Disclaimer: This article mainly serves not as a review per se but more of my opinions of the movie and Evangelion in general. A good knowledge of Neon Genesis Evangelion is quite necessary.
Although my esteemed boss has beaten me to a review on Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0 in this pretty succinct review, the intention of my article is to talk about Evangelion, why the world has to have a Rebuild of Evangelion series. To review the first part of the Rebuild of Eva series is pretty superfluous because 1.0 was a pretty faithful retelling of the original anime series up to Operation Yashima (Episode 1 – 6) with some rather sinister changes sprinkled all over… one notable change that Sachiel became the Fourth instead Angel instead of the Third.. a more sinister one is that Misato addressed the being in Terminal Dogma as Lilith in which in the anime series everyone in NERV save for Gendo, Ritsuko and Kozo thought it was Adam.
Kaoru Nagisa (my favourite character in NGE)’s entrance in Rebuild is a telling sign that Rebuild of Evangelion possess the potential to provide a much.. shocking interpretation to the Neon Genesis Evangelion in a manner that smacks of the frivolous recklessness of Hideaki Anno that can be seen in his treatment of Neon Genesis Evangelion that at times smacks of being pompous. To illustrate my points, there was a huge swath of blood on the moon that’s reminscent to the one split by Rei/Lilith in the End of Evangelion. The structure on the moon, ostensibly to be made by SEELE, in the story proper of Neon Genesis Evangelion and End of Evangelion.. SEELE possess no such facility or structure. Furthermore, in that scene there were frames of a chained being, with a purple mask and the words of Kaoru that "The Third remains the same" and in the same breath mentions about Shinji so it’s likely to be the (new) Third Angel. The Earth in Rebuild of Evangelion had oceans of blood red which strangely resembles LCL, still this article serves not as a vehicle of speculation. For that purpose exists forums and sites with far more elaborate and logically sounding theories.
In the very words of Hideaki Anno, the director and creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, "It’s strange that ‘Evangelion’ has become such a hit – all the characters are so sick! " in a 1996 interview. That very sentence serves as the premise for my article, why’s Evangelion so popular? What flaws or needs lies in the original series that requires a Rebuild of it? To start with such a question, one should take the first step in looking at what’s arguably one of the opus of the 90s.
The Original Impact of Evangelion
Neon Genesis Evangelion can be seen as the culmination of a wave that started with Hayao Miyazaki’s films of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Totoro and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira in the late 80s , what can be seen as a deconstructing of anime perceived during that period where it was prone to overt acts of machismo and set on grandiose scales such as the space operas or sagas like the Mobile Suit Gundam series and Super Dimension Macross. However on the theatrical front, it was quite different with works such as Nausicaa which still remains one of the best pieces of animation ever made and one that presided the rise of Studio Ghibli. Nausicaa is quite the polar opposite of series like Mobile Suit Gundam with its self-contained storyline unlike the space sagas often paying homages to earlier works such as Mazinger Z and Space Battleship Yamato not unlike their Western counterparts such as Star Wars which in turn was based on Eastern influences. The approach by Nausicaa with the female-centric by Miyazaki in contrast to the machismo of the mecha subgenre with the Gaia philosophy woven together in a self-contained fantasy saga which was quite different to the animes in the 80s. The success of Nausicaa brought other films such as Grave of Fireflies and Tale of Genji, films that contained or were based on important literary works. However this was limited only to the theatrical front, space operas/sagas such as Gundam and Macross and the otaku subculture in its young stage influenced anime as seen through works like Urusei Yatsura.
What has Evangelion brought to the world of animation? At that point of time, the Japanese animation industry was suffering from the collapse of the Japanese bubble and the fact that many of expensive works such as Akira bombed on the box office and the creative surge in the 80s due to the lack of animators was drying out as studios refused to take risks in the form of new and experimental works as they were no longer delivering. Hideaki Anno and Gainax started out in the form of the legendary Daicon films, they were and probably still are known as the company most willing to indulge in the otaku culture albeit in a surreal and unique manner. Hideaki Anno wanted to create a piece of work that would jumpstart the industry and Gainax in particular as many of their businesses were losing money. He would create an ultimate otaku piece, an opus so to say and he did via the creation of Evangelion.
