Tag: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Sword Art vs. Evangelion

Sword Art vs. Evangelion


Although the title says this post is about Sword Art Online and Neon Genesis Evangelion, and I will be talking about each of these series, the real topic of this post is “Popular vs. Good Anime.” I simply felt that title would have been a bit to vague.

SAO is my example of a popular anime that isn’t exactly good, while NGE is my example of a good anime that isn’t as popular as one might expect. So why aren’t the highest rated anime also the most popular (or vice versa)?

While there are many cases of good anime also being popular, there are just as many cases of the opposite being true as well. In fact, if we just look at the top five highest rated and top five most popular anime on MAL, only FMA: Brotherhood makes both lists.

Popular Anime

SAO is the third most popular anime according to MAL, while NGE is #48 on the list. What this means is more MAL users have watched SAO than NGE, the numbers are roughly 923,000 and 366,000 respectively.

While their positions on the list may not be too far off, we can see that the number of viewers is vastly different. So why is SAO so much more popular if it’s considered to be worse?

First, let’s take a look at what NGE has going against it. For one, it was made back in 1995 and so many new anime fans may be turned off from the series simply due to its age. There’s generally a stigma against old series because the idea is that old series don’t hold up over time.

The second issue NGE has going against it is that there is currently no legal way to stream it in the United States (and possibly elsewhere outside of Japan). The inability to be legally streamed is a huge hurdle for any series to overcome.

But just because NGE has things holding it back from becoming one of the top few most popular anime, that doesn’t explain how SAO has risen so high up despite being worse as a whole. In fact, there are many better anime which are new and legally available, but can’t compete with SAO.

Content is key. SAO is an anime about virtual reality video games which aired at a time when these sorts of games were becoming possible in the real world.

That alone would make it popular simply because it’s relevant, but gaming in general is also an extremely popular pastime and thus makes SAO easily accessible for many people who are new to anime. We don’t have giant robots, and so the plot of NGE simply doesn’t seem as relevant on the surface.

SAO is an anime which takes advantage of the “beginner” anime market extremely well. By this I mean that it attracts those who aren’t already in the anime community, and brings them in. Because of this, its rating simply isn’t as important as it is for other series.

Kirito and Asuna from the anime Sword Art Online
Kirito and Asuna (Sword Art Online)

Good Anime

While ratings may not be very important for anime targeted towards new anime viewers, that isn’t the case for older anime, or those targeted towards the community at large. NGE is by no means the highest rated anime on MAL, but it is significantly higher rated than SAO.

NGE is ranked in position #233 with a score of 8.32, while SAO is ranked in position #1,260 with a score of 7.64. I know, 8.32 and 7.64 don’t look like they’re that far apart, but keep in mind that most ratings on MAL generally fall between 6.00 and 9.00 (only 16 anime broke the 9.00 rating).

While as far as popularity was concerned, NGE had things going against it separate from the things SAO had going for it, that isn’t the case when it comes to ratings. Essentially, anything NGE does well, SAO does poorly, which is why they’re ratings are so different.

You can look at the general plot, character development, internal consistency, use of taboo topics, basically everything that matters story wise, and NGE will come out on top. SAO simply has access to more modern animation technology, but even the best looking series are bad if they’re written poorly (SAO is not the best looking series by any means).

To illustrate this, I’ll simply use the example of the female leads for each series.

In SAO Asuna starts off as a strong female character, something we need more of in anime. This is great, except by the second half of season one she’s been downgraded to your standard “damsel in distress”, and then is further downgraded by becoming a cheap form of sex appeal with a rape scene or two thrown in to “show how helpless she now is.”

I think it’s fair to say this isn’t how to write a good character.

Asuka from NGE, on the other hand, similarly spirals downward, but not in the same way. She starts off as an aggressive, volatile character who then becomes even more unstable as her depression and various other mental disorders worsen over time.

However, Asuka’s helplessness isn’t the same as being a “damsel in distress,” but is instead a manifestation of her psychosis. Even when Asuka is relegated to the role of a sexualized object, when she’s (technically not?) sexually assaulted by Shinji, the scene is there to make Shinji (and the viewer) look bad, not Asuka.

It’s differences in the writing and direction of an anime which really separate the good from the bad.

Asuka Langley Souryuu from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion
Asuka Langley Souryuu (Neon Genesis Evangelion)


So what’s more important, highly popular anime or highly rated anime?

In reality, they’re both important and a balanced anime diet should include both types. Popular anime, even those that aren’t the best such as SAO and Death Note, serve two extremely important functions for the community at large.

