The Dilemmatic Study of Neon Genesis Evangelion

A New Form of Entertainment

Anime has a long history of being a new medium of arthouse, avant-garde, philosophy, and literature. With many series rivaling high art and study in terms of dilemmatic, the best example is Neon Genesis Evangelion. Widely, the public considers the show one of the biggest anime franchises in anime history. It is one of the anime with various interpretations and debates both in academics and fans. Directed by Hideaki Anno, he previously worked with legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. The series premiered in Japan from 1995 to the United States in 2000 and recently aired on Netflix.

The series offers a complex reflection of Anno’s struggles with depression, commentary on Japan’s post-nuclear anxiety, postmodernism, psychoanalysis, and religion. On the other hand, the series is far from a work of art with such in mind. The audience has the most accessible access to such art. It is the fact that the show has multiple endings, spinoffs, and remakes to help with the debate. However, rather than focusing on the remakes, the analysis would focus on Neon Genesis Evangelion and The End of Evangelion.

A Brief Summary of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Honestly, the storyline of Neon Genesis Evangelion is incredibly full of details, filled with almost unimaginable lore. However, it is to be a brief plot of why the main subplot is there. The series tells the story of Shinji Ikari, a student recruited to pilot a giant biomechanical robot. They created robots to fight an alien-like entity, known as Angel, invading the post-disaster area of Tokyo-3. Gendo Ikari, Shinji’s father, is a high-ranking official in a secret government program called NERV, created to combat such attacks.

However, because Shinji’s hatred for his father is very foreign, he has a complicated dilemma. His father gave him a big responsibility. Gendo blackmails Shinji into piloting the mech. Known as Eva, Gendo blackmails Shinji by threatening to force Rei Ayanami, the First Child or the first pilot. She is already seriously injured, to fight in Shinji’s place. Eventually, Shinji replaced Rei to pilot Eva and became the Second Child of Evangelion.

The Psychoanalysis

The first dilemmatic study of, most notably, Neon Genesis Evangelion is about psychoanalysis. Scholars have considered the series to be a deeply personal expression of Hideaki Anno’s personality. From the beginning, the series raised many psychological themes, especially the psychological theory of Sigmund Freud. The series uses titles such as Oral Stage and Separation Anxiety in many episodes and soundtracks. However, the essential thing is when the series uses Oedipus’ complexities. The setting of Tokyo-3 also has much psychological meaning, even its appearance in the first episode. Many characters in the series also have deep psychological trauma, especially when it comes to Shinji and his father.

Shinji is an introvert, stemming from his mother’s death at an early age to being left alone by his father. Besides Shinji, Asuka targets her mother’s madness until she finds her mother’s body hanging herself. Her harsh and repressive personality is a way of diverting the pain of her feelings. When she piloted Unit 02, she became a source of pride in gaining the attention of other characters. Misato’s father abandoned Misato when she was a child. When her father was killed in Second Impact, she went into exile for many years. Misato states she is attracted to but afraid of Kaji in the last psychotherapy episode. She reminds him of her father, with much overlap with the image of Shinji’s mother, the two fall in line with the Freudian.

A Deep Introspection

On the other hand, Ritsuko sees her mother having an affair with Gendo after her mother commits suicide and feels a melancholy dilemma for Gendo. Back to the last two psychotherapy episodes, both episodes take place in a muted tone, in the form of continuous interrogation as Shinji asks himself. When asked by an unseen voice, he tries to investigate the psychological question of how to build and be human. Essentially, he feels worthless but is afraid of others if he does not drive the Eva. Besides Shinji, Anno described Asuka and Rei as a picture of deep introspection of each other’s souls. Asuka realized how the shadows of her attention, her mother’s existence, trapped her, and her jealousy towards Shinji. In essence, she does not have a valuable identity by pressing if she is trash and worthless.

Rei, throughout the series, shows minimal emotion, revealing how she has one urge other than a tendency to die. When she accepts Shinji’s existence as an entity that accepts herself as a human being, remembering that she is a clone of Shinji’s mother, Rei tells how she is happy. Rather than despair, she can sacrifice herself to save Shinji. In the last episode, Asuka and Shinji show similar suffering and find different ways to deal with it. In the famous Congratulations scene, Shinji finally understands how he has no life without Eva but accepts himself in another life who lives happily. There is a light upon the end of the tunnel, but it is different in every interpretation.