Marrying religion symbolism with science fiction
One thing very popular with the fans in Evangelion is the Judeo-Christian elements in it with biblical terms and angelology such as Adam, Lilith and such being used very readily, the Human Instrumentality Project which is portrayed as an alternate Day of Judgement and such. However, it’s known from Kazuya Tsurumaki, assistant director, in interviews that Evangelion didn’t used Christian symbolism on purpose or to evangelise. It’s known that Gainax took such an artistic approach to differentiate themselves with other mecha animes because religion was not really used as a central theme in mecha animes then. It provided a form of (pseudo) intellectualism that seemingly propagated by itself in many animes after Evangelion such as RahXephon and others along with the strong Western influence and presence would be seen in the Japanese anime industry afterwards . An interesting thing to note is that in many anime, the western influences are mostly Germanic or French. I believe that Evangelion plays a strong role in propagating such influences through subtle manner such as using music composed by Beethoven and J.S Bach or pieces inspired by Pachalbel such as Komm Susser Tod.
Apart from the glaring spectre of religion, Evangelion takes a lot of their influences from western fiction. Hideaki Anno himself acknowledged the imprint of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End in Evangelion, furthermore the strong presence of music in Evangelion leads me to wonder whether does Evangelion’s ideas carries the shadow of John Ronald Reuel (J.R.R) Tolkien’s concept of world creation via sound where a world was created via perfect harmony of music and evils are borne out of dissonance in it. The struggle for identity and conformity will be revisited later in the article on the points of philosophy. The writer, Cordwainer Smith was also seen as an apparent influence in Evangelion and one recognised by Hideaki Anno through Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality for Mankind books however the Human Instrumentality Project is a very different project with Cordwainer Smith’s although both are on the survival of humanity.
At this point of the article, we can see so far that Evangelion offered something quite different from many other animes. Marrying science fiction with religious symbolism, it was and is still very unique in thesense with many animes tried to emulate such as Le Chevalier D’ Eon but Evangelion remains definitive. The battles in Evangelion, where great robots clashed with monsters in the most empirical sense, how’s different is that from many other mecha animes and science fiction? However, it’s not that simple in Evangelion, the creatures and robots that battled are not just that, they are agents or proxies of greater and often invisible powers. As though, being charted by a power that one cannot fathom and struggles to comprehend. The EVAs are cloned from Adam, the first Angel by humanity that are Lilith-based life form to fight the agents of a possible alternate existence. To use Evangelion jargon, Evangelion represents the destruction of the AT field of two rather cerebral themes, a breakdown of both into a primordial soup of fiction where it would be easily drunk by the mainstream audience and understood. Personally, I see Evangelion more as derived from fiction married with psychoanalysis with religion used to facilitate this two and to create a vector where it would be so eye-catching not to be ignored. If the aliens beings were not named after biblical terms and the Tree of Sephiroth (It’s a Kabbalah term) was named something else for one of the halves to initiate Instrumentality. Nevertheless, if we are to do so, Evangelion will no longer be Evangelion, religion is often used as because of its ability to grab the attention of others. Hideaki Anno, managed to weave all three central tenets of influence together, a very good point would be how every key character in Evangelion parallels a branch in the Tree of Sephiroth. Each will represent a trial that one faces to achieve union with God or Instrumentality in Evangelion which foreshadowed the psychological issues that they faced. Yet this is a popular fan theory, I will relate to the "theorycrafting" tendencies to the relevancy of Evangelion.
