This marks the beginning of a special project, a project of critical instrumentality. Neon Genesis Evangelion has created conflicting opinions, fervent voices arguing. We must end this, the destruction of one other is a toxic condition and jeopardizes the hive mind co-existence we strive for. We have entrusted the following critic to learn from the thoughts of many and come away with the true answer. We can no longer be neutral; we must end the debate of Evangelion once and for all and identify it as the masterpiece or failure it deserves to be.
This is the transcript of that critic’s process of deciphering its merit. Be warned spoilers will be inevitable.
Are You Ready?
Why Are You Not Ready?
I don’t want to make this review. There’s too much pressure to get it right. I don’t want to alienate people who disagree, and I’m afraid of making people upset. Why am I even doing this, why not just leave it up to someone else… there’s plenty of better people suited at articulating an opinion so why would anyone even bother listening to me.
Would You Like to Start At The Beginning?
Yeah, I guess there’s no better place to start.
What Is Your Overall Impression of Neon Genesis Evangelion?
Regardless of how you personally feel about the series, I find it hard to deny that the series is bold. A typical Mecha Anime is infused with the melancholy of Radiohead’s OK Computer and the visual splendor and angst of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Visually, NGE is breathtakingly cinematic, able to capture both the epic magnitude and chaos of battle but the quaint loneliness of isolation. Especially by the end of it (rest assured I will have more to say about that later) Evangelion proves to be a great victory for auteur-ship in media that something deeply personal and un-apologetically unconventional has not only gained a respectable audience but be largely influential to other creators is remarkable in its own right.
How Do You Feel About Shinji?
Ahh, the supposedly infamous Shinji Ikari. This IGN article’s top comment is:
“Shinji might be the worst protagonist ever to be created”– Random Commentor
which seems a little harsh. Unfortunately, I think the future will only be furthering in perpetuating “disgust” for Shinji. First, I see this because of Disney Princess theory: As characters collectively continue to become more dimensional, more nuanced, and better articulated it becomes easier to ostracize characters of the past for being more rudimentary in comparison.
My second thought is that he’s got terrible optics in terms of the trends of cultural whistleblowing. People were up in arms about the sympathetic portrayal of Arthur Fleck, one of pop culture’s most iconic and established villains ever! Shinji commits reprehensible acts at times but could possibly be considered more egregious as these actions never depart him from the subconscious assumptions of youth equating to innocence and protagonist status equating to innate empathy.
Personally, I find Shinji to be alright, intrinsically interesting about a more passive protagonist, and while he has moments of being grating, as well as his amount of agency being frustrating; Hideaki Anno put a lot of emotional, psychological, and philosophical intent into this character that makes him somewhat alluring.
How Do You Really Feel About Shinji?
I fucking hate him. However, my hatred is in how he reminds me of how much of a damn loser I am. It’s a challenging departure from fictional optimism, a protagonist typically is the rallying cry of “bend, but don’t break” but Shinji always feels broken from the very beginning. I’ve seen claims that Shinji detractors wanted a “badass”, but I feel it’s more that his lack of rebound is dissatisfying narratively. I feel that it is by design that Shinji is an ugly mirror plagued by futility, you’re always yearning for something out of him to remind you that your existence isn’t meager and hopeless. Shinji is this weird rejection of existentialism forced to embody it.
Some of my favorite film characters represents philosophical bleakness: ‘K’ of Blade Runner 2049 with self-fabrication of purpose and humanity, Caden Cotard of Synecdoche, New York and the agony of mortality/ unobtainable sense of fulfillment, and the likes of Sam (Under the Silver Lake) and Louis Bloom (Nightcrawler) whose ambitious pursuits only fuel their delusions of grandeur. Unlike these flawed and pessimistic characters, Shinji is never as active in his story.
Until End of Evangelion Shinji does not express much agency, most of his actions are dictated by circumstances or the whim of others. Shinji only chooses to either perpetuate the cycle in which his actions will be controlled by happenstance and others or choose inaction.
