If you are my age, growing up watching Cartoon Network had an extra perk that other children’s television channels’ did not possess. While Nickelodeon had its trademark surrealist art style and Disney had its long lasting characters, Cartoon Network decided to import some entertainment from the land of the rising sun. They brought in Anime!
This was something new and exciting. Cartoon Network created its own block for this programing and dubbed it Toonami, and its action packed line up basically raised my generation.
Now, there were a few great standouts during this block’s early years. However, the one that stood out the most to me is the classically renowned Neon Genesis Evangelion. A mouthful of a title for a fulfilling show.
God, I love that theme song.
Now, upon first glance, this might seem like just another show about robots fighting monsters. You know the type. However, Evangelion stands out because while there is an inevitable mech fight each episode, it is not the primary focus of the series.
The Evangelion series revolves around the organization NERV, using large mechas called Evangelions to combat monstrous beings called Angels. They are piloted by several of the main characters, including Shinji Ikari, Asuka Sohryu, and Rei Ayanami. While the initial episodes focus largely on religious symbols and specific references to the Bible, the later episodes tend to go deeper into the psyches of the characters, where it is learned that many of them have deep seated emotional and mental issues. Through the exploration of these issues, the show begins to question reality and the existences therein.
Yeah… it is a lot to take in. And this show did so much more than that. It was one of the first animated programs to depict budding sexuality and, what many have interpreted to be, the fledgling marks of a homosexual relationship.
It was groundbreaking. Fans and critics loved it.
Until the ending. The ultra confusing, highly stylized two-part ending really alienated and polarized the audience to the point where the rose colored glasses snapped in to. The cracks and faults of the show started to grow more apparent. It even got to the point where the creator, Hideaki Anno was sent death threats.
What was wrong with the show? And what was so wrong with the ending? Let’s find out!
Preach to the Sky
As I mentioned before, this series used a lot of religious symbolism and ideology when it came to its content.These symbols were derived from Kabbalah, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Shinto. On the phycology side of it, we have the teachings and works of Sigmund Freud,[Jacques Lacan, Arthur Schopenhauer, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Jean-Paul Sartre and many more.
It is a lot of content to squeeze into only 26 episodes, and have significant character development. So, subtly would be needed for such a task.
I will say this, while have plot elements and locations relating to the bible was a good touch, but the amount of times I saw a cross in this show made my skin burn.
Personally, I was not detracted by this, but for a lot of people, it turned them off to the whole show. For them it was a lot of talking about religion, a lot of visuals about religion, and then… bloody monster/robot fights.
There are two types of viewers for this show: those in it for the characters, and those there for the fight scenes. The religious talk, when heavy handed, is a turn off for both audiences.
But hey, at least the animation is good. Right?
Why do I tempt fate?
While I like this show, the animation is very inconsistent. For example, the EVA’s (giant robots) have a size that is practically impossible to determine. In one scene, the EVA will be laying on an aircraft carrier, taking up the whole the space. However, in the very next scene, the carrier’s are the size of its foot, and are easily smashed.
That might be forgiven. After all, the creator of the show said that his measurements and scales are governed by what looks cool on screen. Yet, this somehow doesn’t make sense with scene comparisons like this:
I may be mistaken, but having a character who’s family tree looks like it may have a few giraffe’s in it isn’t that cool on screen.
And this continues on part of this comes from the fact that different animators with different styles would works on inconsistent chedules, and part of this is due to the budget (towards the end of the run) go to the fight scenes. So animation for other areas really weren’t available. The team got around this with a lot of overlaying images being presented while characters spoke in the background (similar to a news package). This took away from greater animation errors, and the audience accepted it. That is, until the ending was released.
Another Cruel Angel’s Thesis
I could sum this ending up, but I will let the official wikia.
“In the last two episodes (the second set in 2016), Gendo and Rei initiate the Human Instrumentality Project, forcing several characters (especially Shinji) to face their doubts and fears and examine their self-worth, with sequences that “suggest animated schizophrenia” This ending was made up of flashbacks, sketchy artwork, and flashing text “over a montage of bleak visuals, that include black and white photos of desolate urban motifs such as a riderless bicycle or vacant park benches interspersed with graphic stills of the devastated NERV headquarters in which Shinji’s colleagues are seen as bloodstained bodies”, and a brief interlude depicting an “alternate” Evangelion universe with the same characters but apparently in the high school comedy genre, eventually seems to depict Shinji concluding that life could be worth living and that he did not need to pilot an Eva to justify his existence; he is then surrounded by most of the cast, clapping and congratulating him. The introduction implies that this same process took place for everyone.”
It was unsatisfying. It was bizarre. Even more so, it was kind of confusing.
Did the events of the show even happen? What was real? Were the characters real? Was everything just the psychological reconstruction of a boy shattered by… some event?
This was a show that people enjoyed. They looked past all its faults because they enjoyed the story and characters. Well, years later, they released a second ending one that raised more questions, but not a whole lot of answers.
With all its faults, why does this show still stand?
To truly understand though, we must analyze the context and subtext in the series.
To start of, the entirety of the series seems to be anti-religious. The main monstrous enemies are otherworldly beings known simply as Angels, who’s attacks on humanity devastate the population. Humanity rises against them by using the remains of the first Angel, Adam. Said remains are forged to become similar beasts known as Eva’s. However, the only people who can control the Eva’s are adolescents, all of which are facing traumas dealt upon their psyches which stem from previous cataclysms brought on by the Angels years before.
Sounds like religion is bad, right?
However, upon further look, it becomes apparent that the humans are just as destructive to themselves as the Angels are. In their own zealous drive to exterminate the Angels, mankind is slowly killing themselves. The shadowy higher ups that control the children are holding the fear of the Angels over them in order to further their own selfish goals.
With both sides as destructive as they are, we finally see exactly what the idea is. Religion is not bad, no is the desire to separate ones self from religion., but rather the kind of fanatic mindset behind those actions. Coexistence never once is brought up in the series, because each side is caught up in their own goals. The only time this comes close is the relationship between the human Shinji and the angel Kawaru, and their own unwavering loyalties to their causes leads to the death of one and the mental breakdown of the other. Can you see how such over devotion is troubling.
And that is why I think I can actually understand the ending. The reason everything is so crazy and bizarre is because it reflect Shinji’s mindset after he is forced ot kill his lover. throughout two episodes have him work through his own insecurities until he accepts that he doesn’t need such loyalties, that he can still grow as a person. He learns to co-exist with different ideas of what he could be and that his doesn’t need the patriarchal, onipitent forcees above to approve of him. He is met with thunderous applause
(Please ignore the parody section)
Stay tuned for part 2, where I tackle End of Evangelion the movie where a-whole-nother can of worms is