The early episodes were a little too typical of the mecha genre for my tastes, but when they introduced Asuka in episode 8, I think the anime really came into its own, plot-wise. The animation is clear and crisp, and a new sheen of professionalism really gave the anime a big boost. Hideaki Anno’s been compared to Osamu Tezuka, but I think Anno has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor.
In episode 16, the anime takes a completely serious turn, replacing what normally would have been fanservice with scenes of emotional trauma. I think the undisputed masterpiece of the series is episode 26, an episode so confusing, most people probably don’t watch it. But they should, because it’s not just one possible conclusion to the anime, it’s also a personal statement about Anno’s own depression!