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Why Neon Genesis Evangelion hitting Netflix is such a big deal
Neon Genesis Evangelion fans are used to big impacts. The very plot of the iconic '90s anime series follows the aftermath of an event called the "Second Impact," the dawning of a "Third Impact," and the resulting battles between giant monsters and giant robots with teenagers at the controls. But Friday might have been the most impactful event in the series' history, as the whole thing is now streaming on Netflix. It's a huge deal for a number of reasons.
The 26-episode anime, which originally aired from 1995 to 1996, is one of the more important and influential anime in history. Created by Hideaki Anno, Neon Genesis Evangelion begins as a stylish giant robot anime and gradually morphs into a mind-bending exploration of depression, buoyed by thrilling animation, brutal fights, and memorable characters. The series was a sensation in the United States as well as Japan, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an anime today that wasn't influenced, in some way, by Neon Genesis Evangelion.
And yet, until Netflix obtained the series' streaming rights, it was nearly impossible to watch the series — legally or illegally.
In the late '90s, it was easy enough (if a little expensive and space-consuming) to purchase the full series on VHS tapes, with two episodes on each tape. Then things started to get a little tricky.
See, Neon Genesis Evangelion — or Eva, as it's often called — has multiple endings. There's the ending in the actual show, a theatrical movie that essentially replaces the final two episodes called End of Evangelion, and another film that's kind of a clip-show with 30 minutes of new material titled Death and Rebirth. However, the company that handled the American release of the series, ADV, did not license the films, and it took a long time for another company to release them. Bootlegged versions thrived in the meantime.
In the early and mid-'00s, it was still possible to get swanky boxed DVD sets of the 26-episode series, but End of Evangelion wasn't included, and getting a copy — bootlegged or legitimate — was difficult. Watching the entire series often involved hoping that the bootlegged version you were buying on eBay actually had the content you were looking for, and that the quality wasn't so bad as to be unwatchable.
Things got even direr for American Eva fans once the DVD market started to falter with the rise of streaming. ADV, the company that held the rights to the series, went under in 2009. The rights eventually reverted back to the series' creator, Hideaki Anno. For nearly a decade, there were no new physical releases of the series, and no American company wanted to pay for the (presumably very expensive) rights to stream the series. Most Eva fans could only hope to get a third-hand, possibly bootlegged and possibly incomplete, version of the series.
Enter Netflix, which got the streaming rights to both the core series and the various movie finales. For the first time in a decade — and certainly in the easiest and least expensive way — people can watch Eva, whether it's their first time or simply their latest rewatch.
Really, the only thing that's missing from Netflix's release (aside from the original English dub, which has been replaced by a brand-new one with new voice actors) is the song that played over the end credits. Netflix apparently didn't get the rights to the jazz standard "Fly Me to the Moon." For longtime fans, it's a sad absence, but, heck — at least it's possible to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion and then hop over to YouTube to listen to "Fly Me to the Moon."