I finally finished writing that big post I’ve been alluding to! And it’s about… anime? Huh? I don’t even like anime!
And head’s up: it’s gonna be a long post, too.
For those that missed it, I did a retrospective series of posts about my history with anime last year. You can read it here if you have absolutely nothing better to do, but the short version is I loved it, I grew to hate it, and now it’s just something else I’ve put behind me.
And even though I still hold my stance of not wanting to get back into that world again, I have fond memories of a few select shows that are still strong enough to warrant a revisit. I’ve been putting it off for a while because, like I’ve said in my retrospective, I really grew to hate too much about anime over the years and didn’t want to spoil my memories with a modern, fresh view that I may have ended up hating.
And so, here we are.
Neon Genesis Evangelion wasn’t the first anime I watched, but it was the first show that really drew me into that world and influenced my tastes for many years. I’ve wanted to rewatch it for years, and I finally did about a month ago. Considering the series takes place in 2015, I felt it was only appropriate to watch it before the year was up. 😡 And thankfully, yes, I still enjoyed it. So much so, that I’m actually talking about anime again on this blog.
Evangelion is about a teenager named Shinji who doesn’t have the world’s greatest self-worth. And before I go on, I’d like to point out that despite being a giant mech show, Evangelion‘s characters suffer from a lot of emotional and psychological issues that become a major focus of the series. In fact, I’d even argue this is a show about those issues with the giant mech stuff being a secondary element. So if you like anime, and you find yourself wanting to skip past the talking in other shows and get straight to the action, then this series probably won’t be your cup of tea.
Anyway, Shinji’s supposed to meet a woman named Misato, who’s going to take him to meet his father Gendo. Shinji and his father don’t have a great relationship. In fact, they don’t even have one. His father abandoned him, leaving an unnamed teacher to take care of Shinji, and the two have had minimal contact since. Gendo wants Shinji to work for his organization, Nerv, by piloting a giant, biomechanical mech called an Evangelion, or Eva for short. Shinji is naturally furious with his father for only calling him when he needed him for something, and Shinji refuses to pilot.
I’m not sure if Shinji was hoping that he and his father would have a warmer conversation that eventually led into Gendo’s invitation, but I always found it a little odd Shinji came at his father’s request to pilot the Eva and he was mad that that’s all he wanted him for. Like, why did he come then? Maybe he wanted an opportunity to yell at his dad. I don’t blame him. His dad will prove time and time again that he’s a cold, cold man.
Eventually Gendo calls in a girl named Rei to pilot the Eva instead. Rei, an extremely quite, pale girl around Shinji’s age, is wheeled past while dressed in several bandages. Apparently she’s had problems piloting this particular Eva, Unit-01 . Conveniently, a giant monster referred to as an Angel is attacking the city. The building rumbles in its wake and Rei falls off her stretcher, clearly exhibiting that she’s already in a lot of pain. Shinji rushes to see if she’s okay, only to find that her wounds have opened up. Shinji repeatedly tells himself that he mustn’t run away from his problems, an issue that we’ll soon see he’s struggled with for some time. He eventually decides to pilot Eva Unit-01 and is prepared for his first fight against an Angel.
Evangelions don’t operate like giant robots from other series. The pilots’ minds are synced up to their Evas and they more or less pilot through thought and nerves. This doesn’t mean they can jump in and do whatever they think of, though. There’s a sync ratio constantly mentioned throughout the series that seems to determine how well a pilot is able to perform, as well as tests to monitor their progress.
This was something I always liked about Evangelion. Even though the characters are fighting giant monsters in giant robots, there are a lot of downtime moments where the pilots run sync and activation tests at Nerv and perform maintenance and repairs on the Evas. Despite its clearly fictional world, Nerv, the Evas, and the characters aren’t these invincible forces to be reckoned with. They all have limits. Sometimes resources will be so limited that they’ll have in improvise, like in a future episode where they use part of an old space shuttle as a heat resistant shield. Despite some of the ridiculous stuff that happens throughout the series, it always felt grounded enough in reality to make it stand out from other giant robot shows.
Anyway, Shinji naturally has no idea how the hell to pilot Eva Unit-01 and ends up awkwardly standing there. The Angel isn’t as sympathetic as Misato, however, and immediately proceeds to fuck up Unit-01. After getting pierced through the skull and having an excessive amount of blood spray from the wound, Unit-01 goes silent before mysteriously reactivating on its own. There’s clearly something more at work here, because Unit-01 is suddenly acting on its own and proceeds to beat the shit out of the Angel. Sensing that it has no chance to win this one-sided fight, the Angel wraps itself around Unit-01 and self-destructs. Unit-01 is damaged, but is able to walk out more or less okay.
Shinji’s more or less the same after the fight as well. Misato invites him to live with her, fulfilling a parent role for Shinji and a means not to live alone for Misato,which is explored more as the series goes on. She enrolls him at a new school, which doesn’t have many students due to the evacuation during the last Angel attack. Among those that are left are Rei, who barely talks to Shinji at all even though they’re now working together; Kensuke, a nerdy guy that’s really into tanks and war stuff; and Toji, who beats Shinji up because his sister was critically injured while Shinji was piloting Unit-01. Toji and Kensuke seems to have been friends for a while, and Kensuke tells Toji that he was being too hard on Shinji because if it wasn’t for him, his sister probably would have died during the Angel attack.
After several weeks of training, Shinji becomes more capable of piloting an Eva just in time for another Angel attack. During the skirmish, Toji and Kensuke sneak out of their evacuation shelter and end up almost being crushed by Unit-01 as it holds off the Angel. Nerv allows the two boys to enter Unit-01 so they won’t get crushed, and it’s here that they see how mentally exhausted and uncomfortable Shinji is while piloting the Eva. Toji feels guilty and makes up with Shinji by letting him punch his face back for before, and the three boys become friends.
Shinji becomes more acquainted with Rei shortly after. He’s asked to deliver her new Nerv I.D. card to her apartment, which is definitely one of the more awkward scenes in the series. When no one answers the door, Shinji lets himself in to find a poorly kept, cold, dark apartment that honestly feels more like a storage unit with a crappy kitchen and bathroom. Rei walks out from the shower, drying herself off with a towel, and after some zany shenanigans they both fall on the floor, with Shinji on top of Rei. They both stare at each other for a while before Rei abruptly asks him to get off. Shinji awkwardly stammers and fumbles with his words explaining how he came to give Rei her new I.D. card while she gets dressed, only to have her leave in the middle of his apology.