Shinji’s inner turmoil is articulated rather nicely by the conclusion of Bo Burnham’s comedy special ‘Make Happy’:
“The truth is my biggest problem’s you. I want to please you, but I want to stay true to myself. I want to give you the night out that you deserve, but I want to say what I think and not care what you think about it. A part of me loves you, a part of me hates you, a part of me needs you, a part of me fears you. I don’t think I can handle this right now”
Shinji captures a deep complexity of anxiety and depression, most people hate Shinji because they can’t empathize with his unrelenting stagnation, I hate him because I feel that I can. Trying to please everyone is a fool’s errand and when you don’t know how to please yourself how can you end up feeling anything other than incomplete.
Did You Like the Series Finale?
The episode 25-26 ending is essential yet kind of crappy.
Yes or No?
It’s not that simple. In a vacuum those episodes are profound, and their psychedelic departure from the norm is intrinsically fascinating. Yet, I also find the departure too steep and the erratic clusterfuck of ideas to be in lack of a better terms “not fun”.
The Evangelion series is great fodder for interpretation and the scopes of many forms of critical analysis but this ending is straightforward, “telling rather than showing”. It literally melts away the illusion of metaphor and openness for interpretation and commits a rather odd Freudian psychoanalysis on each character while laying all the thematic richness of the series by directly communicating it to you.
It all becomes all too literal. Was it more satisfying to interpret these characters psychological drama through interpretation of their actions, body language, relationships or for them spell it out for you and in a rather limited animation (watch as the ability to animate mouth movements slowly disappear from the show) list out how everyone is feeling and how that has influenced their actions and personalities. This ending of Evangelion makes you ask yourself, do you feel more empathy for Hamlet the prince of Denmark who has to begrudgingly take action and seek retribution upon his late father’s behalf or an actor in a black leotard performing the abstract concept of anxiety in an avant-garde theater production reciting poetics.
If those voicing a negative outlook on the ending can be mis-characterized as “wow, I can’t believe you went this far before realizing this wasn’t another Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots anime” then I think it’s fair that maybe those extremely enthralled with Evangelion be mis-characterized as “being easily impressed and having no care for execution as long as you can point to it and go “wow, that’s so me!”.
To a degree maybe that’s enough to gauge satisfaction: to fulfill this subconscious desire for either a thrill from an object of entertainment or to be recognized within a piece of art. No matter how objective we strive to remain, it’s impossible to view things within a vacuum. Our preconceived notions corrupt our viewpoint, expectations can rot our experience or delight us with the affirmation or subversion of these expectations.
How Do You Feel About End of Evangelion?
End of Evangelion is the deliverance of the magnum opus that the trajectory of the series initially felt to be heading in. In a spectacle of surreal, E of E deliveries intense action that deepens the philosophy of the series while for the most part keeping it grounded to the in-universe story to do so. Some have wrongly accused this ‘initially intended finale’ as a bitter response to fan uproar over the finale of the series, and with how destructive remorseless it is to some of the characters of the series I see why that impression was given. Ironically from what I understand, the rebuild series seems to be a directed response to criticism of the show. Anno with rebuild really deliveries the message of “You fucking losers need to get a life” as he warps NGE into a fascinating monkey’s paw/genie wish that from what I’ve seen seems rather brilliant.
End of Evangelion has an unrivaled harshness to it, Evangelion’s maturity has always resounded in its themes but now reside in overt and somewhat gratuitous violence and sexual content. It’s an uncomfortable departure from the sanctity of fiction, watching the hostile takeover of NERV Headquarters presents a real threat level. This is doubled down by the perceived “plot armor” melting away as shocking death and brutalities happen to characters, you’d never image being vulnerable to such fate in a different series. Watching the story escalate further and further until reaching its apex with Shinji’s ultimate decision.
What I find interesting how both finales act as an antithesis of one another yet act as parts of a whole. There is something ironic in how both operate in terms of introspection and Outrospection. You might believe that the series ending taking place in the psyche of Shinji as being the perfect background for introspection, but it is actually used to elaborate on Shinji lesson in outrospection. Roman Krznaric identifies outrospection as:
“Getting to know oneself by developing relationships and empathetic thinking with others”.
