like Gasaraki that copied off a lot of Evangelions ideas, but does it in a more grounded and human sort of way. I will talk more about this when I write the review sometime in the future. There have also been a lot of mech anime with ambiguous endings. Blue Gender is one of these. At the end of that anime, the audience can only assume what is going to happen in the end. It’s not bad in anyway because having thought provoking ideas and conversations with other people that watched to speculate on it is a pretty good idea on a community perspective.


The next thing that Evangelion changed from a mecha perspective are the mechs themselves. Not only the designs, but how they are connected to the pilot. Ever since Evangelion hit the scene, mechs looked like they lost a lot of weight. In other words, mechs changed from being a lot more boxy to a much more slim form. This is only a general trend because there are some mech shows that decided to do their own thing and maintain a boxy shape. There are also the color paletes. Evangelion gave mechs more color. White with small other color splashes was the standard for the protagonist unit for a long time because of Gundam, but eva lead them to have more experimentation with it. While some series still use the standard white with other color splashes, like Gundam, it is no longer strange to see a bright orange mech or a black and red one. Latestly, there is the connection to the pilot and the mech itself. Without Eva, something like sync ratios wouldn’t exist. Eva the series that popularized and maybe invented mechs physically attached to the human pilot in a real robot setting. Whenever the mech was damaged, either the pilot would feel it or they were injured as well. I’m interested to see how this can be pushed further. Gundam Unicorn did something unique with it, what else can they do?

kuromukuro fun.jpg
Kuromukuro Hero Mech

Evangelion also added a lot more variety to mech plots. Ever since the advent of the real robot genre, it seemed like almost all of them were based on one side’s military against another. Patlabor may have changed the formula a little bit, but the premise was about the same. Eva pulled away from this general formula a little bit. It was an organization fighting against “angels” that were trying to destroy mankind. There were other evil beings in the bureaucracy that were trying to achieve something we didn’t know about, but the main focus was these screwed up characters against an enemy that only know how to destroy. While mech shows are never going to truly stray away from the one side vs other system, but the formula has been mixed around a lot. Escaflowne is more of a fantasy series, Knights of Sidonia takes a lot of the eva elements and puts it in space, Eureka 7 is a group of skate boarders against an evil organization, and there are so many other shows that tweak with the formula to make it more unique. I cannot truly support this point completely, but I feel like Evangelion was the reason it all happened and I’m glad it did.

knights of sidonia space
Knights of Sidonia

Before ending this, I just want to tell that I haven’t watched Evangelion in six years and I still remember almost everything about it. Why? Because everything about it felt big. Every character, every musical theme, every design choice, every directional choice, every movement when there was movement, and so on felt really important and in some ways it was. I mean, that’s what this post is about, right? Evangelion was the thing that set modern anime in to motion. Not only from an anime perspective, but in a fandom perspective as well. How you may ask? Well I’ll let you figure that one out. If you haven’t watched it before, please give Neon Genesis Evangelion a watch. It’s worth your time, I guarantee it.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. While I agree that Evangelion set a lot in motion in terms of mecha anime and some character tropes overused nowadays, I don’t know if I would say it set in motion modern anime as a whole. We didn’t see a clone of Evangelion until Fall 1998 which is a full 3 years after the fact and we only saw a boon shortly after that. One could go to many points of anime history in the late 90s and contribute it what we have come to expect from modern anime. Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Serial Experiments Lain, Cardcaptor Sakura, Yu-Gi-Oh, His or Her Circumstances all came out in 1998 with GTO coming out in Summer of 1999. Many of those shows distinctly changed the landscape of anime, became quite influential, or became pop culture icons just as important as Evangelion if we consider Bebop. It is hard to make the distinction with Evangelion when the train for mecha anime trying to copy it started at the end of 1998 with one of the clones you mentioned, Gasaraki, and with the boon that followed. We also can’t forget the landmarks that were Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Berserk in 1997. As well as Ruruoni Kenshin and Detective Conan in 1996.

    Evangelion is a landmark series, but it takes a movement of anime to change the larger dynamic of anime at hand. It could be the starting point, but we can’t forget other shows that paved the way for other genres or elements still used in anime today, like Tenchi Muyo Ryououki (the first blatantly “harem” anime), Yuu Yu Hakusho, Slayers. I feel like Evangelion created the “Eva Answer” phase in mecha anime where many studios were trying to and still are trying to capture the same lightning in a bottle that Evangelion was in 1995-96. It certainly is an interesting train of thought though. Which shows could be contributed to the shift is a very interesting path of discussion though. Good and interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. D.T. Nova says:

    ” White with small other color splashes was the standard for the protagonist unit for a long time because of Gundam, but eva lead them to have more experimentation with it.”
    I’m not sure what you mean. Macross, VOTOMS, Xabungle, Dancouga, and Gunbuster were all made between Gundam and Evanglion.
    Actually, other than Patlabor, I can’t really think of very many non-Gundam mecha (that are older than Evangelion) that were primarily white.

    ” Eva the series that popularized and maybe invented mechs physically attached to the human pilot in a real robot setting.”
    Eva blends real and super elements (and popularized doing so), but it’s generally closer to the super end of the scale, with huge, special mecha, extremely soft science, monsters of the week (the most creatively done ones of all time, but still), and its own homages being mostly toward either super robot series or kaiju works.

    Like

    1. Scott says:

      First point is completely valid, but Macross didn’t escape from the the white mech with other color splashes. *Points at white mech with yellow and black with skulls*. But other then that, yeah. You got me there.

      Second point is not something I’m sure about. Ever since it’s conception, I don’t think that real robot shows have ever truly escaped all attributes of the super robot genre. New Types were a thing in the original gundam after all. Mech shows have always been pushing the boundaries of what a pilot can do for a long time using one special reason or another. This isn’t perfect thing because Votoms didn’t, Macross didn’t, and even a few gundam ovas didn’t either, but it’s always a trait that has hung around. I don’t know, maybe I thinking too hard on this. That’s always possible.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s