This scene was always awkward to watch with other people around when I was a teenager. No one really expected nudity in an animated show and a few people questioned what the hell I was watching. Even among my friends that were into anime, a couple said that this scene was only for fan service (something the “next episode” segments kept promising for the first half of the series, for whatever reason).
But honestly, and I know this might contradict a lot of things I’ve said anime gets me pissed off about, I don’t think this scene is that tactless. I’ve seen a lot of anime during the ten or so years that followed my first viewing of Evangelion. If this were practically any other anime, Rei’s boobs would have been much bigger and much jigglier. She would have crossed her arms over her chest as soon as Shinji saw her, her face would have gone red, and she’d scream something like, “Ahhhhhhh you pervert!” while shaking her head and body back and forth. Zany music would start playing as Shinji’s nose would start bleeding. Shinji would still probably end up touching Rei’s boobs after wacky mishaps ensue, and then she’d probably punch him in the face and send him comedically sailing across the room. Then the scene would awkwardly cut to a shot of them, along with a bunch of other people, all laughing around some food as they ate, with Rei saying something like, “Oh, I see. You just wanted to give me my new I.D.”
This scene was quiet. It did a good job at conveying how awkward the tension between Shinji and Rei was. The only sounds you could hear were the clangs of construction in the background; there was no music. This scene, like many others, also does a good job at showing how difficult Shinji finds talking to other people, especially those he’s had limited contact with. It also does a good job at showing how little Rei cares about herself. In addition to the abysmal living conditions we’re shown, she shows so little concern that someone just entered her home without permission, caught her naked, fell on top of her, and stayed that way while grabbing her breast for a decent amount of time. She only shows minor annoyance just before the incident, when Shinji found his father’s glasses on her table and put them on, and even then, that’s just because he was messing with Gendo’s glasses (Gendo is the only person Rei has any kind of relationship with, but we’ll talk about that later).
I mean at the end of the day you can still view this kind of scene as fan service. Do I think there were other ways this scene could have been shown without a naked 14 year old girl? Yes, definitely. But compared to all the other stupid shit I’ve seen anime pull throughout the years with zero tact and no shame at fetishizing underage schoolgirls, I honestly think this scene was handled pretty well. There was a definite focus on showcasing these two characters’ awkward personalities, and I think that’s why this was one of the more memorable scenes in the show.
All right, enough ranting. A new Angel appears, and it’s one of the more problematic ones throughout the series. It’s basically a giant diamond that floats — yeah, I guess one of Evangelion’s flaws is that some of the Angel designs can come off as a little lazy, but considering the surreal nature the show ends up taking, I don’t think it’s too out of place (although that can be the nostalgia talking). But although it may be simple, it’s A.T. Field (more or less a barrier that Angels and Evas can produce) is extremely resilient, and it has a powerful projectile attack that can be fired from a great distance. Ultimately, nothing can get close enough to damage it while it’s stationed directly above Nerv, drilling a hole to attack it directly (I have no idea what’s supposed to happen when it reaches Terminal Dogma, the part of Nerv the Angels are supposedly trying to reach; it’s just a drill after all).
Shinji and Rei must launch NERV’s first cooperative attack to defeat the Angel. Using a heat-resistant shield salvaged from a space shuttle, Rei must protect Shinji as he charges and aims an experimental weapon to snipe the Angel with. While preparing for this mission, Shinji and Rei converse more than they probably do throughout the entire series. I still wouldn’t call Rei particularly talkative, but these interactions feel more like conversations than their other encounters. When Shinji considers running away again, Rei tells him she can do the mission herself and doesn’t care whether she dies in the process. She eventually reveals to Shinji that the reason she pilots her Eva is because it connects her with all other people. She doesn’t exactly go out of her way to interact with others, but she does slowly talk to more and more people throughout the series (although still limiting how much she says).
When they defeat the Angel, Shinji rushes to Rei’s Eva, desperate to see if she’s okay. His actions mimic Gendo trying to pry a jammed entry plug from a previous scene, and Rei begins to form a connection with Shinji. She even smiles at him — one of the few times we actually see Rei happy. Although they still don’t interact very often throughout the series, when they do we can see this incident has formed some kind of unusual bond between the two.
Shortly after, the final “main” Eva pilot is introduced. Her name is Asuka, and she’s a prodigy from Germany. I don’t exactly know what was going on in Germany in regards to Evangelion production, pilot training, or anything Nerv related, but Asuka can kick some serious ass. When an Angel attacks the naval fleet escorting Asuka and her Eva back to NERV headquarters, she drags Shinji into her Eva and shows off her amazing skills. She leaps from ship to ship as the Angel chases them, and though the Angel eventually drags her underwater, she’s able to force its mouth open as the remaining battleships fire their cannons into its mouth, destroying it in the process.
This introduction to Asuka also shows how different she is from Rei and Shinji. Where Rei is withdrawn, Asuka is outspoken. Where Shinji hesitates, Asuka acts. Where both Rei and Shinji have low self worth, Asuka has pride. In fact, Asuka can be obnoxiously proud. She’s the total opposite from the other pilots, and although she can be annoying, she serves as a refreshing character after the series’ focus on anxiety-ridden teens. That’s not to say Asuka doesn’t have her share of emotional baggage, however. In fact, as the series progresses, we see Asuka isn’t as in control as she makes herself out to be. But for now she brings a lighter tone to the series.
Among Asuka’s escorts is a man named Kaji, who’s bringing his own special package back to Nerv for Gendo himself: the embryo of the first Angel, Adam, who triggered the Second Impact fifteen years ago, essentially wiping half of the earth’s population from the Earth. Kaji also used to date Misato when they were in college, and it turns out they and Ritsuko, Nerv’s top scientist, were all good friends back in the day. Kaji’s actually a double agent that works for Nerv, Nerv’s backing organization Selee, and the Japanese government. Kaji’s real objective is to find the truth about what really happened during the Second Impact, and he leads Misato down this road throughout the series as well. As the series progresses, it’s obvious that destroying the Angels aren’t the only objectives of Nerv and Seele. There’s also something called the Human Instrumentality Project they frequently reference, and the two organizations often butt heads about how to proceed with it.
