An Understanding of Why 'Evangelion' Is So Heavily Despised
After reading Rachel Lefler's article titled "Character Discussion: Shinji Ikari," I think I've concluded my assessment on why Evangelion is disliked not just by anime fans but by geeks and regular people alike. And it ain't hard to see why as people generally indulge in fiction as a means to escape reality for 30 minutes to an hour, not be reminded of it. Though that's not the only issue people have; there is also the religious imagery and plot structure. I'll be sure to break down each issue as best I can.
Before we begin dealing with the detractions of the plot, let's go over it first. So in the beginning, a race of aliens create life throughout the universe. Adam has white eggs and Lilith's eggs were black. These seeds were planted on various planets as Adam's eggs spawned alien life and Lilith's eggs spawned human or humanoid and animal life. Earth accidentally wound up with both eggs, resulting in the first impact. This caused the angels born of Adam to lie dormant. That was until Gendo Ikari, looking to experiment with Adam, journeyed to the South Pole after learning of his existence. He bonded Adam's DNA with human DNA, which caused the second impact that wrecked the Earth and wiped out half of the human population. This also resulted in Adam being transformed into an embryo and the angels being born along with Kowaru, who has Adam's soul. Three years after this, Gendo creates the EVA Units from Adam's DNA, and EVA unit 1 from Lilith's DNA. The following year, Yui Ikari bonded with EVA Unit 1 as eternal proof of humanity's existence. This causes a grieving Gendo to establish the Human Instrumentality Project. This is a method to bind all of humanity together as one being. Gendo also creates Rei Ayanami from the DNA of Yui and Lilith. This starts the main plot, which of course becomes a one-sided war. The angels seek to eradicate Lilith to wipe out all human life, while Gendo and his partners at the organization of SEELE seek to create the perfect scenario that will launch the Human Instrumentality Project.
In short, Shinji, Asuka, and Rei fight the angels thinking that they're saving the world, when in reality they're pawns in uniting all life on Earth. This eventually results in Rei, who has Lilith's soul, bonding with Adam and Lilith's bodies, becoming a God-like being and uniting humanity into one as Gendo and SEELE had planned. However, there's a flaw in this process. Rei's decision to reunite with Lilith has her rejecting Gendo's plan to unite her with Adam. He had hopes to bring Yui back. Because Rei had Yui's DNA, it would've worked, right? Well, given what caused the second impact, I doubt it would've, but I digress. Rei's new form allowed Shinji to choose humanity's fate. He decides to allow humanity to exist as individuals, thus ending the story.
Why People Hate EVA
Now did that summary confuse you? Well that's one of the main reasons why people hate Evangelion. That and the confusing premise that makes it hard to follow. I feel the problem is that a lot of people like simple narratives whereas Evangelion has layers of depth in its premise, character interactions, exposition, and everything that occurs in each episode. And this makes it confusing and hard to follow. Well, that and the slow pacing that causes some people to lose interest. Now for me, the series isn't hard to follow, even when I first saw it as a teenager. I thought it had a really slow pace as a teenager, and I still do as an adult. But hard to follow? No, not really. Why? Because I focused on what was going on in what I saw in each episode.
But following what goes on in each episode would be easier if the characters were likable on a surface level. This is not the case with Evangelion. What sticks out to viewers are the characters' mental and personality disorders. Here are the flaws that stick out; Shinji is a whiny little git, Asuka is a snobby and snarky brat, Misato is a sex-hungry bimbo, and Rei is blander that wheat. Despite these common interpretations, Shinji develops as a character through his interactions with Asuka, Misato, Rei, etc. This is also a problem for two reasons.
The first is that people generally enjoy characters they can either relate to or empathize with. With all of their mental and personality issues, it's nearly impossible to get invested in anything these characters are going through in the story.
This leads to the second reason. People who enjoy fiction typically do so as a form of escape. And this dysfunctional cast of characters doesn't allow that. Some viewers have to sit and watch their own issues beings portrayed or the qualms of someone they know. Aside from that, there is the religious symbolism in the show that makes some people label the series as pretentious.
Another reason this series gets hate is that a lot shows are heavy on exposition. That is to say that they often tell the audience what's going on. Evangelion shows its narrative visually. As a result, a lot people don't get the exposition on Shinji's growth as a character. They miss how he grows and becomes more comfortable with his colleagues and friends because there's no one in the background muttering what's going on in every single scene.
But by focusing on the aesthetics of mental issues and religious symbolism, detractors miss the fact that these characters are fleshed out in showing a range of emotions and do develop as characters while interacting with each other.
What is arguably the biggest bone of contention with detractors is the main protagonist, Shinji Ikari.
The Hatred for Shinji Ikari
I've heard how Shinji is a whiny emo b*tch. And I get it, he does whine occasionally, but only for roughly four to six episodes out of the 26 total. From what I've gathered, it seems to be the extent to which he whines that's the problem. It's roughly one-fifth of the series.
While Shinji is a flawed character, he does not come across as the similarly flawed characters that are seen in the Marvel universe or other anime such as Naruto, Hunter X Hunter, or My Hero Academia. In those stories, the heroes keep pushing forward despite their flaws to show their resolve. Shinji does this too, but there's a key difference in execution. Take Spider-Man for example. Peter Parker has guilt issues and an inferiority complex, but he is able to mask that as Spider-Man. While incognito, he gets to exhibit a strong sense of confidence. Meanwhile, Shinji only exhibits confidence to show Asuka that he can be a man. He also develops a sense of protectiveness because of his developing relationships with Asuka, Rei, Misato, and his classmates. However, unlike Gon from Hunter X Hunter, Izuku Midoriya from My Hero Academia, or the average Marvel superhero who wears a confident expression or a defiant glare, Shinji tends to wear uncertainty on his face before hesitantly charging into battle. His development is overlooked by the fact that he's a whiner, soft spoken, and meek. Going back to an earlier point, his development is shown on screen as he interacts with others. It isn't told through dialogue exposition, which makes it impossible for the average viewer to see his growth. Shinji also behaves the way he does so he can be loved by those around him. This makes his character off-putting, which allows his development to be easily dismissed.
The fact of the matter is that Shinji is a wimp that matures naturally like any real teenager would. That's not something a lot of people want to see in fiction. There are also some detractors who are adults who judge him as he should be and not as he is.
In conclusion, Evangelion isn't for everyone and the detractors have every right to their subjective opinion. This is a series that mentally challenges the viewer, which is how it earned its nerdy, intellectually-stimulated cult following. And for most people seeking escapist fantasies from the fiction they enjoy, Evangelion isn't for them. I'm not saying that these people are stupid. After all, sometimes after a hard day at my job, I'd like to come home and just enjoy something simple and fun like Dragon Ball, Naruto, or One Piece. But Evangelion doesn't just fascinate me on an intellectual level, it does so on a narrative level as well.
To an extent, I can relate to Shinji, Misato, and Asuka's hedgehog's dilemma. I can relate to Asuka's desire to be seen as an independent person (which is why she comes off as such a b*tch) and I can relate to Shinji's beta, yes-man mentality. But not everyone can relate to these traits and those that can don't like seeing them laid out so bare in a series while not hiding behind the typical gallant bravado of most heroes in fiction.
So people are welcome to not like Evangelion, especially since we all have certain stories that we don't like.