Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

A New Form of Entertainment

Anime has a long history as a new medium for arthouse, avant-garde, philosophy, and literature. Many series rival high art and academic studies in terms of their dilemmatic themes, and a prime example is Neon Genesis Evangelion. Widely considered one of the biggest anime franchises in history, it has garnered various interpretations and debates among academics and fans alike. Directed by Hideaki Anno, who had previously worked with legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki, the series premiered in Japan in 1995 and reached the United States in 2000. More recently, it aired on Netflix.

The series offers a complex reflection of Anno’s struggles with depression, along with commentary on Japan’s post-nuclear anxiety, postmodernism, psychoanalysis, and religion. However, it is also far from a work of art with this in mind, as it is widely accessible to the audience. One notable aspect is the show’s multiple endings, spinoffs, and remakes, which have further fueled debates.

For the purpose of this analysis, the focus will be on Neon Genesis Evangelion and The End of Evangelion, rather than the remakes. These two parts of the series are central to understanding its depth and significance.

A Brief Summary of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Honestly, the storyline of Neon Genesis Evangelion is incredibly rich, filled with almost unimaginable lore. However, here is a brief plot summary of the main subplot. The series follows the story of Shinji Ikari, a student recruited to pilot a giant biomechanical robot created to combat an alien-like entity called Angel, which is invading the post-disaster area of Tokyo-3. Shinji’s father, Gendo Ikari, holds a high-ranking position in a secret government program called NERV, which was formed to counter these attacks.

Despite Shinji’s deep resentment towards his father, he finds himself facing a complicated dilemma when Gendo forces him to take on a significant responsibility. Gendo blackmails Shinji by threatening to force Rei Ayanami, the First Child and the original pilot who is already seriously injured, to fight in Shinji’s place. Eventually, Shinji decides to replace Rei as the pilot of Eva and becomes the Second Child of Evangelion.

The Psychoanalysis

The first dilemmatic study, most notably in Neon Genesis Evangelion, revolves around psychoanalysis. Scholars have considered the series to be a deeply personal expression of Hideaki Anno’s personality. From the beginning, the series delves into various psychological themes, particularly drawing from Sigmund Freud’s theories. Throughout many episodes and soundtracks, the series employs titles such as Oral Stage and Separation Anxiety. However, the most significant focus is on Oedipus complexities.

The setting of Tokyo-3 also holds much psychological meaning, evident from its appearance in the first episode. Many characters in the series carry deep psychological trauma, especially Shinji and his father. Shinji’s introverted nature stems from his mother’s early death and his father’s abandonment. Asuka, on the other hand, grapples with her mother’s madness and her eventual suicide, leading to her harsh and repressive personality as a coping mechanism for her pain. When piloting Unit 02, Asuka seeks validation and attention from others, finding pride in her accomplishments.

Misato’s psychological struggles stem from her father’s abandonment in her childhood. After her father’s death in the Second Impact, she went into exile for several years. In the last psychotherapy episode, Misato admits to being attracted to Kaji but also fearful of him. He reminds her of her father, and their complex relationship echoes Freudian themes, overlapping with the image of Shinji’s mother.

Overall, Neon Genesis Evangelion deeply explores psychoanalytic concepts, presenting complex and multifaceted characters dealing with their internal struggles and traumas.

A Deep Introspection

On the other hand, Ritsuko witnesses her mother having an affair with Gendo, which leads to her mother’s suicide and leaves her with a melancholic dilemma regarding Gendo. In the last two psychotherapy episodes, both take place in a muted tone, featuring continuous introspection as Shinji questions himself. Responding to an unseen voice, he attempts to explore the psychological aspect of building and being human. He struggles with feelings of worthlessness but also fears the judgment of others if he does not pilot the Eva.

Aside from Shinji, Anno depicts Asuka and Rei as deeply introspective characters whose souls intertwine. Asuka comes to realize how the shadows of her past, particularly her mother’s influence, have trapped her and fueled her jealousy towards Shinji. She struggles to find a sense of value, questioning if she is just trash and worthless. Rei, throughout the series, exhibits minimal emotion, revealing her strong urge to fulfill her singular purpose, even if it means sacrificing herself. However, when she accepts Shinji’s existence and sees herself as a human being, understanding that she is a clone of Shinji’s mother, Rei finds happiness. Instead of despair, she is willing to sacrifice herself to save Shinji.