Things proceed fairly smoothly for a few episodes. The pilots fight a couple of Angels that go down fairly easily. Asuka begins living with Misato and Shinji and form a sort of mock family each of them needs. Asuka and Shinji butt heads, compete with each other, and criticize each other as they become better acquainted. One thing that always seemed off to me was that it seemed like Shinji and Rei were at least on the road to becoming better friends, but she’s kind of pushed to the side when Asuka is introduced. That’s not to say Rei doesn’t interact with the other two pilots, because she does, but there’s more of a focus on Asuka and Shinji than on Rei, at least until later in the series.
Things don’t start heating up again until one of the more bizarre Angels shows up just past the halfway mark in the series. It’s a big, black and white sphere that floats through the city, but when the Evas attack, the Angel disappears and a giant black shadow appears on the ground to swallow anything in its range.
Shinji eventually gets swallowed by the shadow, and one of the first of many psychoanalytical scenes takes place while he’s inside. Honestly, I feel it’s kind of pointless to describe these scenes. They’re abstract and mostly consist of analyzing the character’s thoughts, feelings, and struggles through conversations with themselves and other characters, which I suppose act as people the characters see through their own eyes rather than the people themselves, if that makes any sense. These scenes are something you’re probably better off seeing yourselves, although they may still confuse the first time viewer and if you aren’t into this psychology stuff, you’ll probably end up getting frustrated with the series shortly after.
This is also about the time in the series where things start to get darker. Ritsuko and Misato start disagreeing and placing value on different things; Ritsuko wants to drop a ton of bombs into the Angel to destroy it without rescuing Shinji, for example. Although Rei and Asuka never got along well, Asuka begins to openly criticize Rei for being an emotionless doll favorited by Gendo. Asuka also becomes more temperamental as Kaji and Misato start hooking up again, as Asuka has a huge crush on Kaji.
Anyway, eventually Eva Unit-01 goes berserk again and breaks out of the black and white sphere floating in the sky. It’s a pretty bloody scene, and the Angel is destroyed.
There’s been talk of other Evas being built around the world, and the next pilot is chosen. It turns out to be Shinji’s friend Toji, which everyone but Shinji seems to find out about. Toji is supposed to pilot Eva Unit-03, which was being flown in after an accident involving Eva Unit-04 in the United States.
During the activation test, however, Unit-03 goes berserk. It turns out the next Angel is a type of parasite that’s taken over Unit-03, trapping Toji inside. The other Evangelions are deployed to defeat it, but Unit-00 and 02 are quickly taken out, leaving only Shinji to deal with the Angel. Shinji refuses to fight it because the pilot, who he still doesn’t know the identity of, is trapped inside. Unit-03 begins choking Unit-01, putting Shinji’s life in critical danger.
Gendo tries to convince Shinji (albeit coldly) that if he doesn’t fight, he’ll die. When Shinji still refuses, Gendo initiates the unfinished Dummy Plug System within Unit-01, which lets an Eva operate without a pilot. Unit-01 begins fighting back, and… ehem.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m probably fucked up for thinking so, but this is one of my favorite scenes in the series. Between the still shots of the town covered in blood, Shinji freaking out, Gendo coldly watching while Unit-01 dismembers Unit-03, and the blood running down the river, this is easily one of the strongest and most memorable scenes in the whole show.
After finding out the identity of Unit-03’s pilot, Shinji’s had enough and refuses to come out of his Eva. He threatens to destroy Nerv if anyone pushes him anymore. He’s arrested and brought to Gendo’s office, where he tells his father he doesn’t want to pilot an Eva anymore. He returns to life as a regular civilian with no regrets at all, showing the most determination he’s felt in the whole series.
It’s too bad that another Angel attacks so soon after the last one. Shinji goes to an evacuation shelter with the rest of the civilians and watches as the Angel approaches Nerv. Asuka, whose pride has been damaged from her past several failures at defeating Angels, unleashes a barrage of fire from various weapons as the Angel approaches, but it does little to stop it. The Angel cuts Unit-02’s arms off with little effort. Then it decapitates Unit-02, but luckily Asuka’s nerve connections to her Eva were cut off before she felt the effects of losing her head.
Shinji runs into Kaji, who provides Shinji with some information about the Angels and the inevitable Third Impact if they manage to reunite with Adam deep inside Nerv. He also convinces Shinji not to run away from his problems while Rei appears in Unit-00, with only one arm holding an explosive. She charges towards the Angel and pushes the mine through its A.T. Field, but the Angel guards its core and is undamaged when the mine explodes.
Shinji runs back to Nerv and demands to pilot Unit-01 again just as the Angel breaks into the building. Shinji stops the Angel from attacking Misato and the other Nerv personnel and brings the fight back outside. He surprisingly does pretty well against it, until Unit-01 runs out of power. Then the Angel retaliates and destroys Unit-01’s chest plate, exposing its core. The Angel repeatedly attacks the core until Unit-01 reactivates in another berserk mode.
Unit-01 rips off one of the Angel’s arms and uses it to synthetically repair one of its own. Unit-01’s new arm is much more human-looking now, complete with fingernails and everything. Unit-01 then savagely attacks the Angel and, er… eats it. Part of it, anyway. It absorbs its S2 engine, an organ that now provides Unit-01 with unlimited power. Ritsuko explains that there’s a human soul within each Eva, and it’s become too wild to control.
Which is funny, because the next episode starts with Unit-01 being constrained. I always thought it was kind of weird how one episode ends with Unit-01 looking like it’s finally become a fully sentient being, only for the next episode to begin by showing it fully contained, back in its cage.
Oh, and Shinji’s been absorbed by Unit-01.
This is what happens when someone’s sync ratio exceeds 400%, or at least that’s what Ritsuko says. I’d sarcastically remark she says that as if it’s happened before, but I’m pretty sure the same thing happened with Shinji’s mother, which will be explained (or at least alluded to) in a future episode. There’s a lot of psychoanalytical stuff about Shinji’s self worth during his time in the Eva, but other than that not much happens until the Eva spits him back out.