The series finale is focused on Shinji recognizing his “heart” inside those around him and by understanding their feelings begins to recognize his own self-worth. Despite End of Evangelion elaborating the threats and outside influences on Shinji its finale crescendo is more focused on introspection. Shinji learning through evaluating his own feelings to not give up on the world and that his own consciousness has merit.
With both finales Evangelion pulls the rug from under you, and either you appreciated the magic show or felt you fell victim of a dirty trick.
Who is the Best Girl?
I know this is supposed to be one of the biggest waifu wars out there, but I am very tempted to just say Kaworu. Apparently, Shinji finds everyone so vexing and tedious that one guy waltz into his life, asks if he wants to take a shower with him, and shows the slightest genuine interest in him and less than 24 hours later Shinji is deeply in love with the guy.
The Netflix dub is phenomenal guys, a lot of great performances from the entire cast (personally it’s better than the original dub in terms of voice talent, but maybe not translation). Maybe justifiable slandered for not understanding the potential weight of some of its specific translations but through visual storytelling and heavy implications I don’t think anything is really lost. I don’t know about you but I’ve learned in the past that when it comes to a “Nagisa” that might not be the best option but it most certainly the right option.
Ignoring that one episode where Shinji becomes Anna from Frozen, who is the best girl of the series? I personally found the most interesting and unique character to be Misato Katsuragi. Misato is a rare glimpse of adulthood and explores many themes of vices, immaturity compromising responsibility, and the necessity to outgrow the sins of the past to just be unprecedented or at the very least unparalleled in its execution.
Misato also exists as a compelling bridge between the entire cast of characters. Misato is not just Shinji surrogate mother figure or Asuka’s love rival but also exists in the operations of NERV and the more adult happenings of this stressful environment. No other character has the same mobility within the narrative, so I find her presents the most IMPACT-ful.
In terms of E of E it’s without a doubt Asuka. Asuka redemption and epiphany was probably the most satisfying part of the film. Asuka was probably the most shortchanged character in the original ending as the story sets up her entering a depressing corner of constantly wilting away her confidence until she’s a broken shell of her former self and never showing any resolution towards that. Asuka makes a huge contribution to E of E as she puts on Chumbawamba’s Tubthumping and proves that she might get knocked down, but she gets up again and you’re never going to keep her down….or until she loses power and is impaled through the eye, devoured alive, and has her arm split in half. Yikes.
I found this to be a great response to my criticisms of the original end, not because it is more action-oriented persay but because it is allowing the story to tell itself while using metaphor to not lose the rich meaning behind the scene. Whether it’s more just a coping mechanism or Asuka finding forgiveness towards her mother, her connection to her will to live (AKA Your EVA) allows her to literally fight against her own mortality. Death is imminent and inescapable and yet Asuka is fighting until her last breath. Dismiss Asuka as a bitchy tsundere all you want, you got to admit her representation of the toughness of the human spirit that even through physical and mental pain to still have so much insistence to exist. Asuka is a true revenant and her perseverance was maybe the greatest character moment of the film.
Rei Ayanami being the most popular character really proves that having a non-abrasive personality goes a long way with people…even if that means having no personality at all. Rei is… a plot device with an existential crisis. I won’t lie Rei adds value to the show in progressing the plot and allowing the exploration of relevant themes of defining humanity and the struggles of existence… At the same time I probably have as much of an affinity for Rei as I do the spear of longinus.
Both aren’t that different: Both are an object to progress the plot/lore, interesting/exotic in design, both have probably seen their fair share of rule 34, and if the spear could talk it would probably be just as stiff and lifeless and wondering how the hell it got there. Rei is intriguing for being the Spockian moral obtuse force in a world destroyed by the subjective perspective of her peers. She does elicit some agency when she ultimately rejects Gendo and decides to fuse with Lillith and assist Shinji. Rei is enticing because so much of her character is internal and sidelined that she does open herself to personal projection and to bewitch yourself in the mysterious charm of this near blank slate of a character.
