So, Neon Genesis Evangelion is a trip, right?
I’d say “trip” is an understatement. It is crazy that I call myself a classic anime lover and I hadn’t watched Evangelion before, but that was the case! Until the memes from the Netflix version emerged, I never paid it much attention. And then, last week I watched the whole thing.
And boy do I have some things to say. But first, let’s go over the things that made this anime stood out so much to me as I watched.
First, the way this story is told is totally different to what I’m used to seeing, especially for animes from the 90s. In Evangelion, everything is shown rather than told. Usually, animes may have a slightly annoying tendency to show something and have dialog describing what is happening so there is no room for interpretation from those who are watching it. Well, Evangelion breaks this rule. Which leads us specifically to the next point.
Interpretation is a key point in this story, so much of it left to us, the spectators to interpretate. For example, the last couple of episodes are definitely hard to follow not only because of how abstract they are and how fast everything is happening but also because you aren’t given a clear image of what is actually happening so you have to get to that conclusion yourself. Kind of like how Shinji is doing it. Just like… a whole trip, exploring who you are through your relationships and the people in your life.
And this is precisely the point of this article: The fucked-up dynamics in the show. I know, I know… “Damn Diana, it took you very long to get to that point”. Well, what did you expect from an article about Evangelion?
So, the first relationship we see is Shinji and his father. From the call to the moment he sees him and gets a tiny flashback of Shinji being abandoned by his father as a child. One of the first statements we hear regarding their relationship is that “those two are used to being apart” and it implies that at this point, Shinji and his dad prefer to be distanced. This is true to an extent.
Shinji is a kid who essentially grew up being an orphan after losing his mother and his father left but not only that. During each interaction between Gendoh and Shinji, we get the distinct impression that Gendoh is indifferent to Shinji and thinks of him as disposable and so does Shinji. On the other hand, Shinji tries to be indifferent to his dad but deep down he still dreams of getting his approval and this is the result of him being abandoned and constantly forgotten. Shinji grows up without anyone showing him genuine love with no ulterior motive.
This leads us to Misato. She is shown first as a carefree young lady who is ordered to watch over Shinji, then we get to see her in action as she directs Shinji in battle. Misato’s relationship with Shinji has so many layers. First, she’s his guardian and she doesn’t seem too comfortable or ready for her role. As she starts to care more for Shinji, she becomes more maternal and more like a mentor, someone who constantly shares her wisdom with Shinji and worries about him beyond than him being the EVA’s pilot. This leads us to the very uncomfortable scene in the last episodes where she kisses him.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A 28-year-old woman kissing a 15-year-old is not okay. However, is important to mention how emotionally charged that moment was. This kiss was not her expressing her desire for Shinji… This was her trying to use lust to bring some sense back to him, to make him feel or want something. This was Misato’s desperate attempt at getting Shinji to do something. Before the kiss, she is shown risking her life to save him and even giving a long talk and just trying her best to get him but Shinji still deep in his depression. And then, Misato promising him “more when he gets back” is another sad attempt at promising a future to him, a life beyond tragedy. This scene is very heartbreaking especially because we also feel deep down that Misato was giving a farewell kiss and then we witness the explosion taking her.
Misato is such a complex character and she grew to be my favorite. She was very self-aware and constantly trying to work on her issues and do the right thing. She worried about all pilots and chased the truth even though she knew it would land her in trouble. Her relationship with Ryoji and the scene of her drunk and telling him how she felt was very raw and really pierced her character together: she was a very conflicted women trying to do the right thing.
And talking about conflicted women: Asuka Langley. Now, Asuka’s dynamic with Shinji is actually one of my favorites because we have these two kids who are responding in vastly different ways being given the responsibility of being pilots. Asuka is overbearing, craves attention and has an inferiority complex. She is loud and constantly throws tantrums. But she is also the one to constantly get Shinji fired up. She gets him to be competitive and to act more like a normal teenager. The episode with them working to beat the angel together and having to be very coordinated is really good to understand their dynamic and what they have in common: Asuka wants attention and was to be known as the best. Shinji knows that if he does a good job, he will get attention and approval from his father. They are not so different.
