Neon Genesis Evangelion (NGE) is a widely popular anime series from the late ’90s that spawned a franchise including the development of several films, manga, and even video games. In this article, I will be focusing on the last two episodes (Episode 25 and 26) of Evangelion, which deals heavily within the realm of metaphysics. In these episodes, a mission called The Human Instrumentality Project commences, which attempts to merge the souls of humankind into a single entity. These last two episodes dive into the minds of several protagonists, exploring their internal conflicts and unresolved insecurities that have been drawn out over the course of the series. They are asked often vague existential questions which inspires them to search deep within themselves to find an answer. Here, I will dive into some interesting themes that were explored in this film, including self-identity and relationships, and share my insights into some of the stuff going on. To begin with, the following conversation is one that takes place between Shinji and Rei, another Eva pilot:
Shinji: I have no value without [the Eva]. My life is worthless without it. Then, what am I? What am I? This is… Me! This is the shape that lets others recognize me as myself. It is my symbol for my Self. This is a representation. Everything is a description, not my real Self. Everything’s a shape, an identifier to let others recognize me as me. But then, what am I? Is this me? My true Self? My fake Self?
Rei: You are you. There is little difference between how you interpret yourself and how others interpret you.
Shinji: Right. My clothes… My shoes… My room… These all are parts of what makes up my Self. These things are connected through your consciousness. So, what I think is me, is me. What I recognize as Self is myself. But I don’t understand myself.
It is clear in this conversation that Shinji feels he has no particular value in his life without the Eva. In the series, Shinji receives no recognition until the moment when he decides to pilot the Eva. From that point, he receives a great amount of praise that he is rather unused to. Shinji, who becomes rather accustomed to the spotlight, faces a dilemma with the defeat of the final angel. He is no longer able to rely on the Eva, now rendered obsolete, as a source of attention. Shinji demonstrates a clearly nihilistic point of view, by adopting the stance that life lacks meaning. He had seemingly found meaning through his experiences piloting the Eva, something that came naturally to him and brought to him a great deal of admiration from his friends and father. This is all taken away from him rather swiftly at the end of Evangelion. He reflects upon the experiences that comprise the impression he has of himself – including simple identifiers like his shoes, clothes, and room – all which contribute in some way or another to Shinji’s self-identity. Likewise, the meaning of life that we construe at a given time in our life can simply be another experience added to the vast number of experiences that ultimately define us.
Additionally, Shinji discusses what he believes to be his true or authentic self. He expresses some concern as to whether his form can accurately represent this true self. While it is interesting to think that the essence or form or something may be deceiving, I think the aim of this topic is to challenge us to see the world in its most stripped away and bare form. I would be inclined to think that while Shinji has not come to terms with his true self, his true form still exists. Shinji struggles immensely with finding happiness or self-satisfaction in his life. For the majority of the episode, he is weighed down by pain and suffering. As Heidegger suggests, Shinji must come to terms with his authentic self to eventually find satisfaction in his true self. Heidegger believes that we exist for the sake of ourselves, demonstrating traits and taking on roles that fulfill our own impression of what it means to be human. (1) A common theme that is seen all throughout the Evangelion series is the sense of isolation that Eva pilots feel, which contributes to the overwhelming void that they feel in their life. This episode hints at the idea that individuals aspire to form a connection with others in an attempt to escape their own isolation and sense of incompleteness. Mutual understanding is what each character strives for, and without this, it appears that the individual fails to recognize the self. By observing others and interacting with them, they develop a sense of self in relation to other people, and even further, the world. There is a heavy implication that relationships with others are necessary to come to know oneself, and consequently find satisfaction and completeness in one’s existence.
Another interesting scene in this episode is when Shinji is placed in an imaginary world where he is surrounded by nothingness:
Shinji: What is this? A world of nothing? A world with nobody in it?
Narrator: This is the world of perfect freedom.
Narrator: A world of perfect freedom, a world in which you have no restrictions.
Shinji: Is this really freedom?
Narrator: Yes, this is what it is. However, this world has nothing in it.
Shinji: Unless I do something?
Narrator: Right, unless you do or think of something.
Shinji: But I don’t know what to do or think!
Narrator: He is uncertain. He has no image of Self to orient himself. There’s nothing solid here. It is a world in which there are no obstacles. This is a world in which you can do anything you wish. But you’re afraid aren’t you? Don’t you know what it is that you want to do?
Shinji: What should I do?
Narrator: Let me give you a restriction. There! Now, you have top and bottom. But you’ve lost a degree of your freedom. Now you must stand on the ground. But now you feel easier, don’t you? You have less to trouble your mind.
In this scenario, we are faced with the debate of determinism vs. free will. What I find particularly interesting about this conversation is that it considers the question of whether we truly want free will. As individuals, we may be impressed by the grandeur and limitlessness of freedom, but in reality, when afforded complete freedom, it can actually be quite frightening. Now relating this to Evangelion, Shinji is drawn to the concept of freedom, desiring an escape from his inner turmoils. He is placed in such a world where nothing exists but himself. Shinji is afforded the opportunity to do whatever he wants, without restrictions; yet, he is at a loss of what to do. He remains uneasy at the prospect of being placed in such a free and unconstrained reality. A simple restriction, such as the act of a line being drawn to form the ground puts Shinji at ease. Now there is one less thing for him to worry about in a world of absolute creation. Absolute freedom suggests that we have the power to do anything we want without any constraints. It is clear that freedom in its purest state may be something we are completely unprepared for. Freedom from our emotional demons may be something that we cannot truly ever achieve. The Human Instrumentality Project leaves behind freedom, but draws from the importance of relationships, offering promises of a sense of completeness through understanding oneself in relation to others.
The final episodes of Evangelion, with all of its bizarre and oftentimes confusing plot development, prove to be an interesting dive into a conversation on tremendously existential themes. While I have not delved into all the themes featured in these last two episodes, I hope this has shed some light on, particularly noteworthy points in the end of the series.
(1) Varga S, Guignon C. Authenticity. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2014 [cited 16 March 2016]. Available from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/authenticity/#KieHei
BUT WHEN WHO AM I? IS THIS ME? MY TRUE SELF? MY FAKE SELF?