Misato and Kaji have been working together to discover Nerv and Selee’s secrets. Kaji shows Misato what’s hidden inside Terminal Dogma, a section of Nerv that’s highly restricted. Inside is a giant Angel nailed to a cross, sitting above a pool of the LCL liquid used in the Evas’ entry plugs. Kaji and Misato assume that this is Adam, the first Angel and the one that caused Second Impact fifteen years previously.
However, Kaji’s time is limited. Nerv personnel ask Misato for assistance in tracking him down, as he’s disappeared to rescue Gendo’s right hand man, Kozo Fuyutsuki. Fuyutsuki has been abducted by Seele for questioning because Gendo has drifted from Seele’s scheduled plans too often and no longer trust him. There’s a lot of interesting flashbacks to before Nerv was formed. We learn that Fuyutsuki was a college professor and Shinji’s mother, Yui, was one of his favorite students. We see Fuyutsuki bail Gendo out of a jam and see how much he doesn’t trust or like Gendo. We see Fuyutsuki join Gehirn, which is essentially Nerv before Nerv existed. We’re also introduced to Ritsuko’s mother, Naoko Akagi, who programmed the Magi supercomputers Nerv uses for its operations. We also learn that Yui died during an activation test with Unit-01 (in front of Shinji, no less) and that her soul resides in Unit-01.
I’m still unsure whether or not Gendo and Yui knew this was going to happen. Yui is presented as a pretty kind person, but if she knew she was going to die during the test and basically sacrifice herself so Shinji would grow up without a mother, then she’s almost as cold as Gendo in my book. Seriously, what the fuck?
We also see little Rei! Aww, she’s co cute in her little dress!
Some time after Yui died, Gendo started caring for “an acquaintance’s child.” Which is a preposterous lie considering anyone that’s been around Gendo for three seconds can see what a terrible father he is to his own kid, so who would let him take care of someone else’s? Naoko thinks she resembles someone, and like anyone that sees Yui for the first time, she realizes Rei closely resembles Gendo’s dead wife.
No, Gendo. That’s not creepy.
Naoko and Rei have an awkward talk about how Gendo refers to Naoko as an old hag who doesn’t have a use anymore after she’s just completed the Magi. Naoko and Gendo have apparently been having an affair (or relationship — I’m not sure how accurate it is to call whatever they have an affair considering Gendo’s wife is dead and Naoko’s husband is… non-existant?), so she takes this news pretty poorly.
Okay. A lot poorly. Naoko chokes out lil’ Rei (I’ve never noticed before, but there’s a lot of choking in this series), and afterwards she kills herself. Nerv is formed shortly after, but geez. It didn’t have the cleanest start, did it? Three people died, and… wait, Rei died? But she’s alive now? Did she need even more mysteries added to her resume?
Anyway, Kaji rescues Fuyutsuki, and Misato’s told the situation has been taken care of. We see Kaji hanging out in some kind of air duct or something before speaking to an unknown person, then the screen cuts to black and we hear him getting shot.
Misato comes home, knowing that her lover is dead and she’s alone on her quest for the truth now. However, there’s one last message from him on the answering machine. He basically says to stay strong and if he sees her again, he’ll tell her he’ll love her, which I guess he couldn’t do before for whatever reason. She breaks down and cries while listening to it as Shinji laments that he can do nothing for her.
Asuka’s pride has been badly damaged. She started off so strong and confident, but the past few defeats to the Angels have started to wear her self worth down. We’ve started to see how self destructive her anger can be and how she isn’t as confident as she wants others to perceive her, and she’s gotten to a point where Nerv is making preparations to replace her.
A new Angel appears from… space? It’s kind of just hanging around outside Earth’s atmosphere, conveniently out of range from any kind of attack. Rei is ordered to go out in Unit-00 to use a long range sniper to attempt fighting it, but Asuka’s temper gets the better of her and she orders her Eva to be launched instead. It takes a while before she can get a decent shot at the Angel, but when she’s about to fire it attacks in one of the strangest ways an Angel has assaulted someone yet.
Light shines down from the sky as Asuka’s mind is assaulted with traumatic images from her past, involving her mother’s suicide. Her self worth is broken down even further as the Angel probes her mind, bringing forth every negative feeling Asuka’s felt her entire life to the surface. People often refer to this attack as mind-rape, and while I’m still not sure how appropriate I feel that phrasing is, it’s plain to see how traumatized Asuka is from the attack for the remainder of the series so maybe it fits after all.
Rei is sent to Terminal Dogma in Unit-00 to receive a weapon called the Lance of Longinus, which has been pierced into the giant Angel kept within. Its legs, which were previously missing, or more accurately stunted, suddenly grow back, implying the lance was kept there for a specific purpose that it can no longer serve.
Rei prepares for a rather impressive counterattack and throws the lance all the way into the atmosphere, piercing the Angel’s A.T. Field and destroying it. However, the lance is gone for good, floating in space, without a means to retrieve it.
The next Angel is… a floating halo that looks like a double helix? Man, some of the designs for these things are really… abstract.
Anyway, Asuka can no longer sync with her Eva so Rei is deployed to fight it instead. When it approaches, the Angel becomes a solid snake-like entity and begins to merge with Unit-00. There’s another psychoanalytical scene, with the Angel taking on the form of another Rei. Rei herself realizes how fragile and lonely she is and comes out of the experience crying.
Knowing that she’s not the original Rei and that she can be replaced, she holds onto the Angel as it tries to go after Shinji in Unit-01. She self-destructs her Eva, killing herself and the Angel in the process. So now Nerv is down two pilots and an entire Eva. One thing I really liked about the second half of the series was that even though Nerv wins against the Angels, each victory is spoiled by a pretty heavy loss. It kind of makes the threat of the Angels more real this way than if the Evas just fought, looked like they were going to lose, and then bounced back with a win like in so many other anime fights.
But lo and behold, Shinji finds Rei alive and bandaged up in the hospital! He’s very happy and thanks Rei for saving his life, but Rei doesn’t remember doing so. Rei then tells Shinji that she thinks she’s “the third.”