First, they bring in a very high number of new viewers into the community. Second, they become a shared experience for the community at large. If everyone has seen SAO, then they all have a common reference point when viewing other anime, and they have something in common to discuss.

While popular anime are often referenced, highly rated anime are often referenced as well. After all, NGE is probably one of the most referenced anime to exist. So by only watching good anime, or only watching popular anime, you’d be missing out on half of the references.

What may be even more important for highly rated anime, however, is how they influence the anime industry and community in other ways. NGE was so impactful that it caused anime after it, such as Cowboy Bebop, to be censored due to violence.

Speaking of Cowboy Bebop (another series less popular than SAO), this series was probably the single biggest thing to happen to anime in the West. Without Cowboy Bebop, anime might still be a very underground thing in the United States, and yet, SAO is more popular even here.

So, as I mentioned, both highly ranked and highly popular series have their places within the anime community. There are occasionally series which are able to bridge this gap such as FMA: Brotherhood, but really viewers just need to be conscious of both sides.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion anime poster featuring Asuka, Shinji, and Rei
Neon Genesis Evangelion


Over the past three days I finally got around to watching Neon Genesis Evangelion and End of Evangelion (instead of episodes 25 and 26). There’s so much I want to talk about with this series so expect more content about this in the future.

The first thing I want to say about this series is despite it being from 1995, it holds up extremely well. It was also the oldest anime I had seen for a few hours until I watched Akira the same day, so expect a review of that in the next couple days as well.

NGE is widely considered to be one of the most influential anime ever created, as well as one of the most referenced. While I do feel like maybe I understand some visual references to the series, I kind of feel like a lot of other things people call references may just be coincidence.

The first possible visual reference I noticed was that the shoulders of Ainz Ooal Gown from Overlord look just like the core and rib cage of the first Angel we see in NGE. The second is the way Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist leans on his gloved hands on his desk, just like Commander Ikari.

Other than visual references like those, I think a lot of the other “references” people find are possibly just due to genre and medium similarities. I could argue that the titan-shifters from Attack on Titan are references to the Evas, but I feel like they reference the mecha genre as a whole more.

References aside, for anyone who doesn’t know what this series is about, alien life forms known as Angels have descended on Earth and a corporation known as NERV created the Eva series of mechs to fight them. It’s a pretty straightforward sci-fi mecha plot for the most part.

While later on in the series, and especially in End of Evangelion, things get a bit more involved, I think the real important part of the series isn’t so much the story, but the characters.


Shinji Ikari is the protagonist of the series who everyone hates because he’s a coward. However, I felt that his character was kind of refreshing compared to the same male protagonists we seem to get in every anime today.

He’s a 14 year-old kid who just wants his father, the founder of NERV, to be proud of him. When he suddenly finds himself being forced to pilot a giant mech, the Eva Unit 01, he’s afraid and doesn’t want to.

While a lot of people seem to hate Shinji for this, it makes sense to me from his perspective. As viewers, we aren’t really in his situation so we can say we’d get in the mech without any repercussions. For Shinji, however, he’s being asked to go fight against a giant alien and he has no idea what’s going on.

Further, who knows if the mech can even really protect him from the enemy he’s about to fight? We later learn that the Evas can survive essentially anything, even being blown up, but at the time Shinji wasn’t aware of this so his fear makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense to me is Shinji’s continual refusal to accept his new life working as an Eva pilot. For the better part of the series, his life really isn’t so bad. Sure he has to fight aliens, but he’s relatively safe, has friends, and has a new family who seem to care about him.

Before being in the Eva program, he was a loner who wasn’t getting anywhere in life and didn’t really have a family so what is there really for him to complain about?

Rei Ayanami is the first other Eva pilot we meet besides Shinji. Rei is a kuudere character which means she’s the silent, stoic type. At the beginning of the series I brushed her character off as one who I didn’t care about, because in general I don’t care about kuuderes.

However, as the series went on and we saw less of Rei in the middle and more of Asuka, I found myself wanting Rei to come back as a bigger part of the series. Sure, she doesn’t often show emotion, but she does sometimes and she seems to genuinely be a good person unlike someone else.

One thing I did find odd about Rei was her relationship with Commander Ikari. It’s explained more in the later part of the series as well as End of Evangelion, but their relationship is still a bit odd and unsettling.

The final character I’m going to talk about is Asuka Langley Souryuu, the worst girl.

For the first five or so episodes before Asuka was introduced, I knew she would be coming into the series, but I just didn’t know when. At this point, since I didn’t really care about Rei, I was waiting for “best girl” Asuka to show up.

