With a franchise that has spawned movies, CDs, books, manga, merchandise, and other extensions of fandom, Evangelion is a cultural economic force that is unrivaled, considering the controversial content within it. Evangelion is a mecha (giant robots controlled by human pilots) animé that focuses on the characters of Shinji, Rei, Asuka, and a long list of other supporting characters. These characters have become the source of fandom as well, generating heavy interest as cultural icons who have a devoted following. Here we’ll explore how the rise of religion in Japan in parallel with the economic downturn of the 1990s, the increasingly apparent otaku culture, and the imagery and themes of the original source material have turned Neon Genesis Evangelion into a mythological entity that is worshipped by a culture that follows it with religious-like fervor.
While I was in Japan, I was honestly surprised at how popular Evangelion still seems to be. Not only were there posters for the new movie all over the place, but there were tons of toys to be found and I even saw a heavy Evangelion influence on a pachinko parlor or two. What’s more, I talked with several college students — all of whom were quite a bit younger than me — who were big fans.
Here in the States, that’d be like running into a college freshman who was a huge fan of the original Transformers cartoon, if said cartoon were an ultra-violent pastiche of apocalypse, sexual coming of age, psychoanalysis, and Christian and Kabbalistic imagery.
While it’s difficult to not think of Evangelion as Gainax’s cash cow, what with their continued milking of the franchise, there’s also no denying that the series still remains a major cultural force in Japan, and not just within otaku circles.