Ritsuko calls Shinji back to Nerv later on to show him something. Misato apprehends her and tells Ritsuko to show her everything she’s been kept in the dark about as well. Ristuko shows them a graveyard of prototype Evas, which resemble Unit-00. She also shows them the room where Rei was born, which looks exactly like the poor apartment she lives in. But the main attraction is the room of Reis floating in LCL.
Ritsuko explains that Rei isn’t human, just something with a human form. These Reis are supposedly used to power the Dummy Plug System, although I’m not sure what this means exactly. Does one of these Reis sit in an entry plug with her creepy smile while she does things like completely dismember Unit-03? Or is it her personality data? At any rate, Ritsuko destroys the spare Reis as Shinji and Misato watch as they disintegrate.
You know, Shinji’s a pretty fucked up teen. His mother died when he was a child and his father abandoned him. He was forced to reunite with his cold dad and work for him by piloting these horrific biomechanical robots, and during that time he’s been hurt, psychoanalyzed, forced to almost kill his friend, got absorbed by his Eva, and deal with his fucked up relationships with the other characters in the show. Kaji’s death has left Misato distant, Asuka is more or less catatonic and hospitalized in a psych ward, and Rei is now a stranger. With Toji in the hospital and Kensuke moving to another district, Shinji doesn’t have anyone else he can call a friend.
Until this guy shows up humming the Ode to Joy.
His name is Kaworu, and boundaries aren’t his strong suit. To anyone else but Shinji in his current state, Kaworu acts way too invasively, asking personal and philosophical questions about human existence and loneliness. For Shinji, however, this is the perfect person to show him the compassion and empathy he’s needed, and the two become friends.
For like ten minutes.
Because it turns out Kaworu is the final Angel. Originally sent to Nerv by Seele as Asuka’s replacement, Kaworu telepathically hijacks Unit-02 and descends towards Terminal Dogma. Shinji, initially unable to believe his new friend is the enemy, becomes furious that he’s been used again and begins grappling with Unit-02. During the fight, Kaworu explains that Angels and Evas are composed of the same matter, further proving the implication that Evas were made from the first Angel, Adam. Kaworu also has his own A.T. Field, which protects him from Unit-01’s deflected progressive knife. He explains how A.T. Fields are what enclose every mind that exists, something that won’t be explored further until the movie. (Yes, there’s a movie. And… ugh. We’ll get there.)
Kaworu reaches Terminal Dogma and questions if he must really return to Adam to evolve mankind, but he’s thrown off when he realizes that the Angel on the cross isn’t Adam, but another called Lilith.
Shinji catches up to Kaworu and grabs him. Kaworu thanks Shinji for sharing the human experience with him, and asks Shinji to destroy him so Shinji can continue living. Shinji, feeling betrayed, sad, and confused, contemplates his next action for like a full minute with a single frame of Unit-01 holding the last Angel while Ode to Joy plays.
This is one of the more criticized scenes in the series. Not necessarily because Shinji has to think about what to do, more that it’s just this single screenshot for a full minute with no animation. There are actually a few scenes that do the same thing throughout the series, but I think because this is so close to the end people often start bringing up Evangelion‘s limited budget and how it starts to show towards the end.
Shinji crushes Kaworu. We see his head fall into the pool of LCL, and after we see Shinji discussing what just happened with Misato. Shinji says Kaworu was the one that should have survived, but Misato says he shouldn’t have because he didn’t have the will to. Shinji tells Misato that she’s cruel, and the episode ends.
The final two episodes are a little difficult to discuss. The entirety of these are dedicated to psychoanalytical scenes. And if you thought they were confusing before as segments lasting a few minutes, then the ending to the series is going to be pretty difficult to understand.
The most I can say is that Shinji, Rei, Asuka, and Misato all have those inner conversations with themselves regarding each of their emotional issues, as well as with other characters from the show in the image that each character sees them in. I really liked how the show described the latter: there’s yourself, the you that one person perceives you as, the you another person perceives you as, and so on and so forth. It really drives home a single, critical issue that all characters have found themselves dealing with — how other people think of them.
Almost the entirety of this is played out through still images, abstract scenes, and recycled parts of previous episodes with new dialogue. The only real new segments of animation we get are during the last ten minutes, where Shinji plays out a possible new reality where Asuka and he are childhood friends, his mother is still alive, his father isn’t the coldest person on the planet, Misato is their teacher, and Rei is a new transfer student complete with the ability to properly interact with other people. It’s a very cheesy scene and reeks of anime cliches, but honestly I always liked it. It was so sweet to see that after everything Shinji has been through, this could be an example of how to change his reality into something better for himself. I even remember back when I first started getting into Evangelion, there were some theories that said this was actually reality and everything that happened in the show was made up in Shinji’s head.
Shinji has one final psychoanalytical scene where he learns to love himself and realizes he can change both his mindset and reality to make his life better. The whole cast appears applauding him, all saying congratulations one at a time. And while I also thought that was a sweet moment when I was younger, I can’t help but find it kind of annoying to hear each person say the same word one at a time.
It’s kind of hard for me to describe an opinion of the ending after this most recent viewing. On the one hand, despite not bringing as much attention to it in this post as the show did, Evangelion focused a lot on character exploration and development. After everything that’s happened, I’ll still go on record saying that I personally think exploring issues with self doubt, depression, anxiety, and recovering from personal traumas are the most important themes in the show. The final two episodes dealt specifically with this, and Shinji is finally able to show signs that he can move past his personal demons and start living a healthier life. I like the message the show was trying to go for, and as a teenager dealing with many of the insecurities explored within the show, Evangelion was a vital source of inspiration for me in trying to improve my own life.
However, after becoming an adult, moving past the world of anime, and learning how to form an opinion on things at a more critical level, I can’t say I enjoyed the ending as much as I did when I was younger. I still like it — like it enough, anyway. I feel for Shinji and wanted him to improve his mental state. I enjoyed the philosophy explored in the final two episodes and the other psychoanalytical scenes throughout the series to an extent. But I don’t think the way they wrapped the show up was the most effective way to get their point across.