Characters and Psychoanalysis
To another point or probably the most popular reason for Evangelion to be a hit would be the characters and the character development in it especially to Shinji Ikari. It’s known that Gainax’s president, Takeshi Sawamura got arrested for tax evasion of 580 million yen after the popularity of Evangelion. It won’t be an exaggeration that Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu helped Gainax to achieve that, both are by far the most popular characters in Evangelion along with other characters such as Misato Katsuragi, Gendo Ikari and such yet the crown jewels in the Evangelion franchise are indubitably Rei and Asuka. Although not the very first, the debate of whether Asuka is a tsundere or one who popularised the personality still rages on today. Rei Ayanami’s popularity endures so much that the silent and stoic female types in Japanese anime onwards are labelled as Rei clones such as Yuki Nagato from Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu fame. Gainax, known as the studio that acts as the vanguard for fanservice has definitely not failed that reputation simply through the fact the amount of merchandise and paraphernalia that Evangelion has and the staggering amount of fan-produced works as well. Apart from Rei and Asuka whose appeal be it sexual or not, other characters such as Gendo Ikari, Shinji Ikari and Misato Katsuragi appeal to audiences as well. Peeling away the layer of base aesthetic value, most of the key characters possess strong character depth in the form of their psychological traumas and scars. Shinji Ikari, the protagonist in Evangelion undergoes very strong character development and changes in the story proper despite his depiction as someone who lack emotional resilience and his constant trumpeting of his fears justifying his need to escape away. In that sense, Shinji Ikari reminds me of Holden Cauldfield from J.D Salinger’s famous work, Catcher in the Rye. This is because in Shinji Ikari, one can see the common themes such as familial neglect, the tension between the self or teenagers and the outside world and a reclusive outlook to life, however many more differences can be drawn out.
Shinji Ikari poses as an interesting comparison to earlier protagonists to mecha anime such as Char Aznable and Amuro Ray in the Mobile Gundam series, where Shinji is pretty much a "wuss" and unable to display acts of valiant machismo that Char and Amuro were capable of. Subsequently, many animes had protagonists that were not able to grapple with their own dark secrets and trauma leading to mental breakdowns projected as berserk acts of uncontrollable violence. That, I believed has to be partly credited to Shinji Ikari although the personality type of an overtly emotional and insecure mecha pilot has earlier origins such as Kamille Bidan in Zeta Gundam. Many character types in Evangelion would be propagated in later animes in one form or another, it is common for people to compare a certain personality and call it a "Rei-clone" or a "Gendo imitation", such is the popularity of Evangelion that people associate personality types to the franchise instead of according such characters their own unique identity.
Along with the other two influences of science fiction and religion symbolism, psychoanalysis and philosophy is the third tenet in the influences behind Evangelion. Almost every key character in Evangelion suffered from a certain psychological trauma or stress, Shinji Ikari suffered from an implied Oedipus complex towards his mother Yui Ikari as shown through his relationship towards Rei Ayanami who was supposedly created from the remains of Yui Ikari and EVA-01 which has the soul of Yui Ikari. Shinji suffered from a social phobia where he used it to justify his alienation from the world, this is not very far from Kierkegaard’s works where the Danish philosopher wrote about alienation and basing their self-worth through passion, desire and other intangibles as opposed to using objective items such as money and such. Kierkegaard’s influence is very apparent in Evangelion where the episode 16 title "Sickness unto Death" , "死に至る病、そして" is a reference to his work, this concept about despair in relation to existence where one suffers and falls into despair because they are not able to define themselves in relation to the world be it defining themselves as a self-contained entity or not able to recognise a transcendental creator beyond them. Shinji’s thoughts in Rebuild where he justified his continuing as a EVA pilot because of the praise given by others and that his father willed for this although later in the story in Neon Genesis Evangelion, he piloted EVA-01 because of his mother ‘s soul in it. Isn’t that a form of raison’ d ‘etre? Where Shinji seeks his self-worth through such means? In the end, Shinji Ikari in a clear reference to Freud, was told that he has to dissociate away from his mother and insisting on his own individuality instead of conforming with the community.