However, once she finally made her entrance into the series, I learned the error of my ways. On the surface, Asuka is the type I usually like in anime; she’s a tsundere with long hair, not a kuudere with short hair like Rei.

However, while Asuka may seem like “best girl” at a glance, she’s actually just a terrible person who nobody would really ever want to be friends with. Even so, towards the middle of the series it does genuinely seem like she and Shinji start to get along before she spirals out of control.

I hate Asuka as a person, but I love her as a character. I’ve mentioned before that my favorite characters in anime tend to be the ones who feel real and who aren’t simply a copy and pasted trope. While Asuka appears to be no more than a trope on the outside, she’s anything but deep down.

She’s a teenager who’s struggling with depression and shows signs of mental instability which just get more extreme as the series progresses. At first Asuka is seen as just an angry teenager, but over time her manic mental disorders come to the forefront.

While I found her mental breakdown to be extremely interesting to watch and a great way to further develop her character, I also loved watching her in the role of the teenager who’s angry at the world, everyone else, but mostly herself.

One scene that stuck out to me in particular is the elevator scene in which we watch Asuka and Rei standing in an elevator in silence for the better part of a minute. For most of this time we’re really just watching a still frame with no dialogue, but I found it to be a powerful scene.

Even though nothing is explicitly being told to us, and nothing is technically happening, we can feel the tension in the air around these two characters. There’s the feeling that at any second all of their pent-up emotions could be explosively released.

At the same time, we learn more about Asuka’s character just by her body language. While Rei is standing normally in the center portion of the elevator, Asuka takes up a leaning position against one of the walls in an attempt to “act cool.”

She doesn’t want to let Rei see that she’s actually emotionally drained and so she puts on a facade. However, despite her best attempts at hiding her emotions, we see that she eventually caves and lashes out at Rei, but she’s really just angry with herself.

Despite her unpleasant personality, Asuka is my favorite character of the series because of her complexity.

Eva Unit 01 from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion
Eva Unit 01

End of Evangelion

Due to falling behind schedule, the final two episodes of NGE are apparently much worse quality than the rest of the series and so a year after the completion of the series, the movie End of Evangelion was released.

End of Evangelion is an alternate ending which is apparently closer to the original ending the series was supposed to have before it fell behind schedule and changes had to be made. However, it’s a very strange ending that has spawned a large amount of fan theories.

The End of Evangelion movie was also more sexualized and violent than the series, but that could in part be due to it not being made for TV broadcast and so they were allowed to make it as they originally envisioned. Either way, it had a slightly different feeling than the series.

The first half of the movie was good and had a lot of action, but it’s really the second half that I have the most to say about. However, before getting to the second half, the movie ends.

That’s right, around 45 minutes into the hour and a half long movie, it says “to be continued” and then plays through an entire credit roll before starting the second half of the movie. It’s like they made two 45 minute short films and stuck them together without editing out the credits in between.

The final 30 minutes or so of the movie are where it gets really weird though. So weird that after watching it, while I followed what happened, I don’t know what I watched. I understand the ending, but I don’t know how to describe it because it’s so different from anything else, ever.

I’m not even sure if I can call it a real ending. It just kind of happens, if that makes any sense whatsoever.

A quick summary of the ending is this: (spoilers incoming) the world ends because all the different warring factions wanted it to end, but for different reasons. Everyone dies and becomes one, but then Shinji decides everyone sucks so he’s going to go back to being alone on Earth.

He then wakes up to find Asuka also back on Earth with him, and nobody else (sounds like hell, being alone with Asuka forever). He then attempts to strangle her, and she touches his face, while expressionless herself; there are a lot of theories about this scene.

The theory I find most compelling is that by strangling her he’s testing to see if he’s back in the real world. If the world he’s in is still the perfect dream world, then Asuka will die without fighting back. If she fights back, he’s back in the real world. However, she does neither and so Shinji doesn’t quite know how to react.


It’s said that everyone needs to watch NGE so they can form an opinion on it and that you’ll either love or hate it. Going in, I was expecting this series to be pretty average, but I ended up liking it much more than I ever expected.

While I know people who aren’t fans of NGE, I really don’t see any reason to dislike it other than the ending of End of Evangelion because up until that point it’s just a great mecha series which explores some dark themes. End of Evangelion is where it got weird.

That said, I gave the series an 8/10 and the movie a 7/10. I really think that if the movie had an ending that had anything to do with the rest of the series it would have been an 8 or possibly even a 9. The military raid on NERV’s headquarters was cool, but it’s overshadowed by the mess that is the ending.

The OP for Neon Genesis Evangelion can be found here.