For one thing, ending one episode with the defeat of the final Angel and the last two not taking place in reality was a pretty abrupt transition. Yes, I think the major themes of the show should have been focused on during the finale. But too much of the show was about other characters, the mysteries behind the Evas and Angels, the fate of humanity, Nerv and Seele’s ultimate goals, etc. Having virtually no closure or answers about these other important factors was pretty disappointing.
It’s pretty common knowledge that the production team faced budget problems towards the end of the series, and from what I heard it was a pretty abrupt decision. Perhaps Evangelion was meant to go on longer than it did, and these unexplained mysteries were supposed to be dealt with later on. It would certainly explain why the final two episodes seemed like an abrupt cut to something so different. The lack of animation during these two episodes also seems to support the lack of funds the series had, although I’d still believe it if someone told me at least some of these decisions had been intentional.
Fans were pretty outraged. They expressed their anger over the ending and even sent death threats to the series’ creator, Hideaki Anno. So in response to the overwhelming negative reaction to the series’ finale, a film was made to replace the final two episodes. Well actually, two films were made. The first was Death and Rebirth, which contained an hour long recap of the series followed by the first part of the actual movie, The End of Evangelion. Which if you asked me, seemed like a pretty ballsy move. If I were so upset about the ending to a TV show that I threatened to kill the creator, and then the creator said he was going to make a movie to replace the ending, and then showed me a movie that was basically a recap, I’d be in an even worse mood. I’m not even going to bother talking about Death and Rebirth. It’s a recap. I’ve basically done the same thing with this post. Let’s just get onto The End of Evangelion.
The movie begins with Shinji masturbating to an unconscious Asuka, whose breasts have been exposed after Shinji tries shaking her to wake her up.
… No, I’m serious. I’m not exaggerating or being crass. That’s what happens. When he finishes he looks at his cum-soaked hand and says he’s so fucked up.
In fact, this is a pretty good scene to set the tone for the rest of the movie. It’s pretty fucked up. It’s going to take uncomfortable to a level the show didn’t. And while the events in the film aren’t un-Evangelion, it seems pretty mean-spirited compared to the show.
The movie’s kind of all over the place at times, so forgive me if this summary seems the same. Rei wakes up and leaves her apartment, finally set to fulfill her purpose in life. She goes to Central Dogma where Gendo meets her, saying that her time has come.
I love that cold stare she gives at Gendo. The second Rei may have shown adoration for him, but this Rei isn’t having it. She’s going to use him like he used her.
While they go to Terminal Dogma, Seele orders the Japanese government to kill everyone inside Nerv. Wow, that’s… excessive. Despite all the violence in the show, it’s always been against the Angels or Evas. Seeing people kill other people in Evangelion is… unsettling.
While this is going on, Misato is trying to save Shinji and Asuka. Asuka’s still in the hospital, so she’s put into Unit-02 and launched to the bottom of the lake outside Nerv headquarters. She finds Shinji and explains to him that humans are the real last Angel, and that the Angels they’ve fought were other forms humans could have taken. I’ve read that something about her explanation is a critical translation error, though, so take that as you will.
Shinji’s basically a stump. He’s too fucked up to move on his own and just wants to die. Misato literally has to drag him around until they find Unit-01.
Misato eventually gets shot, which sort of snaps Shinji back into reality. Misato yells at Shinji a lot and basically tells him to keep moving forward, and then she kisses him pretty hard for a 29-year-old woman kissing a 14-year-old boy.
When she’s done she basically tells Shinji she’ll fuck him when all this is over, then she pushes him into the elevator that takes him to the cage and dies shortly after.
Meanwhile, Gendo and Rei arrive in Terminal Dogma. Rei is going to fuse with Lilith, because apparently she’s part Angel and that’s a thing that can happen. We’re never flat out told what Rei is, but this is as close to closure you’re going to get.
However, before this happens, Ritsuko shows up with a gun and threatens to blow the whole place up before Gendo can let Rei initiate the Human Instrumentality Project. She presses a button on some remote, it doesn’t work, then Gendo whips out a gun on Ritsuko. He tells her something which is obnoxiously inaudible to the audience, with Ritsuko responding “You liar!” before Gendo kills her in cold blood.
Gendo removes his glove to reveal that the embryo of Adam was implanted into his hand. He touches Rei’s breast, which is totally not creepy at all, and it enters her…? And then he moves his hand down to her stomach — while the hand is still inside her — until it snaps off.
Gendo is shocked that Rei’s betraying him, and Rei says that Shinji needs her. She fuses with Lilith and now we have a giant naked Rei.
While all this is happening, the Japanese army knows where Asuka is and starts throwing explosives into the lake. She’s curled in a ball and keeps saying she doesn’t want to die, which as repetitive as it sounds, is one of the strongest moments in the movie. She starts at a barely audible whisper and raises her voice until she screams it, finally able to sync with Unit-02 again.
Asuka then proceeds to make up for lost time and totally kick ass in her Eva again. She destroys the vehicles and ships the Japanese army fight her with and for a brief moment, things start to look hopeful again.
Then the Mass Produced Evas fly in. Yeah, remember the talk of those being built? Well they’re ready, completely equipped with Dummy Plug systems and artificial Lances of Longinus.
To top it off, Unit-02’s power cable was severed during the fight with the Japanese army, and now Asuka has to defeat nine Evangelions within three and a half minutes.
Asuka violently destroys these things one by one as well. There’s a lot of blood and dismembered limbs, and it looks like Asuka’s going to win. However, as she’s about to finish off the Mass Production Evas, one of them gets her in the skull with its lance, pinning Unit-02 to the ground. The Mass Production Evas then regenerate (because if having their own Lances of Longinus, Dummy Plugs, and ability to fly weren’t enough, they also have S2 engines which apparently let them regrow limbs and organs), and like vultures, descend upon Unit-02 and begin devouring it alive.
And yes, Asuka’s feeling the whole thing. Her body is like a contorted mess before being killed. Honestly, if you thought Unit-01 destroying Unit-03 was disturbing, that doesn’t even hold a candle to how disgusting Unit-02’s fate is.
Shinji reaches the cage with Unit-01, but it’s been contained in bakelite. However, Unit-01 conveniently activates, breaks free of it, and lets Shinji board it. He’s launched outside, just in time to see the Mass Production Evas flying around while holding the carrion of Unit-02.
