A large part of what’s kept Neon Genesis Evangelion so relevant and rewatchable over the years is the masterful cinematography which Hideaki Anno and his team at studio Gainax brought to the show’s production. Every episode is inundated with iconic imagery which does as much to tell the story as the dialog does. Today, we’ll be looking at ten excellent cuts from the first episode.
- The line of tanks on the shore
Evangelion opens on some interesting post-apocalyptic imagery which almost underplays the darkness of its setting. A city long submerged underwater, with a gigantic monster swimming through it, followed by images of tanks lining the shore, all are brightly lit on a beautiful day with the sound of cicadas in the background, and a seagull landing on one of the guns. This all gives the impression that some great cataclysmic event has happened in this world’s past, but that to some extent, it’s recovered enough for life to persevere; and that this life is prepared to fight against whatever future dangers may emerge.
The most important thing about this cut is how it establishes right away that the military is expecting this monster’s arrival. As the episode goes on, we’ll see the military exhausting all of their prepared methods for dealing with this alien threat to no avail; but from the beginning, we have the sense that humanity was ready for an attack. This shot also exists as an homage to old giant monster films, which usually established the strength of the monster by having legions of tanks ineffectively attempting to take it down.
- Shinji Ikari in the phone booth
After several shots of an empty city on lockdown, the first signs of life that we see are brief glimpses of Misato’s hands and legs, followed by a photo of Shinji, which transitions into this cut of Shinji at the payphone. This shot does an almost ridiculous job of making sure we know Shinji is the main character, literally putting a border around the frame full of lines pointing directly at him. It’s funny, too, because some of those lines would imply that the top of the phone booth’s side panels are slanted inwards, which doesn’t seem to be the case when we actually see the booth from the side. Regardless of this inconsistency, I think this was a brilliant way of putting a frame around the main character without breaking immersion, by utilizing an object which existed naturally in the setting.
- Military dudes out of frame
After a couple of very brief, non-descriptive establishing shots within NERV headquarters, we are introduced to a trio of military personnel giving commands to their troops as they attempt to fight against the angel. This cramped, claustrophobic shot immediately conveys the tension in the air, which is taken to an almost comical level when one of the men snaps a pencil in half. What’s cool about this shot, is how it deliberately shows us very little of these men’s faces, subtly cluing us in that these guys are not important. For all we know, these are just interchangeable military dudes, whereas the guys from NERV are obviously more distinctive in their silent, unique poses and clothing. Later on, other, similar shots do allow us to see some faces, along with an ashtray overflowing with cigarettes to reinforce the level of stress in the room. These shots also lead well into the next one.
- Gendo’s glasses getting knocked out by the shockwave
After the military dudes drop an N2 mine on the angel and briefly think that they’ve destroyed it, they take a braggadocious tone towards Gendo, telling him that he won’t be needed. This is where we feel a clear divide between the NERV and military people, if not an outright sense of competition. The shockwave crashes the monitors in Gendo’s glasses, as if to suggest that the N2 mine’s supposed success has stopped him dead in his tracks and cut off the thing which, until now, has made him look powerful and in control. Later on, once NERV takes back control of the situation and one of their satellites gets destroyed, we see Gendo’s glasses go out for a moment, only to come back on when switching to the next camera–as if to suggest that Gendo and NERV always have a backup plan ready.
- Gendo’s letter to Shinji
While Gendo referring to Shinji as a spare pilot, and Shinji stating that his father only calls him when he needs something, are both strong indicators of Gendo’s character, his letter to Shinji is perhaps the most impactful (even if it’s only on-screen for about a second). It appears to be a file with Shinji Ikari’s name on it, which has had all of its information struck out, and the word “COME” scrawled on it in marker, followed by the smaller, “thanks.” It seems likely that the thanks was added later by someone like Fuyutsuki before the letter was sent to Shinji.
The fact that all of the information is stricken out not only indicates the secrecy of Gendo’s operation, but also his lack of trust in and general respect for his son. The letter has also been torn into pieces and then taped back together, which most likely was the result of Shinji reacting violently at first to his father’s cold-blooded summons, but then later thinking that his father might really need him for something, and deciding to go and check it out. This one letter tells us everything we need to know about their relationship, which will only be reinforced in the next shot.
- Gendo looking down on Shinji
This is probably the most iconic shot in the episode, as it confirms everything we’ve been lead to suspect about Gendo Ikari. His first meeting with his son in years has him lording from on high and behind a glass panel over his son; asking him to do the impossible without even the willingness to engage him on a personal level. Already, Gendo seems like a dominating, fearsome character, while Shinji is as helpless and disconnected from Gendo’s world as he could possibly be.
- Framing Misato and Ritsuko on either side of Shinji
This continues throughout the scene, but there’s an interesting dynamic with the way that Misato and Ritsuko are framed on either side of Shinji on the walkway. At first, we have Misato on one side being sympathetic for Shinji and aghast at the situation, wheres Ritsuko represents the direct pressure of Gendo’s plan on the other. As the scene goes on, Misato ends up taking Ritsuko’s side, leaving Shinji literally, physically trapped. Everywhere he turns is someone pressuring him to get into the robot; so when he refuses, he does it standing right in the middle, unable to run away.
- Evangelion as a fierce protector
Eva Unit 01 is one of the scariest, most fearsome-looking giant robots in anime history, and immediately gives off a hostile impression in spite of its colorful paintwork. However, when the Eva springs to life to protect Shinji, that hostility takes on a certain character. Rather than being a bloodthirsty beast, the Eva looks like a steely-eyed mother protecting its child–which will prove more appropriate than anyone could’ve anticipated by the end of the series. This act of protection is the first nice thing that anyone has done for Shinji until this point, and may be what inspires him to pay it forward after the next iconic image.
- Shinji with blood on his hands
This one is pretty blatant with its symbolism, but no less effective. After seeing Rei in critical condition and recognizing that she is in terrible pain and in no position to fight, Shinji realizes that he literally has her blood on his hands. If he doesn’t pilot the robot, then she is going to suffer more and possibly die, which he wouldn’t be able to handle on his concience. Thus, just as the Eva has protected him, he decides to try and protect Rei.
- Gendo’s smile
Every scene in this episode either subtly or directly informs us that the odds of victory against this angel are astronomically low. Besides the fact that the world has already been irreparably damaged, that the cities have been abandoned in the name of escape, and that the military have exhausted all of their capabilities; we have Ritsuko telling Misato that there’s about a one in a million chance of the Evangelion even activating. She does remark, however, that the odds are not zero. This brazen confidence is one of NERV’s biggest strengths, and it shines through in the moment that Gendo smiles after being asked if he thinks this plan will work. Of course it will–it has to. This is the last hope that humanity has, and to believe anything else would be to accept defeat. Here, Gendo’s madness and cruelty are almost justified by his confidence. This is the smile of a man who knows that he’s about to prove to everyone that humanity still has a chance.
Those were ten of the most killer cuts from the first episode of Evangelion, but what were some of your favorites? Let me know in the comments below, and if you enjoyed this video, be sure and share it around. If you want to help me to make more videos like this, then support my content via patreon or paypal; and if you find yourself bored for like half an hour every day, then check out my gaming channel. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you in the next one.