I do believe that Asuka was the one person Shinji had the most romantic feelings for. Although throughout the story we see that Shinji feels lust for girls and isn’t indifferent to Kaworu (we’ll get to this one later!) is Asuka’s “death” that makes Shinji lose his mind.
Before that, we have the disturbing moment of Shinji masturbating to her breasts and then feeling guilty about it, this is something that also explores human nature and how we react to pain so deeply we just want to feel something and lust is used as placebo. But the key element here is his regret: he feels like he took advantage of her and it pains him.
During the Human Instrumentality Project, Shinji dreams of strangling Asuka after she treats him badly and dismisses his feelings. This is the only vision of him being violent towards someone in specific that we get. His frustration is shown in him strangling her, frustration for not understanding her, for her not letting him help her and for her rejection. But are his those feeling really toward Asuka, or are they more like an internal struggle with himself and Asuka (with him perceiving her as similar to him as we mentioned before) being used as a mirror?
And then, in the end, at the beach he again tries to strangle her, but he stops as she strokes his face. What is the meaning of this? I’m still not sure, but it is more related to Shinji himself than to his relationship with Asuka. And why were they the only ones left? It feels like they were some kind of new Adam and Eve, but I may be wrong here.
And now, next relationship: Rei Ayanami. Boy is she a complicated character! Rei starts as very soft-spoken and dutiful. She has no friends and it seems like her only interest is piloting the EVA. However, as we find out that she is actually a clone, we also see her struggle with her identity as such and exploring the concept of what it is that makes us, us. Her relationship with Shinji is interesting because as she grows closer to him, she realizes that she wants more than being just a clone. Just a doll, like Asuka had called her. She blushes when Shinji mentions that she reminds him of his mother because this awakens a part of her that is given meaning beyond Nerv, beyond being a pilot. The idea that someone could consider her a caregiver rather than an object to an end somehow appeals to her even if what she constantly wishes is to cease to exist. Much like our next character…
Yes, the polemic boy with white hair who lasted us a whole episode: Kaworu Nagisa, AKA Adam. It is really amazing how much a character can change everything and how you can get caught in a character in only one episode. We all felt something for Kaworu and his death was raw and felt wrong.
Kaworu appears and he is immediately drawn to Shinji, they share a nice moment together where he makes Shinji felt so comfortable that he tells him a lot about himself and how he feels, something that Shinji doesn’t easily do. Kaworu provides a safe haven to Shinji in the middle of all chaos. The polemic “It means you’re worthy of my grace/It means I like you” line left a lot of people feeling like a lot was lost from the scene. “Sukitte kotosan” is actually better translated to “I love you” than “I like you”. It also has a romantic connotation which is what angered a lot of fans because it erased a very important moment. Kaworu offering his love to Shinji from the get-go is very relevant to the plot because it is the first time someone openly shows affection towards him without having expectations. Shinji is deeply affected by this, being the lonely kid that he is. Kaworu felt sort of like Jesus to me, so him professing love to Shinji was only natural. I wouldn’t go as far as to make the whole thing into a homosexual scene but there are some homoerotic undertones to it and, the translation could’ve been handled better.
And finally, we have Shinji’s relationship with… Himself.
At the time, Evangelion felt to me like the understanding of human nature through the journey of a lonely kid with self-stem issues. The constant topic of how affected we are by our relationships, how we define ourselves by what others see of us and how that can be ambivalent. We get Shinji’s final line “I still don’t know where to find happiness. But I’ll continue to think about whether it’s good to be here…whether it was good to have been born. But in the end, it’s just realizing the obvious over and over again. Because I am myself “which hits different after watching the anime ending because we discover that basically the whole world ended, and this kid just learned how to be okay with himself. Therapy would’ve been cheaper.
But really, that “because I am myself” just hits so hard after everything that has happened and makes you feel proud of Shinji. The scenario is gloomy and dark but his final realization allows you to feel a bit of hope. Even Asuka’s final line “disgusting” still closes the story on a depressing but hopeful note.
I still must watch the remakes but y’all… I just need to catch my breath after all of this existentialism. Give a girl a break, this show literally shocked my world and left me with some questions that I’m definitely not tryna answer before I go to bed.