Beside Shinji Ikari, familial neglect is a huge psychological scar for characters such as Asuka Langley Soryu and Misato Katsuragi. Asuka Langley Soryu suffered from a mother who refused to believe that Asuka was her daugther instead thinking of an Asuka doll to be her daughter instead after a "Contact Experiment", Asuka had the misfortune of watching her mother hanging dead with the doll. In maybe infantile protests to outward expectation that it was acceptable for her to be sad and upset, Asuka however chose to project confidence and superiority as a shell to protect herself from the scars of the past.To invoke Sartre, such acts can be seen as "bad faith" because external actions and perceptions are being projected to mask and change the self within where it is a form of denial of the self and freedom. Asuka also exhibited what can be seen as an Electra complex in her advances towards Ryoji Kaji however it’s more likely to be mixed with changes such as puberty seen through her relationship with Shinji Ikari. The Electra complex is much more pronounced in Misato Katsuragi’s relationship with Ryoji Kaji where she admitted that she seeked for her father in Kaji. Like other characters, she seeked external empowerment to validate herself via using her femininity and seeking solace in physical gratification such as her relationships with Ryoji Kaji and Shinji Ikari, her sexual interests in both were mainly due because both resembled her father in various sense. This tendency of maintaining a societal identity via having relationships with others at least on the surface can be seen through Ritsuko Akagi as well. Her seemingly good relationship with Misato Katsuragi was shattered as Neon Genesis Evangelion progressed on when Misato realised that Ritsuko’s involvement in the Human Instrumentality Project and her complicity in hiding it away from the world. Ritsuko like Misato Katsuragi was uncomfortable with men as seen through her professed confusion over the illogic of Misato’s relationship with Kaji and other romantic relationship, this can be traced due to the fact that she had little contact with man in her childhood. Another sign of her feigned societal relations can be seen that Misato and Ritsuko rarely go into personal and deeper issues in their conversations, Ritsuko’s love of cats probably was an extension of her attempted independence because of the solitary traits of cats. Yet I wrote attempted because of her relationship with Gendo Ikari which was implied to be sexual and in a sense a form of perverse Electra complex because Gendo had a relationship with her mother, Naoko Akagi. Ritsuko hated her mother and she was strangely calm over Casper’s rejection of her commands seeing that it was her mother instead of Casper rejecting her
Rei Ayanami was different in the aspect that she was not wholly human yet possessing human aspects. "An emotional change causes certain muscles in the face to tense, producing an "expression". Rei is expressionless but is it that she doesn’t feel emotion, or that she is merely unable to express it?" as said by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Neon Genesis Evangelion’s character designer in the Neon Genesis Evangelion volume 3. In a sense, does this mean that Rei is less human because she’s not fully human or taking upon the interesting opposite, more human because she’s genetically less human? Throughout the series, it’s shown that Rei is learning and adapting to emotions and her identity as being the vessel for the soul of Lilith meant that she’s able of perceiving emotions perhaps beyond the scale defined by one’s own mind. Yet being encased in a human vessel made from the remains of Yui Ikari, Rei is still suspect to "human" emotions especially having bearing the realisation that she can be transferred from one body to another, this can be seen as an allusion to the Freudian’s concept of Id, ego and superego via the conversation between the three Rei in End of Evangelion. Her relationship with Gendo Ikari is coloured with Rei’s awareness that Gendo sees her perhaps as a ghost of his wife and won’t let the existence of Rei Ayanami simply vanish.
Gendo Ikari despite being perceived as a heartless person who toyed and manipulated everyone for his own interest, not unlike Ryoji Kaji, had a deep emotional reason for doing so through his obsession in resurrecting his dead wife via his own version of the Human Instrumentality Project. To invoke Kierkegaard, Gendo Ikari attempted to overcome his despair by employing his despair against itself by using the very existence that killed his wife as a tool to resurrect it.
The relevance of Evangelion and Rebuild of Evangelion
What does all this psychoanalysis means to the audience who watched and love Evangelion? In my personal opinion, the emotional depth of the characters as explained via psychoanalysis helps to relate the characters to the audience on several levels. It creates in a sense, some form of stratification where people can connect to the Evangelion characters because they represent in various manners something in them, be it an ideal or something intimate to them. Many people has criticised the psychoanalysis presence in Evangelion and disparaged it as scientific mumbo-jumbo because it creates seemingly convoluted personalities which led to confusion. Hideaki Anno said before that Evangelion is meant to be interpreted by the self and the audience should never expect any forms of spoonfeeding for a definite answer because the series is not out to create one. The seemingly "convoluted" personalities in my opinion, are a twisted fantasy depiction of human personalities. Excellent fiction should always portray imagination and creativity but still able to relate on any level with the reader intimately. Another plausible explaination is that the reactions are a form of rejection or denials to the portrayal of the characters, it can be due to many reasons but that would be up to the personal self to decide.
