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Neon Genesis Evangelion, an anime created by Hideaki Anno, first aired on TV Tokyo from 1995 to 1996 and quickly became a sensation. But while it has influenced countless anime series since, the show has been largely inaccessible for American audiences over the last decade, save for some old DVD box sets and bootlegs, and its absence has been a painful one for fans. Now the show is finally streaming on Netflix, making for a landmark occasion that has a lot of viewers excited — and maybe a little bit confused. That's where we come in.
Here's the gist: Post-apocalyptic Tokyo is infested with these deceptively named monsters called Angels, horrifying destructive beasts that can only be taken down by gargantuan bio-mechas. These mechas, which sync up with human pilots using neural networks, are called Evangelions, or Evas for short. It's none too easy to pilot one of these big guys ... unless you're 11-year-old Shinji, who has a mysterious connection to one of them.
Shinji is a reluctant hero, a loner quasi-orphan boy who gets swept up in the madness as things get desperate in Tokyo-3, as the city is called. Plus, his negligent father is involved in the Eva business, which only makes things more complicated. Here's a guide to everything you need to know to get started with the series (and things you'll need to clarify as you're watching — there's a lot going on).
Angels or demons?
These destructive creatures are a bit of a mystery. The First Angel to appear was named Adam, and the rest of the angels that terrorize Tokyo are (with some really bizarre exceptions) his offspring. Instead of being the usual stereotype of benevolent haloed beings taking humankind under their white feathered wings, these angels are the antithesis of their greeting-card brethren. They obviously want to crush every human in their path.
After some sort of apocalyptic event that no one really talks about, Tokyo-3 was built as a fortress built to counter the Angels. It rises from its subterranean hiding place at sundown. Too bad this place only exists in fiction, because it has a really Instagrammable view.
The 11-year-old boy who got caught up in all this. Has no idea he’s the Third Child (that'll make sense later). He finds out he’s not so worthless when the father he never knew, who has been designing gargantuan robots all this time, suddenly wants to see him and stick him inside a giant robot.
She saves Shinji during the first episode and then invites him to live with her (and Pen-Pen, her unusually smart pet penguin) as he settles into the Eva program. She serves as an oddball mentor for Shinji, and lives in a life very different from what you'd expect from the operations director of super-secret high-tech lab called…
This is the heart of the resistance, run by Shinji’s estranged father, Gendo. He's a pretty crappy dad; he ignores Shinji for most of his life, then sends for him because he knows the kid can pilot a giant Eva robot. The lab's head scientist is named Risuko Akagi, and she does a lot of work on the massive mechas, as well.
An enormous bio-mecha that is called the “ultimate man-made decisive purpose combat weapon, which really rolls of the tongue. This artificial human is seen as the very last line of defense against the angels. Shinji becomes the unlikely pilot for the first Evangelion Unit-01 when they can’t find anyone else. You need to synchronize with this thing, and while it took the prior pilot, the now-incapacitated Rei, months before she could sync with one, Shinji does it pretty automatically (though it takes a head injury to make it happen).
Because the number one priority is defeating the angels, any pilot even remotely able of synchronizing is needed. There is no way Shinji wants to do this — until an angel finds out where NERV headquarters is.
So how do you pilot an Eva?
The neural link is a spinal conduit system that syncs up with its pilot. That's the standard procedure until the team discovers that one of these can connect with Shinji sans an interface connection.
Connecting has several steps:
This involves attaching metal things to your head and filling the cockpit with some sort of weird liquid (otherwise known as LCL) that allows oxygen to transfer directly into your bloodstream. When an Eva activates, an electrical current runs through the LCL to start a direct electrochemical interface with the Eva, which is why a pilot can’t sync without LCL.
Enter something called an A-10 nerve connection, which establishes a bilateral network, or connection between the pilot and the Eva.
Once they become one, a pilot just needs to will an Eva's movements by thinking really hard about what it wants to do. It's a pretty convenient control system, but the downside is that if the Eva gets physically throttled, so do you.
So if you get smashed…
At the very least, your cranial nerves endure a barrage of stress in battle, and after it’s all over, you might not even remember what happened when you wake up in the hospital. Shinji doesn't remember much after his first attempt at piloting an Eva, but he got off easy; a glimpse at a half-alive Rei in her hospital bed makes clear how dangerous this is.
Wait. What happened to Rei anyway?
Rei Ayanami has it way worse than Shinji. She was born (if “born” is any way to put it) in the bowels of NERV headquarters from some questionable mashup of human remains that happened to be what was left of Shinji’s mother after she died in an Eva crash.
Rei is often hanging out unconscious in an LCL-filled tube under something that looks suspiciously like a giant brain. If you think this is unnerving, just wait until you make it through the series.
Is Shinji alone in this?
Shinji’s classmates try to get involved in all this and get more than they bargain for, winding up in the cockpit with any LCL. Just another example of kids thinking something is so awesome until they actually have to live it.
At least Shinji isn’t going to be the only actual pilot in this dawning war. Asuka Langley Soryu is another Eva pilot who has managed to stay mostly conscious until now, and she pilots the Evangelion Unit-02.
Just one more thing about Evas
They can reactivate. That’s right. Even without its pilot, the Eva can go rogue and charge at an angel as if it has a mind of its own. Does it? Is this thing really operating against nature? And why does it infiltrate Shinji’s dreams?
You’re just going to have to grab a bucket of popcorn and keep watching to find out.