Banerjee: Neon Genesis Evangelion is ushering a new TV binge era

Netflix’s acquisition of the popular anime from the 90’s exemplifies the changes in what gets watched and how.

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Banerjee: Neon Genesis Evangelion is ushering a new TV binge era

Bloomberg

Bloomberg

Bloomberg

Anna Banerjee, Columnist

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“Neon Genesis Evangelion” first aired more than 20 years ago and had a short run in its initial release. The show — while becoming culturally iconic and influential in the following decades — has not been streaming on any subscription services and buying physical copies was often difficult because of its very limited availability. But last month, Netflix acquired worldwide streaming rights for “Evangelion,” and the show débuted to an entirely new audience.

To people unfamiliar with anime, the impact of “Evangelion” is larger than one would initially suspect. The show not only revolutionized the medium in terms of what it could say but also in how it could say it. The mecha genre, marked by the presence of large robots, is a staple in animation, but “Evangelion” takes a decidedly different approach.

“Evangelion” is a different type of show, featuring psychological trauma and body dysphoria, underpinned by religious and Freudian imagery. The show centers on Shinji Ikari, a 14-year-old boy upon whom the survival of a people depends. Forced to pilot a giant robot and kill the Angels attacking his city, Shinji grapples with the enormous odds stacked against him, mortality, and what it means to do the right thing. It’s certainly not the binge-able anime that Netflix tends to veer toward, and certainly not the type of major acquisition Netflix chooses in most contexts.

Netflix purchasing the show may mean that people are willing to give more esoteric and thoughtful pieces of television, especially in genres that are often not given the same general respect like mecha anime.”

Netflix releasing “Evangelion” is a major change in thematic content in a lot of ways, and it opens up the show to a new type of viewer whom it may not have previously targeted. The hype surrounding the show has leaked onto most major platforms, with publications from Wired to The New Yorker publishing thinkpieces on its cultural ramifications.

What initially cut “Evangelion” short was its budgetary restrictions and thematic constraints in terms of what audiences were willing to watch. Netflix purchasing the show may mean that people are willing to give more esoteric and thoughtful pieces of television, especially in genres that are often not given the same general respect like mecha anime.

People want to see content that makes them think critically about themselves and their environment. “Evangelion” is at its core a story about introspection, based on the paranoia and anxiety we all experience. And for the first time in its entire history, it’s a story that’s not hidden in the lore of animation. It’s something we can all watch, including people who may have put anime or shows similar this to the wayside.

Netflix originals, such as “Stranger Things,” reach a level of cultural significance that makes them impossible to avoid, but they also follow deeply conventional paths in terms of narrative and video presentation. Opening up new types of content exposes viewers to new stories, new narratives, new ideas — all of which we desperately need right now in entertainment.

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