In the last episode, both Asuka and Shinji endure similar suffering but respond differently to cope with it. In the famous Congratulations scene, Shinji eventually comprehends that he cannot have a meaningful life without Eva, but he learns to accept himself in another life where he can find happiness. The light at the end of the tunnel differs in each interpretation of the series.

The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence

According to Freud, the ego defense mechanism is the human mind’s way of protecting itself from depression, anxiety, and guilt. While Freud proposed the theory, his daughter, Anna Freud, further developed it. There are several defense mechanisms, including repression, regression, projection, displacement, reaction formation, rejection, denial, and sublimation.

Regarding psychosexual development stages, Freud believed that all complexes of the human personality could be traced back to childhood. These stages include the oral, anal, phallic, latent period, and genital stages. Successfully navigating these stages is essential, as failure to do so can lead to fixations that affect an adult’s psyche.

In the dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji employs defense mechanisms from the beginning to the end. Initially, he develops a positive relationship with others, but when that collapses, particularly with his father, he becomes deeply depressed. To cope with his guilt and the demands of the superego, he uses various defense mechanisms to survive. First, he engages in denial to escape reality. Second, he habitually apologizes even when he hasn’t done anything wrong, engaging in undoing behavior. Third, he projects his feelings onto his father, viewing him as the wrongdoer, not himself. Fourth, he resorts to displacement by directing his frustrated emotions towards Asuka, even engaging in inappropriate behavior like masturbating over her unconscious body. Finally, he encourages aggression, piloting Eva despite resenting the role of a pilot.

Shinji’s use of defense mechanisms highlights the complex and psychologically intense themes explored in Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Oedipus Complex

In addition to using defense mechanisms, Shinji also exhibits fixation due to the psychosexual stages, particularly the genital and Oedipus complex. He successfully navigated the oral and anal stages, where he had positive experiences with his mother, Yui, such as breastfeeding and affectionate cuddling during the oral stage, and nurturing and caressing during the anal stage.

However, Shinji’s fixation begins at the phallic stage when his mother dies and his father, Gendo, abandons him to his teacher’s care. Gendo only sends money for Shinji’s upbringing but never visits him. Shinji only meets his father once, a year after his mother’s death, at her grave. Unfortunately, Shinji has no memory of his mother since she passed away when he was very young, and his father never shared any information about her. Abandoned by his father and without a family, Shinji struggles with his Oedipus complex, leading to a reluctance to visit his mother’s grave for three years due to his father’s hatred.

The family reunion in the first episode occurs when Gendo uses Shinji to pilot Eva and orders him into town. From the phallic stage, Shinji’s fixation continues to affect his interactions in the genital stage. He finds it difficult to approach or establish satisfactory relationships with his friends, including Rei, Asuka, Misato, and Kaworu, especially when it comes to handling relationships with the opposite sex.

The Religious Symbolism

The second dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion is religious symbolism. The series draws inspiration from Christian sources, frequently utilizing themes and iconography from Kabbalism, Gnosticism, and Islam. Anno proposes significant themes, including the nature of evolution, the existence of God, and its impact on humanity. According to Tsurumaki, the series’ assistant director, they initially used Christian themes and symbolism to give the project a unique edge over a series about giant robot battles. There was no Christian or any religious significance intended in the series, and it is not meant to be controversial. However, unlike Tsurumaki, Anno said that the series is open to multiple interpretations.

The angels referenced are from God’s angels in the Old Testament, most of whom bear the same name. Besides, the most critical Angels are Adam as the first angel and Lilith as the second angel. Like in the Bible, Adam was the first human being created by God, while Lilith references Jewish folklore in which Lilith was Adam’s first wife and the second human being created by God.