The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence

According to Freud, the self-defense mechanism is the ego defense of the human mind. Humans will do something to protect their minds from depression, anxiety, and guilt. Although Freud put forward the theory, his daughter, Anna Freud, further developed the theory. There are many defense mechanisms such as repression, regression, projection, displacement, reaction formation, rejection, destruction, and sublimation. For stages of psychosexual development, Freud believed that all complexes of the human personality could be traced back to childhood. There are five stages: oral, anal, phallic, latent period, and genital. If someone can get through it right, it is not a problem. However, if one cannot pass each stage, it will lead to a fixation that affects an adult’s psyche. In the dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji had used a defense mechanism from the beginning to the end.

Shinji had developed a better personality of his excellent relationship with other people before all seemed good. Until then, what made him happy had collapsed, like his excellent relationship with everyone, especially with his father during the middle of the series. When Shinji is deeply depressed, he uses various defense mechanisms to keep himself alive from guilt by the superego, leading him to commit suicide. First, he uses denial to escape reality.

Second, he also has a habit of apologizing for not even doing anything wrong, which is an undoing job. Third, he uses the projection that his father, who is trying to help him, is a wrong person, not he who does nothing but let Angel kill Shinji. Fourth, he uses displacement to satisfy himself by using another helpless person to erase his frustrated feelings, like masturbating over Asuka’s unconscious body. Fifth, he encouraged his aggression from seeing his friend’s injuries to piloting Eva despite always resending a pilot’s role.

Oedipus Complex

In addition to using a defense mechanism, Shinji also uses a fixation due to the psychosexual stage, namely genital and Oedipus complex. Shinji has gone through oral and anal well, like the scene where her mother, Yui, breastfeeds Shinji in the oral stage and cuddles, holds, and caresses when he is in the anal stage. Shinji’s fixation begins at the phallic stage when his mother dies and his father, Gendo, left him with his teacher. Gendo only sent fees for Shinji to raise fees to the teacher but never came to visit Shinji. He had the opportunity to meet his father only once during the year after his mother’s death.

Shinji and his father will meet in front of the grave of their beloved woman. However, Shinji has no memory of his mother since she died when he was very young. His father never told him anything about Yui. Shinji lost his mother and was abandoned by his father, who left him without a family. Shinji never went to his mother’s grave for three years for his father’s hatred as the Oedipus complex progressed. The family reunion in the first episode is when his father uses Shinji and orders him into town to drive Eva. From the phallic stage, fixation affects the next stage to the genital stage. He cannot approach or handle his friends or the opposite sex well, namely Rei, Asuka, Misato, and Kaworu, which is an unsatisfactory relationship.

The Religious Symbolism

The second dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion is religious symbolism. The series draws inspiration from Christian sources, frequently drawing upon 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, the series 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 in the series.

It is not meant to be controversial. However, unlike Tsurumaki, Anno said that the series is prone to multiple interpretations. The angel references God’s angel from the Old Testament, most of whom bear the same name. Besides being a proposal, 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. 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. Eve or Eva 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 that will destroy humanity. To Kaworu, humans are Lilith’s creatures and identify them as Lilin. In every action scene, Angel’s defeat produces an explosion in the form of a Christian cross.

The Magi supercomputers from NERV are named Melchior, Balthasar, and Casper. The names traditionally given to the Magi are mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew for having visited Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. The Marduk Institute is the front organization for Nerv, tasked with finding suitable youth to pilot the Evangelion unit. 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 does not just allow an individual to regenerate a newly created world. However, the entire human species is remade immortal, freed from the biological and psychological constraints of re-embracing Eden’s happiness. When the television series ended, controversy reigned over the production. Critics and the community are often hostile to 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 articulation of the apocalypse as a rite of passage. It is a role as a messianic hero and for humanity. 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, cyclical and linear, are more than mere cues to know the community.

