The opening of the first episodes cuts right to the chase, as we open on a black screen with white text simply saying “the Year is 2015.” It then jump cuts to the devastated and flooded remains of a city. Military tanks line up on the shoreline, while helicopters circle above. In the distance, something is seen emerging from the water, but the scene cuts away before we can get a good glimpse of it.
In the city itself, there is no activity to be found save one car driving through the empty streets. Inside, a woman complains about the lousy timing of whatever is occurring, while the “camera” focuses on a picture near her lap, which shows a young school boy.
It is here that we are introduced to said boy, our protagonist, 14 year old Shinji Ikari. Shinji waits by a pay phone with his bag of luggage, learning from the automated voice on the other end that a state of emergency has been declared. As Shinji contemplates what to do, his world is literally shaken due to the footsteps of the giant monster lumbering into the city, hotly pursued by military jets.
This is Shinji’s (and our) introduction to one of the main antagonistic factions of the series: the Angels. The Angels are a race of mysterious, eldritch abominations who are attacking the human race for unknown reasons. If you’re expecting some light to be shed on those reasons, well, you may be half disappointed. Everything surrounding the Angels remains mostly vague, as befitting a race of god-like beings so far beyond our ability to conceive. There are several clues hidden throughout the series as to their true origins and agenda, but none of it is explicitly spelled out. Some viewers may find this dissatisfying, but I find that it makes the Angels much more intriguing.
Although it isn’t revealed yet in this episode, this particular Angel is classified as the 3rd Angel, codenamed “Sachiel.” Each of the Angels are given names from the actual Bible, or related academic sources. The Biblical Sachiel was an angel of the Cherubim order, said to govern over water. The latter aspect is alluded to when we first see this creature swimming through the flooded ruins of old Tokyo. If you look closely enough, you can even see that it has some amphibious and fish like features, like these gills:
Anyway, the Japanese military attempts their standard “shoot at the giant thing until it goes away” tactic that has never worked in the history of ever. Meanwhile, Shinji gets picked up by the woman that we saw driving earlier. This is Captain Misato Katsuragi, and she is perhaps the second lead character in the series, and my second favorite (we’ll be getting to my #1 a little further down the line). She was supposed to pick Shinji up earlier, but was delayed due to the state of emergency. She drives him out of the city as the JSDAF drops a weapon called an N^2 Mine (think a nuclear warhead without any radioactive fallout) on poor Sachiel, which completely wipes out the rest of the city. Unfortunately for the army (but fortunately for us!) the Angel sustains very minor damage, which it deals with in a rather creepy fashion.
While they are driving to their destination, Shinji and the audience are provided a chance to catch their breaths while Misato provides a little exposition. This is a standard trait of a lot of Anno’s works, as well as Studio Gainax in general. The audience is often dropped in the middle of a fast paced story, and expected to pay attention to visual cues and stray bits of dialogue that will catch them up to speed. Usually, background is shared a few episodes later; episode 7 in this case.
With this scene, we learn that Shinji’s father, Gendo Ikari, is the leader of a clandestine organization called NERV, sanctioned by the U.N to defeat the Angel invasion. Shinji is estranged from his father for as yet unknown reasons, but he jumped when his father contacted him to come to meet him. Shinji has been living with a teacher (an old friend of Gendo’s) for the past few years.
Right away, we should be able to tell that Shinji isn’t the typical action series protagonist. He is shy, soft spoken, and indecisive. Misato herself even comments on this, saying that “for a boy,” he’s very withdrawn. The fact that he withdraws into himself when she teases him is also a telling sign. Misato herself sheds some information on herself as well: she didn’t exactly get along with her father either.
As Shinji and Misato arrive at NERV Headquarters (a building within a massive underground cavern located beneath the city) we are introduced to another important support character, Dr. Ritsuko Akagi, Chief Scientist of “Project E.” Don’t get used to the fanservice of Ritsuko in a bathing suit, because we don’t get much more of it after this.
Right away, Ritsuko seems like the polar opposite of Misato. Misato seems child-like and unprofessional, while Ritsuko is self assured and analytical. We will learn shortly that these masks they wear hide the whole truth. She brings Shinji to a section called the “UmbilicalBridge,” where Shinji meets the real star of this little show: Evangelion Test Type Model Unit-01.
Realizing that this is what is father has been working on, Shinji is immediately greeted by his father, who coldly tells him to pilot the Eva and battle the Angel. Both terrified and disappointed that his father only wanted him as a tool, Shinji refuses. Misato attempts to find another way, but when Ritsuko informs her that they have no other options, Misato does a 180: she coldly tells Shinji to get inside. Here we get our first glimpse of Misato in “work mode.” She is carefree and outgoing when off the job, but she is head of the Tactical and Combat section for a reason. She is willing to do whatever it takes to prevent the Angels from destroying what’s left of humanity, even use child soldiers such as Shinji.
When Shinji still won’t budge, Gendo summons Rei Ayanami, another child Shinji’s age who has been has been in an Evangelion before. Just by looking at her, you can tell that it wasn’t a pleasant experience, and another attempt at piloting would most likely kill her.
It is here that we see one of Shinji’s more positive traits come to bear. He sees this girl is suffering, and agrees to pilot in her place. He doesn’t even know Rei at this point, but he steels himself by saying “I mustn’t run away” over and over again. This line becomes Shinji’s recurring mantra over the course of the series, and proves that while Shinji isn’t a badass action hero, he isn’t completely a coward either.
After a long, detailed scene depicting Shinji getting inside Eva-01’s cockpit, Eva-01 is launched to the surface, where the Angel is waiting. It is here that we reach out first cliffhanger, leaving us wondering if the (understandably) terrified Shinji is going to pull through this alive.
Since this is the first episode, the answer is “DUH.” But as you’ll see, Shinji’s inevitable victory isn’t as predictable as we are lead to believe.