The Gospel

Lilith is shown stabbed and crucified with a spear named the Lance of Longinus, the same spear used to pierce the side of Jesus Christ’s body during His crucifixion, according to the Gospel of Nicodemus. Eva, or Eve, came from Adam’s rib. Evangelion comes from Angel, who was first identified as Adam. The purpose of the Angels coming to Earth is to return to Adam and create the Third Impact, which will destroy humanity. According to Kaworu, humans are Lilith’s creatures and he identifies them as Lilin. In every action scene where an Angel is defeated, it produces an explosion in the form of a Christian cross.

The Magi supercomputers at NERV are named Melchior, Balthasar, and Casper, traditionally given names of the Magi who visited Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, as mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew. The Marduk Institute is the front organization for NERV, tasked with finding suitable youth to pilot the Evangelion units. Marduk is the name of the primary Babylonian God and the patron god of the city of Babylon. The Sephiroth tree is mentioned and featured in the opening title sequence and Gendo’s office.

The Prescient Apocalypse

At the initial conclusion of the series, Neon Genesis Evangelion not only allows an individual to regenerate a newly created world but also remakes the entire human species immortal, freeing them from the biological and psychological constraints to re-embrace Eden’s happiness. When the television series ended, controversy reigned over the production. Critics and the community were often hostile, moving from the mecha elements and futurist fantasy of the early episodes to a presumption of self-indulgent psycho rambling. However, the deconstructive disclosures of the characters and the central narrative are entirely consistent with Anno’s typological presentation of the apocalypse as a rite of passage, wherein the role of a messianic hero and humanity becomes significant. Therefore, Shinji’s personality plays the role of a micro-apocalypse, symbolizing the species’ desire to reunite with the divine after his fall from grace. The allusions to apocalyptic schemes, both cyclical and linear, are more than mere cues to understand the community.

SEELE

Nomenclature and icons are repeated throughout the series, slowly revealing secret and mystical semiotics. Just as Jewish numerological mysticism informs Evangelion’s epistemology of dreamland transcendence and revelation, Christianity inspires action and narrative. For example, the apocalyptic philosophy in the series is SEELE (derived from German, meaning soul), the secret organization behind the creation of NERV, identified by its seven-eyed logo arranged along the sides of an inverted equilateral triangle. SEELE operates clandestinely with 12 members, basing its actions on the apocalyptic prophecies contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The enigmatic seven-eyed iconography also emerges when Misato is shown Adam, the gigantic upper body of a crucified Angel found in Antarctica and stored in the Terminal Dogma, a high-security underground vault beneath the NERV headquarters. Adam symbolizes the Christian apocalypse as expressed by John of Patmos, where the mystical number seven repeatedly appears as an apocalyptic leitmotif.

Lilith

Lilith is the “mother” of humans and Adam’s first wife. The previous secret revelations about Adam were merely a narrative surface of false prophecies meant to protect Adam’s actual location. In an ancient Hebrew myth, Lilith was Adam’s first wife, preceding Eve, and formed from the same sediment as God. Despite Adam’s origins in the dust, Lilith left him and the prescriptive flesh, choosing to lie with demons until they multiplied into Lilin. Kaworu, the Last Angel, refers to Shinji as the association of all humanity. The implication is that the Angels regard humanity as descended from the fallen, mortal, and corrupted Lilith.

In the last sequence of the original series, Kaworu opens a high-security safe in the Dogma Terminal called Heaven’s Door. He is surprised to discover that Lilith was the embodiment of Lilin herself. The series retells a Genesis myth about transcendence, apocalypse, and disaster in a postmodern spiritual sense.

The Concept of Messiah

When it comes to millennials or messianic beliefs, NERV, an artificial intelligence supercomputer that controls defense systems, is named Magi. It consists of three separate but interconnected systems, as mentioned earlier. The name “Magi” is derived from three sages who came to offer gifts in worship of the messiah’s birth. The prophetic pathway, connecting the apocalyptic narrative, finds representation in the Systema Sephirotica. As mentioned earlier, the Systema Sephirotica describes the creation of Kabbalistic Judaism as an inverted tree of life, illustrating the path from the material world to the spiritual realm.

Similarly, SEELE also utilizes two opposing charts aiming for eternal enlightenment. Both organizations work with an ancient plan of apocalyptic divination. They support and aid a predetermined agenda that involves sacrificing in a doomsday battle against invading Angels by creating the power of a terrestrial god named Eva.

