Neon Genesis Evangelion is a mind-bender. It pretends to be a show about giant robots but shocks you with an intimate exploration of puberty, depression, jealousy, philosophy and spirituality. Christian mythology is masterfully exploited to suck the viewer into an ambitious tale of alienation and existential anxiety.
The main story, somehow, takes a back seat to the sub-plots. It deconstructs the Mecha genre and reinforces it with elements of psychodrama, horror and salvation fantasy. From the get-go, the anime knows what it wants to be. All of the main characters are unlikeable, but not in an exciting or villainous way. Shinji is a teenager struggling to accept his father’s ambivalence, his loneliness, and his sexuality. The introduction of Rei and fiery Asuka challenges his identity and sense of restraint. Misato tries to be a mother figure but keeps failing because she only knows how to connect with people sexually. NGE adopts a monster-of-the-week formula to fool you into dropping your guard while the characters experience a crescendo of emotional depth.
All the main characters of NGE are afflicted with different psychoses. Enter Ryoji Kaji, the most ‘normal’ character in Eva. He will go on to play a pivotal role in the evolutions of Shinji, Misato, and others. Compared to them, he is as ordinary as a person can be. But in the bleak world of Evangelion, there is no place for someone like that. As said before, NGE is, amongst other things, a study of sexuality, puberty, and identity. In this regard, Kaji guides Shinji’s transition to manhood for the sympathy he feels for him as a wayward child. He is able to convince Shinji to recommit to his duties because he is the first person to suggest that it is a choice. Kaji instils confidence in Shinji by telling him that he, unlike Kaji, can make a difference in their world. The philosophical teachings that he bestows on Shinji play a part in his rejection of negativity. Kaji represents an ideal for Shinji insofar as he is what Shinji strives to be versus what he is destined to be. The character challenges the traditional roles of gender by being more of a mother figure to Shinji than any woman in his life.
The philosophies of Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer figure heavily in Eva’s message. Schopenhauer assessed the struggles of opening up to others for fear of hurting them or oneself as a bottleneck of human intimacy, otherwise known as the Hedgehog’s Dilemma. Several characters suffer from this and it humanizes them all the more. Besides, there is an overarching theme which teaches that the you which exists in your mind can be different from the you which exists in the minds of others. In spite of that, accepting your uniqueness and learning to value yourself can help you overcome the darkest chapters of life.
The movie, End of Evangelion, is essential to reconcile some of the more controversial aspects of the series finale. It questions the audience’s dissatisfaction and solicits a retrospective appreciation for the original ending. The original dub is preferable to the Netflix one. If you decide to give Eva a chance, you are in for a ride as it will enlighten many of your perspectives. If you’ve seen the show: Congratulations! (the joke will make sense later.)
Arannya is a lover of stoic philosophy peering at literature from a cynical perspective.