by Jacob Wingate-Bishop
When Neon Genesis Evangelion hit the screens in the mid-1990s, no one could have predicted the legacy it would go on to receive. Thirty years later, it’s still celebrated as one of the best anime series of all time, paving the way for countless franchises built around colossal mech-suits and probing the depths of the human psyche.
It frequently tops the lists for the pinnacle of its countless, blended genres, and has a global following. It’s only natural, then, that its opening title theme would become just as legendary, no matter what it was, exactly. It could have been some middle-of-the-road, poppy anisong (songs from the anime genre) or Hans Zimmer wannabe. Touching on the show’s themes around religion, motherhood and the consciousness, the opening track was originally going to be a piece of classical music. The producers thought its place in the series would seem ‘unclear’, and thank goodness they did.
Instead, we got ‘A Cruel Angel’s Thesis’, quite possibly the most popular anime opening of all time – and by extension, that of any television programme. Singer Yoko Takahashi’s beautiful introductory bars lead us into a bouncy, pop rock masterpiece, complete with laughably ‘80s guitar riffs and a whole brass section. What begins as an echo from deep within the soul, swells into a whole male choir, bringing home themes of collective unconsciousness and religion with something on the biblical scale.
The lyrics themselves deal with the idea of motherhood – of a mother watching over their child (in the context of the show, this is protagonist Shinji Ikari, who is called upon to save the world from evil angels). That bond follows us through life, and ultimately remains the root of all things – a child’s connection to their parent. The opening theme’s content borrows from western philosophy: Hegel, German idealism and motifs prevalent in Christianity.
Okay, okay, I’m getting a bit highbrow. So, the song has multiple layers, so it fits the show’s key themes and builds into a great orchestra of sound. But honestly, most of all? It’s incredibly catchy. That kind of melody woven throughout stays in the brain for weeks. Who cares if you don’t know your Japanese? Vocalist Takahashi once noted that so few pieces of media – whether it’s shows or songs – can cross borders and language barriers. Neon Genesis Evangelion, and it’s defining opener number, do just that. And they likely will for many more decades.
Through sound and vision, the opening titles of Evangelion draw you in, pulling on whatever hype and pre-conceived notions you have of the show before you go in. We see alien symbols, children clad in sci-fi-like bodysuits and strange, unearthly creatures. All the while, we hear a lone woman’s voice, calling out from an almost cheesy pop backdrop. We’re intrigued, we’re entranced, and we want to stick around.
‘A Cruel Angel’s Thesis’ is a fine work of art, as a song, as poetry, and as the opening for what is possibly the best animated work of all time. It does all it needs to and more, doing its part to keep the Evangelion name burning bright year upon year.
If you haven’t seen the Neon Genesis Evangelion series – or are simply curious to listen to ‘A Cruel Angel’s Thesis’ – you can listen here: