I don’t know if I never want to see Neon Genesis Evangelion again, or if I want to see it a million more times. I don’t know if I hate it, or if I love it. But I do know one thing:
I can’t stop thinking about it.
In a move that perhaps wasn’t too wise, I spent all of last evening / night watching episodes 21-26 of the show, as well as The End of Evangelion. That’s about five hours of mind-bending trips, upsetting violence, uncomfortably sexual scenes, and two still shots that lasted just long enough to be annoying.
I’ll admit that I’m not the most perceptive guy on the planet, and it’s hard to take everything in with a binge-session like I had, but I was certainly doing my best to make sense of everything up until here, and honestly, I thought I understood it. I listened to a podcast called “Panning the Stream,” where Dan and Bianca Rykart (the former I got to meet briefly when he visited Game Informer!) discussed different batches of episodes, also watching the show for the first time. And much like them, I absolutely loved this show up until this point.
[SPOILERS AHEAD! Also, this show’s kinda (read: really) messed up, so I’m covering some messed up topics here, including depression, suicide, and sexualization of children.]
It had it all! I loved the giant robot battles as much as the next guy, but I was also deeply invested in Shinji’s battle with depression, Asuka’s backstory (she could be pretty awful, but I was reserving judgment and it did lend to some fun comic relief), Togi and Kensuke just being bros, and everything going on with Adam, Lilith, and the second impact. I was completely absorbed, and while I didn’t have enough answers, the show seemed to feed them at a rate consistent enough to expect the ending to give sufficient payoff.
Of course I have thoughts on the last two episodes, and I’ll get to them. But I think the show started showing cracks long before then. Comparatively little happens in the present, with the show starting at a breakneck pace trying to answer all the big questions it set up. Asuka had a mentally deranged mother. Rei is kinda Shinji’s mom but also is made from Lilith. Gendo is trying to bring about the third impact to be with his dead wife again. I may have already said something incorrect, but that just proves my point: The show isn’t clear. There are some things I understand were left up to interpretation, but the key details of the show’s core plot should at least make sense, and in my opinion, they didn’t.
Also, and maybe not everyone had this problem, the show just got too dark for me. As someone who’s indirectly felt the impact suicide has, seeing the segment where Asuka’s past is relived, and seeing her react to it being brought back in the present, made me just feel... gross. That’s likely the intent, and I’m not one to call for censorship, but whereas the first 19 episodes balanced the heavy moments with levity, the show seems to become more and more unhinged as its characters do.
And then there’s the ending. I knew going in that the ending was going to be different and weird, but I assumed there’d be some context around it. Nope. It just... happened. I liked some of it, didn’t like other parts, and thought the ending had a sweet message, if somewhat out of nowhere. But it wasn’t a story. I feel like if the previous episode had set the finale up, to the point where we know that Shinji’s undergoing the human instrumentality project, I might’ve bought into his two-episode therapy session more easily. As it stands, it’s a nonsensical modern art piece.
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one to think this way. Fan outcry at the last two episodes was loud enough that they were essentially remade for a theatrical release, with a larger budget, better animation, new music, and hey, a story.
And I hate to be picky, but I wasn’t too hot on End of Evangelion either.
It had some good moments, such as Asuka’s badass fight against the mass-produced Evas, and as stated, the animation and music could be breathtaking, but there was too much that crossed a line for me.
I didn’t actually hate Shinji up until this point. I knew he was going through a lot, and as someone who’s also battled depression, I understood it, to a point. But from the get-go in End of Evangelion, Shinji is absolutely, well, “disgusting.” There’s the infamous “lowest of the low” scene, where I wasn’t entirely sure what just happened because of how absurd it was. Shinji is slowly learning to grow a backbone throughout the anime, standing up for himself and being more assertive. All of that evaporates, and it never really returns.
There are other things I wasn’t too keen on, too. There’s not a peck on the cheek, but a full makeout session between the middle-aged Misato and 14-year-old shinji. And in general, just a lot more child nudity and sexualizaiton (not to mention abuse) than I’m personally comfortable with.
Every scene mentioned has its defenders, and I’m not calling them perverts or pedophiles for finding these scenes necessary or meaningful. But for me, these scenes didn’t serve as something to service the plot or overall message. They just fed into the film’s spiral into nonsense, losing cohesion and eventually regressing to the same internalized state the anime’s finale had, just with a much larger budget and far more negative outcome.
As I close my confused and frustrated thoughts, I’d like to close with a personal anecdote: In my freshman year of high school, when my depression was at its most intense, I had to write an essay for my biology class (coincidentally, I was 14). Halfway into the essay, I had a breakdown, but with the assignment being due the next day, I filled the rest out not with my assignment, but stuff about myself, what I was going through, and eventually some positive affirmations. In the moment, I felt relieved, getting to write about something that mattered to be instead of Punnett squares I didn’t understand. I also wasn’t shocked when I got a bad grade on that project, with some understandably concerned comments.
It’s no secret that director Hideaki Anno had serious depression while making the show, and it seems to me that it worsened over the course of making it.* Things that make sense when you’re depressed are often scary, upsetting, or just straight-up weird and nonsensical to those who aren’t experiencing what you are. I’ve heard many people connect with this show because of its stark portrayal of Shinji’s, and ultimately Anno’s, depression, and I’m happy for those who did. Perhaps I would’ve connected with the show more if I were in the same state I was in my freshman year.
If that’s the case, I’m glad I didn’t enjoy it.
*I’m aware budget cuts/ time constraints may have also had an impact on the show’s trajectory, but from what research I’ve done Anno seems to have intended to go this route