However, the funniest scene according to my dark sense of humor is when a grown woman gets called an “old hag” by a child Rei and just straight up kills her. Seems a little extreme but I guess you do have to stand up to bullies.
Are You Satisfied with This End?
The End of Evangelion is for lack of a better word an exhausting conclusion. The third impact is the best representation of this show doing what it does best, performing sensory overload as art. Evangelion comes dangerously close to becoming unconcentrated, saying so much that you’re saying nothing at all. However, it’s all tied together under the guise of an adolescent boys overwhelming anxiety and confusion with the world; a perfect companion piece to Synecdoche, New York which features similar “life” narrative but from a mature outlook.
End of Evangelion is sort of an interpretative ending that I’ve heard is supposedly a miserable or happy ending depending on whether you interpreted it “right”. End of Evangelion has everyone turning into Orange Fanta Drink giving the opportunity to merge into one and rid themselves of all individuality and the pain that comes with it. Shinji decides the fate of humanity by ultimately choosing to accept the suffering of individual life because without it he fails to live at all. The question I have for you, how much will power does it take to reject instrumentality?
One interpretation I saw was clarified that Shinji was told as long as they too have a desire to return to normal then it can happen. They assumed that since Shinji is a bed-wetting crybaby then obviously everyone else would eventually return… I’m not so sure. Instrumentality was displayed as being alluring, tempting you with your deepest desires and with all the pain and suffering expressed throughout the series is it plausible it was not opposed by many. If everyone will come back, why not have a celebratory moment for Shinji, why end it with a grim and intimate moment with Asuka?
Shinji decision was promised to be humanities last hope, but that doesn’t necessarily entail survival. Saying that if depressed and lonely Shinji could choose to live then certainly everyone else would is hugely discrediting to Shinji’s righteous nature. I almost want to believe that the chosen children Shinji the incredibly righteous and Asuka the unrivaled fiery passion to become the Adam and Eve of the new world.
In that case, End of Evangelion exploits Shinji and Asuka’s nuclear relationship to encompass the complexities of not only human relationship but the human condition. Humanity still exists but it will continue to exist with the same destructive defects and toxic behaviors as it did before. Yet, as Asuka’s recognizing Shinji’s presence with a slight gentle touch does it display human kindness and hope still too prevails in this future. I’m not sure my ending holds weight but I enjoy to think of it this way as it is not and idealistic fantasy such as Kaworu or all of humanity perishing; it states that we will exist and there is terror, misery, joy, and hope in that.
Are You Ready to Decide?
I can’t post this review.
Why Are You Afraid?
I don’t have an answer that will please everyone, I fear that I’ll greatly disappoint everyone. I don’t share an unbridled love or a deep hatred for the series, therefore I’m a coward whose opinion has no worth or meaning to exist.
Don’t You Know That’s Not True?
What do you mean, of course it’s true? Nobody cares about anything but affirming their own beliefs, why jeopardize what people think of me when I can just keep this to myself! I don’t want people to hate me the same way I hate myself!
What if the Truth You Needed to Find Was a Personal Truth? That Expressing a Personal Truth is Reason Enough to Exist?
So, what you’re saying is that this was never about elaborating an objective quality of the series but about me expressing myself. That because it is true to me, people will accept it as such. Therefore, it’s okay to be neutral?
Joe O’ Connell of Beyond Ghibli put it rather eloquently:
“ The most important thing ever achieved was the personal hit it became with those who devoured it….who found satisfaction, relief, comfort or even anger at its curtain call because even hating it required you to care in the first place…. A YouTube video might be able to explain what Evangelion means but it will never be able to tell you what Evangelion will mean to you”
So maybe It’s okay to be neutral… it’s okay for me to have this opinion… it’s okay to be… me.
Wa Wa Waa.
Thanks Everyone, good night, I hope you’re happy!
Images used are from Neon Genesis Evangelion and End of Evangelion [credit: Gainax/ Netflix]