Shinji then proceeds to freak the fuck out.
For the remaining half of the movie… well, it’s a mindfuck. If the final two episodes were a confusing watch, the rest of this movie will not do a better job tying up the series for you. It’s basically the end of the world, and the fate of it is put into Shinji’s hands.
On Earth, everyone’s A.T. Fields fail. Yeah, apparently humans have A.T. Fields as well. But in their case it’s not a manifested barrier, but what allows them to keep their individual identities, including the ability to hold their physical forms. They all disintegrate into LCL and merge together into some kind of egg-thing the giant naked Rei is forming as she towers over the Earth.
Except Gendo. He gets eaten. Not sure if it’s a real thing that’s happening or part of the never-ending imagery this movie shows you during the mindfuck. But after being the world’s coldest father for the entire series, I’m sure many fans can agree he gets what he deserves.
This is basically the Human Instrumentality Project Gendo and Seele were trying to achieve throughout the series. Everyone fuses into one entity, where they share their minds, thoughts, and feelings without the personal barriers of the A.T. Fields. I think this is some kind of metaphor for people pulling down their personal walls and learning to connect with one another on a personal level, which makes sense considering all of the personal growth the main characters need to go through to overcome their own self-destructive habits.
And fine. It’s fine. I get it. Like I’ve stated, the psychoanalytical, metaphorical, personal growth as people stuff was more important to me than the literal things happening in the show. I think this is why I was so fine with the ending for all these years. I didn’t need all these answers about what happened to everyone because the main problem (Shinji’s extremely poor self respect, his depression and anxiety, and his inability to love himself) was overcome at the end of the TV series.
But after so many years and looking at other stories in different media, I have to admit that ambiguity in the literal stuff that’s happening in Evangelion does start to overshadow the original messages and themes of self-worth that used to be most important for me. And the Human Instrumentality Project is one of the biggest problems I have with the movie:
Why were Gendo and Seele so at odds with each other if they both desired the same thing?
I’ve read a bunch of theories about this, and the most basic understanding I have is that Gendo and Seele wanted to achieve Human Instrumentality through different methods. I’m still not entirely sure what those methods are, to be perfectly honest. And if the end result is everyone on Earth “dying” and becoming one being, then does it really even matter how it’s achieved?
My best understanding is that Seele wanted Human Instrumentality to be permanent, while Gendo wanted it to be temporary. Gendo’s ultimate goal was to reunite with his dead wife. And while normally that’s a pretty sweet sentiment, I find it incredibly difficult to believe Gendo even has the ability to love in the first place. Some people were saying Unit-01 was to be a sort of Noah’s Ark to house everyone’s soul until this rapture of sorts was over, and then life on Earth would continue. Would Yui come back to life and reunite with Gendo, or would Gendo just reunite with her for a brief time in the communal afterlife that is the Human Instrumentality Project?
More to the point, are dead people included in this Human Instrumentality thing? I’ve been kind of under the impression that the people on Earth who turned into LCL make up this communal entity. Not dead people. Yet Yui, Misato, and Asuka show up in the mindfuck scenes during the second half of the movie, so maybe they are? But then again, if we think back to the series, these could also be versions of these characters that Shinji sees through his perspective, so…
JESUS THIS MOVIE.
It’s confusing. Like really, really confusing. It’s a mindfuck, pure and simple, where nothing makes sense and everything’s so ambiguous people are still debating about what actually happened almost 20 years after the movie was released.
But whatever. The rest of the movie is something of a visual experience showing the end of the world. There’s some weird, out of place scenes as well, like a little Shinji building a sand castle with two dolls , but then an adult comes and takes the dolls away, so Shinji destroys the sand castle (which I guess is supposed to represent Asuka and Rei coming into his life and then being taken away, and now he wants to destroy the world).
There’s also some real-life shots of Japan and some of the death threats Anno received. And there’s some pretty violent conversations between Shinji and Asuka involving their fucked up relationship, including one where Shinji chokes Asuka for refusing to love him.
Ultimately, Shinji chooses for everyone to remain as one, but it’s not what he thought it would be like. So then he chooses to let people decide for themselves whether or not they want to exist as individuals. Shinji then returns to Earth, which is in ruin. The Mass Produced Evas, who were part of some self-sacrificial ritual during all the mindfuckery, are left posing like Jesus nailed to the cross in the lake while a beautiful rainbow of blood from the headless, giant naked Rei decorates the sky.
Oh, and there’s a giant Rei head with a creepy smile in the lake. And the lake looks like it’s composed entirely of blood.
Are we sure this is the Earth Shinji chose to return to and not, like… Hell? Like, is this actually just the world as Shinji sees it considering how his life circumstances, anxiety, and depression all mixed together?
Shinji’s supposedly alone for a while before Asuka washes ashore. Apparently, she’s the second person to decide to come out of the Human Instrumentality Project. The fact that she’s here at all bothers the hell out of me, considering my confusion I mentioned earlier regarding Instrumentality. Don’t get me wrong — she’s my favorite character, and it was pretty painful to see her die in such a violent way, and I’m glad she’s alive again. But these ambiguous terms of Instrumentality really bother me, and Asuka coming out of it when I’m not sure if she was even part of it to begin with makes my head hurt even more.
Continuing the mindfuck scene where Shinji chokes out Asuka, he decides to choke her again. Asuka’s pretty unresponsive at first — you might initially wonder whether or not she’s alive — until she raises her hand and caresses Shinji’s cheek. He releases his grip and starts crying. The movie ends with the two of them like that, with Asuka saying “How disgusting” before the scene abruptly cuts out and the credits begin to roll.
The ending alone and the theories about what it means could probably be a post itself, but I don’t feel qualified enough to write such a thing. I first saw this movie in the early 2000s, maybe a year or two after watching the series. Back then a popular opinion was that this wasn’t Asuka at all, but a combined version of Asuka, Rei, and Misato. Considering Shinji has shown some form of feelings for each of these girls throughout the TV show (and especially considering one of the psychoanalytical scenes from the series that shows each of them naked asking Shinji to become one with them), I thought this made a lot of sense. I thought the ending was something like Shinji made his own reality (like the end of the TV series was encouraging him to do) and he made this “perfect woman” to accompany him, but when she wasn’t like what he thought she would be, he tries to kill her, and that’s why she says “How disgusting” — because even something created from his fantasies wasn’t enough to satisfy him.