Gendo, Akagi, and Fuyutsuki, under the accommodative guise of NERV and SEELE, conceal Sephirotik’s plan to use the organization to engineer an apocalyptic mode of human transcendence itself through complementation.

The Japanese Postmodernism

One of the essential aspects of religiosity pertains to the victims of mass or popular Japanese culture. Japan acknowledges the presence of religious and mythical undercurrents, such as the animistic Shintoism and Buddhism’s selflessness. When delving into history, the origins of post-war Japanese anime are closely linked to a sacred and secular eschaton brought about by two atomic bombs. These bombs ended the Pacific War, devastating the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, which became a recurring motif in all of Japan’s animated, televisual, and cinematic works from the late 1950s to the new century.

Japan’s rapid postwar industrialization, along with the constitutional democracy imposed during the occupation, accelerated modernization, and economic power of the ’80s, all contributed to the resurgence of manga and anime appeal. In this context, Neon Genesis Evangelion reflects upon a radical transformation and dilemmatic study of Japanese society over the past two generations, presenting a new apocalyptic imagination. The vision of a society undergoing drastic changes, moving from chaotic destruction to a future on the brink of annihilation, and then being liberated from the oppression of specific people into eternal harmony, brings about the rebirth of society and the individual through an apocalyptic catastrophe.

The series serves as a grand narrative of legitimacy and successfully captures a mass audience in an ’80s postmodernist era, challenging premature obituaries of its time.

Existentialism

The final dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion revolves around existentialism, which seeks to center the individual. In the case of the series, the individual represents not just an abstract idea of humans, but real life itself. In contrast, Western philosophy focuses primarily on fundamentalism, placing the individual in a relationship. This philosophy takes the individual as the central starting point with an inversion.

Presented as a philosophy of meaning in light of the individual’s actions, it values the idea of authenticity for the reasons that are relevant to the individual’s life. In the modern sense, it serves as a proto form, with the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard recognized as the first existentialist philosopher. Kierkegaard believed in God but argued that God’s existence was insufficient to give meaning to human existence. Instead, meaning is created through human orientation and action. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide how to react to the idea of God. By upholding the virtues of faith, an individual places complete confidence in himself or herself, and likewise, God can act independently.

The Melancholy of Shinji Ikari

Kierkegaard mentions one of the episodes after his book The Sickness unto Death, which represents a kind of spiritual death resulting from not embracing oneself. Despair is the central theme, manifested in Shinji’s response to events at various points in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Existential despair conveys the sense of regularly disapproving of an individual’s living conditions and includes the added connotation of desperation in finding purpose or meaning in life, as well as solving self-identity. Understanding who the individual becomes a focal point in the protagonist’s point of view.

In the dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji is unhappy and unsure of what he wants and why he should work, let alone work with his father. This uncertainty causes him to take whatever action is prompted, even admitting that he plays the violin simply because no one is telling him to stop. Essentially, he relies on others to direct him and avoid making decisions for himself. In the end, he finds himself unable to care about making decisions because he no longer desires any particular outcome he envisions in the next moment.

Desperation

One of the critical points when discussing existential contexts is “bad faith,” a phenomenon in which humans, under pressure from social forces, act inauthentically, always hoping for something rather than living for themselves. While it does not necessarily imply an attempt to deceive, it places a high value on the idea of living authentically. Existentialist, poststructuralist, and ethical writers question the extent to which such authenticity is possible or always a good thing. However, this understanding of the importance of thinking, in general, still holds respect in philosophy.

In the dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the notion of existential desperation does not serve as a weakness alone. A simple example is when Shinji finds himself in a situation far from hopeful. As it relates to existentialism in general, it focuses on the anxiety stemming from the realization of choice. It is a fact that individuals have to make their own decisions and find meaning independently. There is no telos in reality to tell individuals what to do. Regardless of whether any choice ultimately belongs to the individual, humans always associate despair with such a decision. Isolation arises from realizing that the individual does not know how to respond.