The Human Instrumentality Project where every human being would be assimilated in a form of God-like hive mind conscience although is drawn from works such as Arthur C.Clarke’s Childhood’s End, it can be related to the otaku subculture in a sense. Hideaki Anno once said that Evangelion is a story of people not running away from their fears of breaking out from their solitude to reach out to people, even if it was a little step, it would suffice. Jean-Paul Sartre, the 20th century philosopher said that every human being is borne free and abandoned where every truth that one faces is essentially theirs. Their every decision and actions are inevitably our own, and we have to take the responsibility for those thus many unable to withstand this "condemned freedom" will choose to run away from it. In End of Evangelion, Shinji Ikari was told how to establish his own identity as explained earlier in the article. If one is to look at the myraid definitions of otaku, one realises that there are many definitions to pick from but one common line is that many otakus are depicted as socially ineptitude at least in the eyes of the general society. The otaku subculture are often united together into sub-communities via differing binding agents such as the genre of anime or some other object, in Evangelion jargon, isn’t such a thing be seen as an anti AT-field? Where the barriers between person and person are melted away and they assimilate together in a community exhibiting aspects not unlike those of a hive-mind such as forming barriers of entry and having a form of collective subconsciousness.
Another recurring aspect in the otaku subculture is of the privileging of the feminine form and often lauding and mystifying it to the pedestal of admiration and worship. Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion doesnt fail in this aspect by creating beautiful females in the eyes of their audiences that are still being seen as definitive in their own unique moulds and character. It would be excessively harsh to claim that Evangelion is used as some form of cruel mockery of the otaku subculture, despite Hideaki Anno’s belief in the later parts of production of Neon Genesis Evangelion that the otaku lifestyle is an autistic one and decided to use Evangelion as a form of critique on it. The dread of the individual towards their potential freedom be it unrestricted or shackled by the objective world’s circumstances is not limited to any community, it’s a human complex. How common is it for people to escape from reality under the shelter of mediocrity? To deny their actual potential by claiming that the world is rejecting them in this form thus they would be offered comfort if they are to merge with the rest? To use back J.R.R Tolkien’s concept of world creation via sound, are dissonances in the grand orchestra of creation or in this case, life be inherently evil or wrong?
What’s the relevancy of Evangelion to the world of anime and the otaku subculture? It would be pompous for me to make such a claim yet won’t Evangelion in process of becoming the ultimate otaku film be made into the antithesis of the societal makeup of the subculture as a form of shock evolution of the culture? Hideaki Anno himself had noted that in recent years, there had been little creative breakthrough in the Japanese anime industry in recent years because the current generation has been brought up on mass-produced animation unlike the 80s where there were room for alternative and experimental films to be made and produced. He went on to claim that the audiences and producers are only interested in producing and watching the same type of animation and no one saw an urgency for change which was one of the reasons why he decided to do a Rebuild of Evangelion. He admitted that it’s hard for absolute originality because people have been shackled by the same mindset and thinking frame for a generation but there was a need for the mould to be broken. Ironically, the formation of the current consciousness of this generation is heavily influenced by Evangelion and the themes brought by it but strangely not the theme of need of choosing individuality over an all-consuming communal consciousness.
Would it be far-fetched to claim that Rebuild of Evangelion will repeat history? To achieve what the original Neon Genesis Evangelion did? By breaking the-then conventions and telling the world of her concepts and lessons in a simpler and a more digestible manner? Such an answer can only be answered by everyone who saw the Rebuild of Evangelion and the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, the pseudo-intellectuals, the fanboys, the hardcore fans, the bashers and the many others who doesn’t comprehend Evangelion for a multitude of reasons such as convoluted complexity and such.
Perhaps there will never be a definitive answer or there isn’t meant to be any. Yet we are (not) alone and do you love (not) Evangelion to go ponder about it?
Afternote: Thanks to EvaOtaku.com Evageeks.org and Wikipedia and naturally the source itself be it the TV series, the movies or the manga. To you the reader for willingly to read up to this point and tolerating my grammatical mistakes and lack of pictures.