However, my recent viewing of the movie has me thinking otherwise. In fact, according to a lot of theories out there, this one doesn’t seem to hold up very well nowadays. I’m personally a fan of the theory that goes into Shinji and Asuka’s confusing relationship, and how the ending to reflects that. You can read about it here if you’re interested.
This movie’s something else, all right. For the longest time, I really hated it. I hated how it shit all over anyone gaining any kind of self improvement in the show. I hated Asuka dying. I hated how little it made sense. I hated how gross it was at times. But after watching it as an adult after so many years of not watching the show (or anime in general)… I kind of appreciate it.
I can’t say I like it. I don’t hate it anymore, but I can’t fully admit to liking it. But I can appreciate it. After becoming more and more aware of the loose ends the TV show never tied together and feeling that the ending to the series could have said the same kind of message but done better, I can appreciate how The End of Evangelion at least presented more or less “closure” for a lot of things, even if that closure wasn’t exactly satisfying. And from a purely visual standpoint, it was really interesting to watch the end of the world, even if it was baffling to every extent possible.
But did it do a good job to end the series? In my opinion… no.
Don’t get me wrong, the final two episodes needed fleshing out, as well. But like I said, the exploration into philosophy, emotional problems, and personal growth was always the most important part of Evangelion for me. Even though a lot of the cool stuff that happened with the Evas and Angels were strangely dropped for the final two, entirely psychoanalytical episodes, Shinji still made amazing progress with himself and I was elated to see him end the series as a better person.
The End of Evangelion, on the other hand, seems to do the exact opposite. Granted, I suppose you could argue this could represent the other side of the spectrum, when someone doesn’t make progress but instead spirals further into despair. But I don’t know. The show seemed to be building up to Shinji making progress. His state of mind dropping to the lowest point ever, especially so quickly, seemed a little forced. Like maybe there were supposed to be a few more episodes in between the defeat of the last Angel and the movie where we see him fall at a more natural rate. If that was the point to begin with.
Up until now, I’ve always been under the assumption that the final two episodes of the TV series were supposed to be what took place inside the characters’ minds, while The End of Evangelion took place in the real world. And that never seemed to make much sense to me. I found it extremely difficult to even begin believing that Shinji thinks he can learn to love himself and can change his reality into something better while choking Asuka in the aftermath of the end of the world. After reading other people’s opinions, many seem to now question if the two finales are supposed to take place side by side at all. Was the movie supposed to replace the the finale altogether, as if it never happened? Are they just two possible endings to the series, left up to the viewers to decide which one they prefer? Is one real and one an alternate possibility? Is one the good ending and one the bad ending?
I guess that’s up to the viewer to decide. I honestly couldn’t give you an answer. It’s been left intentionally ambiguous. All I can do is summarize the series in a really long post.
So what are my final thoughts then?
I’m relieved to admit that I enjoyed Neon Genesis Evangelion again after so long. I’ve put off rewatching it for years — even before I lost interest in anime. But after writing that retrospective last year I’ve kept growing more and more curious if I would still enjoy particular titles that meant something significant to me while growing up, even if it is anime. I probably won’t watch it again for a long time — probably not until I feel nostalgic for it again. But at least I know I still loved it after all this time.
I’ll admit that there were several moments in the beginning that I laughed at. This show wasn’t without tropes that normally would have bothered me in other anime. But I still honestly feel Evangelion is a unique experience that tried really hard to be something great. And for the most part, I think it worked.
I enjoy the philosophy and therapeutic themes the show explores during the psychoanalytical scenes, but I think they were more effective when they were taking place between people in the real world. Despite the giant robots and monsters, Evangelion is grounded in reality. Everyone’s actions have consequences that last through the whole show, and everyone’s emotional baggage plays a huge role in characterization. Working through their shit with each other probably would have been more mature than seeing it done through abstract imagery and conversations.
I still enjoy the ending, but the abrupt switch between the last Angel and the final two episodes is too glaring not to bother me anymore. I’m still satisfied enough with the TV ending, but if budget and time concerns really were the issue for why it was the way it was, then that would explain a lot. It needed a better transition.
Appreciating the movie was something I didn’t expect. Honestly, I wasn’t even going to watch it. But I got so nostalgic while watching the show and so into forming more current opinions of it, that I felt like I may as well do so with the film. I’ve already gone into all of my thoughts with it, so I won’t repeat them here. But I do think it’s worth watching at least once if you’re going to watch the series.
Visually, everything’s got that 90s hand-drawn animation that I love so much. Backgrounds look nice and detailed, and I really get a good impression of the world and time Evangelion takes place in. The number of quiet scenes, while arguably overdone to fill time or save on animation costs, ultimately added some really strong moments to the show.
Could I recommend Evangelion to a non-anime fan, though? Eh, that’s kind of hard to say. I think you’d have to be a fan of animation in general to appreciate a lot of it. And while there’s definitely enough in the show to dissect, debate, and discuss, it might take a while to get there. And since anime fans themselves either love or hate the show, a casual viewer might not be interested enough to get to that point.
However, if you are able to give Evangelion a shot in some way, I’d say go for it. It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. And the ending — either of them — may taint the entire experience for you even if you liked the series. But it’s an interesting experience that’s at least worth checking out.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end! This was definitely my most in-depth review yet. And it was about anime of all things. Something about that feels… wrong. But god, could you imagine if I was this in depth for every book I looked at on this blog? I’d never have a post.
Thank you for taking the time to read this ridiculously long review of a TV show that’s 20 years old. I really wanted to put my thoughts out there. And apparently I had a lot of them. 🙂 Special thanks goes to evageeks.org. I got most of the screenshots for this post from there, as well as a lot of cool theories and information about the show I referenced while writing this. Check it out if you want to learn more about Evangelion.
Thanks again for reading something a little different than what I normally write about! Next week I should have a new Let’s Talk Books post. Until then, have a great week! 🙂