SEELE

Nomenclature and icons are repeated throughout the series in a slowly revealing secret and mystical semiotics. Just as Jewish numerological mysticism informs Evangelional epistemology of the dreamland transcendence of the revelation, Christianity inspires action and narrative. For example, the apocalyptic philosophy in the series is SEELE (derived from German, which means soul) which is the secret organization behind the creation of NERV, having the seven eyes logo. It is arranged along the same sides of an inverted equilateral triangle.

With 12 people, SEELE operates clandestinely, 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 Dogma Terminal, 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 like an apocalyptic leitmotif.

Lilith

Lilith is the “mother” of humans and Adam’s first wife. The previous secret revelations about Adam were just a narrative surface of false prophecies meant to protect Adam’s actual location. In an ancient Hebrew myth, Lilith was Adam’s first wife, preceded Eve, and formed God from sediment. Despite Adam’s origins in the dust, Lilith left Adam and the prescriptive flesh, choosing to lie with the demons until they multiplied into Lilin.

The term is referred to by Kaworu, the Last Angel, as Shinji, who acts as the association of all humanity. Such an 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 was 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 millennial or messianic, NERV, an artificial intelligence supercomputer that controls defense systems, is named Magi; it is three separate but interconnected systems, as it said earlier. Named after three sages who came to give gifts in worshiping the messiah’s birth, the prophetic pathway that connects the apocalyptic narrative finds a representation in the Systema Sephirotica. As well it said earlier, it describes the creation of Kabbalistic Judaism as an inverted tree of life showing the path of the material world to the spiritual realm.

Likewise with SEELE, two opposing charts to eternal enlightenment. Both works with the ancient plan of apocalyptic divination. It supports and aids a predetermined agenda in sacrificing a doomsday battle with the invading Angels by creating the power of a terrestrial god named Eva. Gendo, Akagi, and Fuyutsuki, under the accommodative guise of NERV and SEELE, cover up 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 things about religiosity is when it comes to victims of mass or popular Japanese culture. Japan recognizes religious and mythical undercurrents such as the animistic Shintoism of Buddhism’s selflessness. When going back to history, the origins of post-war Japanese anime are closely tied to a sacred and secular eschaton of two atomic bombs. The bombs ended the Pacific War, destroying the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima as a recurring motif in all of Japan’s animated, televisual, and cinematic from the late 1950s to the new century. Japan’s rapid postwar industrialization, occupation-imposed constitutional democracy, accelerated modernization, and economic power of the 80s contributed to the revival of manga and anime appeal.

In such a case, Neon Genesis Evangelion looks back at a radical transformation and dilemmatic study of Japanese society over the past two generations: a new apocalyptic imagination. The vision of a society radically changing from chaotic destruction and, in the future, headed for destruction, liberation 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 finds a mass audience in an ’80s postmodernist premature obituary.

Existentialism

The final dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion is existentialism, which seeks to ground the individual as its center. In the case of the series, the individual does not only serve as an idea of humans. However, it is real life. In contrast, western philosophy presents the main focus of fundamentalism in placing the individual into a relationship. The philosophy takes the individual as a central starting place with an inversion. Presented as a philosophy of meaning in light of the individual’s actions, it is valuing the idea of authenticity for such reasons and living in harmony with the meaning of the individual as it means to the individual and relevant to his life.

In the modern sense, it serves as a beginning in proto form with the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the first existentialist philosopher. He believed in God, arguing that God’s existence was insufficient to give meaning to human existence. However, such 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 has placed complete confidence in himself. God, likewise, can act independently.

The Melancholy of Shinji Ikari

Kierkegaard mentions one of the episodes after his book The Sickness unto Death. The book represents a kind of spiritual death from not embracing oneself. Despair is the central theme, manifested in Shinji’s response to events at various points. Existential despair has the connotation of regularly disapproving of an individual’s living conditions. It has the added connotation of desperation even to know how to find purpose or meaning in life, even in solving self-identity, understanding whom 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 to work, let alone work with his father. It is causing him to take whatever action he prompts, even admitting that he plays the violin because no one is telling him to stop. In essence, he relies on others to tell him what to do to avoid making decisions for himself. In the end, he finds himself unable to care about making decisions because he no longer has the desire for whatever outcome he sees 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 does place 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 level of understanding of the importance of thinking, in general, still has respect in philosophy.

