Watching Evangelion like its 1999

📅 Posted 2023-02-05

I’m having a bit of a nostalgia moment. So warning, rose-tinted glasses may be in use today.

Despite there being a lovely high quality version of Neon Genesis: Evangelion with a fresh (and I’m told, more accurate) dub available on Netflix, I’m going old school.

My usual readers won’t be surprised at this, for I am a fan/collector/tragic of the MiniDisc, amongst many other ye olde world tech charms like retro gaming consoles.

Recently I borrowed a VCR. Yes, that impossible-to-program device that every parent hoped their little ones would avoid filling with bark and anything else that would ‘post’ nicely into the front spring-loaded door.

I also have a small collection of VHS tapes which totally don’t have TV programs recorded on them from broadcast TV in the 90’s. The best part of course is the old ads! Man, they are so hilariously dated. Something about the Intel Pentium III making the internet more exciting? Anyways…

We were always a VHS family, but I guess others may have dabbled in Betamax. Knowing what I know now, I would probably have fallen into the Beta ecosysystem. Largely same, same.

One of the VHS tapes, is of course, Evangelion. Or more correctly 2 tapes.

Originally put to air in Australia on SBS on 2nd January, 1999, I was immediately hooked on Evangelion despite Shinji having the most annoying boy voice on TV. I had to save a copy of the show! But recording one episode a week (possibly two each week, the 90s SBS voiceover guy proudly announces to stick around for the next episode coming right up every week - 13 recording sessions was definitely much easier to organise my life around compared to 26!). It certainly wasn’t the first ‘anime’ that piqued my interest, but it’s definitely one of the most enduring shows that I readily enjoy watching today.

This makes me ponder what was the first? But that could be a topic for another blog.

I remembering having to start the VCR at the right time every week - I didn’t trust the timer (or the power which had a habit of going out in our area at the slightest drop of rain) - and thank goodness SBS didn’t do ads in the middle of programs (like they do now) so you can get a clean cut of each episode.

In the end, 26 episodes later, I only missed about 10 minutes of one episode - we were rushing home from visiting my grandmother in Epping and didn’t quite make it in time!

I’m still impressed at my dedication back in the day.

So how does it look, after all these years?

Playing the old tapes - apart from being impressed they still work fine more than 20 years later - the audio quality is pretty good for all things considered. Might even be in stereo, recorded with a ‘Hi-Fi’ VCR. The video quality… not so good. I’m playing the tapes on a CRT for maximum retro feels, but also because it definitely makes the image look better in real life compared to a modern LCD. These have been recorded on LP (Long Play) of course, because I couldn’t exactly afford many tapes back in ‘99. So that makes the video quality worse than it could have been in regular standard play.

Huge pangs of nostalgia for me as I watch the show - I do remember watching the entire series a couple of times and taking the 2 tape set to a friend’s house to watch it during a sleep-over.

Some observations compared to consuming modern media:

  • You have to rewind the tape. Ha, yes, you knew this already, but does mean waiting a little while if the tapes weren’t rewound to begin with. I had forgotten how long that took for a 3 hour tape!
  • Nobody is tracking my every move on the VCR, what I’m playing, when, where I am, etc. And this this decidedly refreshing. Privacy for the win! Although I am writing about it here, for the whole world to read. Ahem.
  • The tape remembers where you left off. Ha! Yes, I know this is again obvious, but a neat trick. I can resume exactly where I stopped the tape so easily without any effort on my part or the company who produced the VCR etc.
  • Apart from the rewinding, the watching experience starts immediately. There is no loading, no logging in or forgetting your password, buffering, it’s just switch on and hit play. Amazing how much slow modern media is in comparison and how many steps are required to get it going.
  • I’ll mention it again, but yes, the video quality is woeful at best. Actually, I’m a little glad I’m watching Evalgelion which is an animation, which is a lot more forgiving. I also tried playing some old episodes of The Jamie Foxx Show and apart from random tracking issues, the show was barely watchable due to the poor video quality.
  • A 3 hour tape can record 6 hours of content if you use Long Play (which, looking back, should have been criminal due to the loss in quality), which is a shed load of content to have on one tape. Amusingly you could forgo the video part and just record audio onto a VHS tape, which would be a convenient way to capture a long piece of audio. Better quality than a regular cassette, by my ears. Maybe the sophisticated tracking setup helps a lot with this?
  • It took a long time for content to hit our shores. For Evangelion, we’re talking about more than 3 years (Oct 1995 in Japan to Jan 1999 in Australia). That would be mental in the modern streaming world.
  • Hitting the H/V delay button on my TV reveals some Teletext encoded data in the vertical blanking intervals but I don’t have a decoder on hand… I think. It would be fascinating to decipher what data lays hidden in all those recorded tapes after all these years. Perhaps I can put the analogue tuner in my LCD TV to use?

If this kind of retro technology babble interests you, I can wholeheartedly recommend Technology Connections on YouTube; Alec does a great job at explaining how everything works in a really interesting way.

So, I got to the end of the series, having watched the whole thing on old long play VHS tapes and … it was just fine. I can see how we survived on this back in the day. It was quite acceptable. Each day I was really looking forward to the next episode, which was cued up and ready to play at the click of a switch, just so easy. I have seen it all before of course, but because the last few eps are so damn bonkers, it’s worth a few re-watches to try and work out what is going on. And then there’s always good explainers on YouTube, too…

I was also following along with a companion podcast called NERVous Wrecks, which was a lot of fun and meant the episodes really sank in.

I haven’t actually watched all of the Evangelion movies that followed the original series yet, so they are definitely up next! That will have to be on a regular streaming service (seems to be split across a few different providers right now in Australia) as I don’t have a copy on VHS for them :)

PS Happy new year. Wait, it’s February already. How did that happen?

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