Of course, NGE is so complicated (on a number of different levels) that the one sentence summary does not do it any kind of justice. NGE was originally a 26 episode television series which started off exactly as described above and then became progressively weirder, and in fact the series arguably didn't end with the last two episodes, which are introspective journeys into the minds of the characters rather than a typical conclusion. Apparently, the fans were so upset with this not-quite-an-ending that Gainax, the animation studio responsible for NGE, felt compelled to try again. Thus came the NGE movies: the first a summary of the series, and the second a bit more summary and a revision of episodes 25 and 26. The movie's ending is arguably no less bizarre than the series', and only might make more sense, depending on your perspective. Either way, NGE does not conclude so much as just stop. And it's this reason that a friend of MattBrubeck and AndrewSchoonmaker has this brief rant about how it's Hideaki Anno's (the director of NGE) massive practical joke on the entire Nation of Japan.
NGE is a curious series from an anime perspective as well. It combined elements of the GiantMechaAreCool? genre with elements of shojo (girls') anime (little things like, say, character development), along with a great deal of gratuitous and misinterpreted Judeo-Christian symbolism. It was extremely popular, except for the aforementioned difficulties with the ending, had numerous imitators, and influenced great swathes of post-NGE anime.
NGE's plot is, as already noted, turgid and confused, and poorly explained to boot. No matter how much is revealed in the series and movies, there are still a huge number of pieces which are not explained. The misuse (at least from a Western perspective) of religious symbolism does not help, either. Despite this, the series works, and the reason is that NGE is really more about the characters and their interactions than the plot (this is the genesis of some fans' complaints about the second movie, which they felt distorted the characters from the way they were presented in the series).
The main character is Shinji Ikari, one of the fourteen-year-old pilots. Shinji's most salient characteristic is that he has no spine and never really develops one; if he had one, the whole series would probably have been radically different (see below or the NeonExodusEvangelion node). Shinji is really a nice guy who gets caught up in events which escalate far beyond his abilities to cope with them, but he has some serious psychological problems relating to his discomfort with human contact. (not entirely his fault...)
The other pilots are Rei Ayanami, a girl who barely seems human ("as many facial expressions as your average statue, and less emotional range," or somesuch) for reasons which are explained later on in the series, and Asuka Soryu-Langley, who is arrogant ("I will not kiss to pass time. I will not kiss to pass time. I will not...") and bitchy (see the Rammstein fan video :-) but still does not deserve the treatment she receives later in the series. I won't ever forgive Anno for what he did to Asuka--CurtisVinson.
Misato Katsuragi is the military officer in charge of the Evangelions (the mecha) while also serving as a "den-mother" to the pilots. Ritsuko Akagi is the head scientist of NERV, the pseudo-military/governmental/private corporation building and running the Evangelions. Gendo Ikari, Shinji's father, is NERV's overall director. He's also a card-carrying bastard who would trump Rei for sheer emotionlessness if he didn't give the impression that he actively enjoys destroying everyone around him. Ryoji Kaji knew both Ritsuko and Misato when they were in school, a few years back, and was romantically involved with one or both of them. His sudden appearance, as someone loosely connected to the NERV organization, gives Misato quite a few headaches.
There are quite a few more characters, but most of them play minor or supporting roles, and the others are spoilers.
The title of the opening theme is usually translated as "Cruel Angel's Thesis." The ending theme is "Fly Me To TheMoon", originally by Frank Sinatra and redone in twenty-odd ways for the series. Occasionally, they even get all of the L/R sounds right. ("Fry me to the moon?") ;-)
The abbreviation "AT field" mentioned constantly in the series as the technobabble explanation for why the humans just don't blow away the Angels with nukes is expanded only in the opening song, where we learn it means Absolute Terror field. The AT field is in many ways at the heart of the major theme of the series, for reasons which are probably spoilerish.
The entire plot of the series can properly be summed up using the sentence "What the hell just happened?"
I heard that after finishing all the NGE stuff, Hideaki Anno was institutionalized, and that his new series (obviously he's not institutionalized anymore) is a cutesy romance. --JessicaFisher
I don't know about the institutionalization bit, but I have heard that his next major piece of anime is/was a cutesy romance (I think he's moved on again). From what I've been reading on the net, though, and my own observations of their anime, Gainax in general is weird, so I guess Anno fits right in. Gainax was apparently founded by a bunch of otaku, who (I understand) deviate even more from the mainstream in Japan than they do in U.S., and that sort of explains a lot of their products.--CurtisVinson
Is this "next major piece of anime" KareKano?? I've not seen a lot of it, but I get the distinct impression that while it's outwardly a cutesy romance, it's got the same sort of ... ending problems as NGE has... --AndrewSchoonmaker
Did Gainax do Gunbuster? Is it the most normal thing they've done? (I haven't seen any of it; just been utterly ruined on the plot...)
Yeah, "otaku" actually has positive connotations over here. Over there, the implication is that one is more than slightly insane.--AndrewSchoonmaker
At least, it has positive connotations among the people who know what the word means. I'm sure, if it ever enters general usage, it will acquire the same overtones as "nerd," "geek," or "squid," with maybe a tinge of xenophobia added for flavor.--CurtisVinson
I thought it just meant a permutation of "fanboy" or some such.--AnneMarra
XenoGears is a PlayStation RPG which shares an enormous overlap with NGE in symbolism, genre, and to a much lesser extent characters, but is in other ways entirely different, particularly with regard to plot and theme. The similarities are so great that XenoGears' designers were almost certainly influenced by NGE, but at the same time, it's impossible to say XenoGears is a rip-off because of the deep differences in the way all the same elements are used. Or maybe it would be better to say it's a rip-off of quite a bit more than just NGE... Voltron, anyone?
JustinPava is working on a charector-mapping between XG and NGE. I have it worked out, I just need to transcribe it into text. It is located on the very bottom of the XenoGears page in the massive spoilers section. Do not read unless you have completly finished BOTH Xenogears and NeonGenesisEvangelion - or unless you don't care :->
NeonExodusEvangelion is a FanFic based on NGE which can be described using the same one-sentence summary as NGE itself. However, they begin to diverge from that mold at the same point in completely different directions.
NeonExodusEvangelion also has, beginning in the third season, Bonus Theater. Some of this material will probably be quite amusing to NGE fans even if they haven't read NXE. It's now got its [own page at Eyrie], for easy finding.
The Rammstein video is something put together by Kevin Caldwell, a fan with waay too much time on his hands, for the 1999 AnimeExpo AnimeMusicVideo? contest. It's set to Engel, and, well, it's as easy to D/L it as it is to explain it, at least when you're on campus. A copy may be found [here]. Also note the EVA video set to the StarWars Episode One trailer (odd casting choices) and the SailorMoon? video set to Blue. The others are well put together, but don't work *quite* as well thematically (NB: I have seen neither the Utena movie nor any BattleAthletes?, so I don't really know...)