In the dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the notion of existential desperation does not serve as a weakness alone. However, 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 in telling individuals what to do. Regardless of whether any choice ultimately belongs to the individual, humans always associate despair with such a choice. Isolation arises from realizing that the individual does not know how to respond.

Radicalism

Fundamentalism from the basis of existentialism plays a role in filling the thought of radical freedom. If there is someone that the individual believes tells the individual what to do, in the end, the individual is still the person responsible for choosing to go with the flow. At any point, there are endless decisions that individuals can make, and anxiety is the result of uncertainty. Neon Genesis Evangelion has a focus on the ambiguous reality of choice. Every character has anxiety as a result. In addition, radical freedom does not represent an entirely optimistic view because of the responsibility inherent in living for oneself and knowing the unlimited choices of the individual. Regarding Kierkegaard’s theory, Shinji reflects an ex, hates identity, and his place.

Asuka represents an ending, being vain, arrogant, and playing a character who does not understand the dependence one has on love. The End of Evangelion shows both characters look a little better from their condition after what was happening in the Third Impact. With Shinji, when offered the option to leave the feeling of self that weighs down, he finally starts to see the value within. Even though her life was in vain, Asuka finally showed affection for him after regaining consciousness for the first time. The facts do not mean that they solved their problems one by one or did not face more difficulties in the future. However, it reflects both of them moving more towards a realistic image because, as the audience knows, they are the last survivors.

The Concept of God

According to Anno, the series talks about how humans will move or react if they want to find and know the absolute reality of God. In a sense, the series highlights how the events work, almost revealing the idea of divinity. By turning God into another tool for human use, there is nothing about existence such a possibility that makes life’s essential meaning. In Kierkegaard’s opinion, there is no such thing as proving the existence of God. Instead of saying humans must make an existential leap of faith towards belief. In contrast to the things, he says that even if humans accept the existence of God, it is not inherently meaningful. When it comes to accepting God’s existence radically, the depiction in the series is, interestingly, the opposite of what Friedrich Nietzsche called his concept of the death of God.

God’s death is the point at which humans stop relying on religion to give them meaning in life. A kind of symbolic death of God at the point where it appears self-aware that humans can no longer rely on God to exist. However, on the other hand, the series reverses the concept of divinity. For the series, the concept shows that the nature of the transcendental nature of the world as a thing is a scientific light. Inherently, it can provide value. In one example, SEELE tries to unite humanity with God, but the purpose, whether good or bad, is not the inherent meaning of life. It is dependent on the individual in understanding their place in the world.

A New Beginning

The last sequence of The End of Evangelion depicts an impressionist image of conscience. It is easy but difficult to analyze when talking about an endless picture, and theories other than psychoanalysis and existentialism are just the surface. However, it quickly crosses a screen in awe, seeing how beautifully a new Adam and Eve acts as a hybrid embodiment of love and pain. The bloody angel gave birth to such beautiful composition, a reminder that haunts the audience in escaping. The longing will always be a prayer, and piles of corpses will cover the ocean into death.

The beauty of life happens all the time, but such a concept is still very complex in the simplistic picture and dilemmatic study of Neon Genesis Evangelion. However, the series understands that in a world gone insane, there is the greatest thing any individual can do: strive to be human. Humans are not like hedgehogs who try to warm each other but cannot because of the spines on the little animal’s back. However, humans are individuals who dare to put one step ahead of time and try to think, “if they can, why can’t we?” The series contains such messages that, at least, some people are different for each interpretation and personal.

Bibliography

About the author

Salman Al Farisi is the owner of Calxylian and is an elitist who has enjoyed and studied various mediums. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 2020 from the Haluoleo University, Indonesia, where he studied English Literature, Film Criticism, Cultural Studies, Literary Theory, and Literary Criticism. He lives in Kendari in his mom's basement, now unemployed and ghostwriter, life with his cats, and is looking for the future.

Comments

  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.

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