Radicalism

Fundamentalism forms the basis of existentialism and plays a role in shaping the idea of radical freedom. Even if individuals believe there is someone telling them what to do, in the end, they are still responsible for choosing whether to follow that guidance. At any given point, there are countless decisions individuals can make, and anxiety arises from the uncertainty surrounding these choices. Neon Genesis Evangelion focuses on the ambiguous reality of choice, causing anxiety in every character.

Radical freedom, however, does not present an entirely optimistic view due to the inherent responsibility of living for oneself and facing the endless possibilities of choices. In line with Kierkegaard’s theory, Shinji reflects on his existence, struggles with his identity and place. Asuka, on the other hand, represents an ending, displaying vanity, arrogance, and an inability to comprehend the importance of love and dependency.

The End of Evangelion depicts both characters looking somewhat improved from their previous conditions after the events of the Third Impact. Shinji, when offered the option to relinquish his burdensome sense of self, begins to recognize his own value. Asuka, despite her previously futile existence, finally displays affection for him after regaining consciousness. These developments do not mean that they have solved all their problems or will not face more difficulties in the future. However, it portrays both of them moving towards a more realistic image, knowing that they are the last survivors, as the audience is aware.

The Concept of God

According to Anno, the series discusses how humans will move or react if they want to discover and understand the absolute reality of God. In a sense, the series highlights how events unfold, almost revealing the concept of divinity. However, by reducing God to another tool for human use, there is nothing in such a possibility that grants life its essential meaning.

In Kierkegaard’s view, proving the existence of God is impossible. Instead, he suggests that humans must make an existential leap of faith towards belief. Even if humans accept the existence of God, Kierkegaard argues that it is not inherently meaningful. When it comes to accepting God’s existence radically, the depiction in the series interestingly contrasts with Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of the death of God. Nietzsche’s idea entails humans ceasing to rely on religion to provide meaning in life—an almost symbolic death of God when it becomes self-aware that humans can no longer depend on God’s existence.

However, the series reverses the concept of divinity. It portrays the nature of the transcendental world as a scientific light that inherently provides value. For instance, SEELE attempts to unite humanity with God, but the purpose, whether good or bad, does not automatically bestow inherent meaning to life. It depends on the individual’s understanding of their place in the world.

A New Beginning

The last sequence of The End of Evangelion portrays an impressionist image of consciousness. Analyzing this endless picture proves both easy and difficult, as theories beyond psychoanalysis and existentialism merely scratch the surface. Nevertheless, the sequence quickly captivates the viewer, showcasing a beautiful portrayal of a new Adam and Eve as a hybrid embodiment of love and pain, born from the bloody angel. This composition remains a haunting reminder, urging the audience not to escape from it. Longing perpetually remains a prayer, and piles of corpses shroud the ocean of death.

The beauty of life unfolds continuously, but such a concept remains exceedingly complex within the simplistic picture and dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion. However, the series comprehends that in a world gone insane, the greatest thing any individual can do is strive to be human. Unlike hedgehogs unable to warm each other due to their spines, humans are individuals who dare to step ahead of time and ponder, “if they can, why can’t we?”

The series conveys messages that vary with each interpretation and are deeply personal to different individuals.

Bibliography

Related Post

3 thoughts on “The Dilemmatic Study of Neon Genesis Evangelion”
  1. A better overall understanding of Evangelion can be had by watching the End of Evangelion movie, which provides one form of closure. The recent reboot (You Can(not) X 4 movie series) provides quite a different take.

    Personally, the creators use of Christian symbolism is empty and meaningless as his understanding is skin deep at best. His own mental breakdowns show that whatever his own philosophical views on life are, they didn’t help him very much.

    I do like that Evangelion can provide so much fodder for thought though. Another blogger I follow semi-recently did some posts on the reboots and I enjoyed them too. (https://eggheadluna.wordpress.com/)

    1. I agree with your outtake with The End of Evangelion. There is so much religious symbolism just as a lighter to make the show more interesting in the eyes of the audience. However, I want to see how the reboot version can present more immersive themes. Thank you.

      1. and it turns out I was wrong. She didn’t do a series of posts on the reboots but on the original series. Sorry about that.

        I’ve watched the reboots and own the first 3 on bluray. Once the final one comes out I’ll be buying that too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *