Death & Re:View: The Themes of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Disclaimer: This article is meant for those who have seen Neon Genesis Evangelion and End of Evangelion since this will go into depth on the characters, angels, and other elements as they deal with Christianity. If you haven’t, then come back to this when you’ve watched the series. Or you can read what’s on here without seeing the series and therefore you have a perspective of the show you didn’t have before, and therefore have an expectation that you expect my article to meet. Yet it probably won’t, because we’re all different and people have different views of Evangelion. It’s just the kind of show that Evangelion is.

I’ve had the pleasure to write for this website since February of this year by the time the article gets released. It’s fun getting to know other writers and what they like and don’t like about certain series/games/etc, but one topic discussion I came across when I first joined this site was Derek Thompson ranting about his thoughts on Neon Genesis Evangelion, and he wasn’t the only one. The longer I’ve stayed in anime fandom, the more you get to know different opinions about what fans like about the same thing you love or at least something that has made a lasting impression for you being an anime fan for nearly two decades. This article is more about me trying to explain Evangelion Christian themes along with some character traits the best I can, and to go into the depths of my anime fanboy brain psyche that got me into digging deeper into the shows lure for the past 20 years. 

Despite what you, the reader, may think about Evangelion, you gotta at least admit to yourself honestly about one thing; the show has made some kind of impact on you, for better or for worse. Evangelion is far from mediocre, it can’t be further from that truth, because you can’t tell me that despite your feelings for the series it hasn’t made some kind of impact on anime fandom on a global scale for a quarter of a century. Seeing how if you were to discuss this on Christian anime fan forums like Christian Anime Alliance, you would be banned on site for dare mentioning or wanting to discuss such a “vile” show such as Evangelion (no its true, they state this on the Anime News Network forums years ago). At least for me writing about Evangelion on Geeks Under Grace, I can, at the very least, explain in detail the mythos and logos of the series to try and uncomplicate a few things for people who first watched this show and went “I don’t see what’s so damn special about this anime everyone seems to like, what do I not get?”

Hit’s a little too close to home now doesn’t it?

I’ll clear up a couple of things that were told to me about Evangelion of what the series is not. First off, its not a mecha show. I had a buddy of mine in high school tell me this quote that I remember to this day, “If you watch Evangelion for the mecha fights, you’ll be disappointed.” And he was right. Evangelion is not a mecha show or set up like a typical mecha show. If anything its a mixture of Hideaki Anno real fanboyish love: Ultraman! Anno is at the core of his Ultraman-esqe heart a fan of the live-action show with a man in a rubber suit battling monsters in rubber suits, which in that perspective, that’s what Evangelion is on the surface. The second truth that must be told is that all the Christian elements in the show were thrown in because “it sounded cool” on the notion to troll western culture to think that Evangelion is a solidly based series of the bible. Now to a point, I’d agree with that, there isn’t anything in the series that follows doctrinal teachings of the bibles to animation. If you want that, there’s In The Beginning, Flying House, and Superbook for you (My Last Day is another fantastic short by Studio 4c, watch it!). Christianity to the Japanese is interesting to glance at how a country through Buddhist and Shinto traditions try to grasp Christianity. They do like it but to a point. Speaking of points, I can make one heck of a case that Evangelion shows the sins of mankind through its characters in a biblical context, which I can flesh that out throughout this article. That being said, let’s dive into the themes of the series.

To mention the visual references to Christianity that are represented in Evangelion, we can go through a few of the main notable ones based on the first two episodes. Crosses are common in the series, hitting it right off with Misato having a cross necklace around her neck as a memento from her late father when she pulls up to get Shinji in the middle of an Angel attack in Episode 1. Crosses are also represented within the series regarding the death of Angels, starting off the bat in Episode 2 where Evangelion Unit 01 destroys Sachiel, creating a gigantic cross of light over Tokyo-3. Within the first two episodes of the series, the theme of Christianity is already established as one of the underlying themes of the series. More themes of Christianity are shown later, such as Lillith, Adam’s first wife from the Jewish folklore, is crucified on a giant cross in Terminal Dogma, which constantly supplies the Evangelion pilots the LCL fluid needed to connect to their Evangelion units. The cross throughout the series is just a visual staple on how visually appealing it would be to use a cross in scenes because that’s how Anno wanted to use them. 

“At the Cross, At the Cross, where I first saw the light…”

I would argue that the cross that Misato wears on her neck does symbolize Jesus sacrifice the way her father demonstrated his sacrifice to save his daughter during Second Impact. Although Misato looks at disgust towards her father and how he neglected her growing up, she still holds in her heart the sacrifice he made to protect her. In ways, it reflects the sacrifice Christ did for all of mankind so that we may repent and be forgiven for our sins in believing in Jesus. The only difference between Jesus and Misato father is his action was the most loving thing he could do for his daughter coming form a very imperfect and unloving person up to that point, which brings in the conflict in Misato’s heart throughout the series when the topic of her father is brought up.

Then Angels themselves played throughout the show in a “monster-of-the-week” formula, which is another Christian/Judaic reference as God’s heavenly beings turned into main villains. The names of the Angels are about Angels from Hebrew terminology, such as the first Angel Shinji encounters in Episode one, Sachiel, which is derived from the Hebrew term meaning “Covering of God.” Ramiel in Episode 5 and 6 is mentioned in the Book of Enoch as one of the fallen watchers. From what I have gathered, nearly all of the angels mentioned derive from ancient Judaic and Hebrew text. These are just some of the examples of Angel’s name listed and where their names derived from if one were to do a bit of scholarly research online (aka, Google IT!) Another interesting tidbit is that Anno uses ideas/designs from series he either grew up watching or worked on first hand. For example, Ramiel design is a homage to one series as one of the mechs from Future Police Urashiman “Super-X” in terms of a floating octahedron while resembling the color of one of the crystals in a series he directed before Evangelion; Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water. I could probably do a whole essay comparing each angel and their attributes to how they got created by Judaic/Shinto/Anime references, but that seems for another time, that would take up more time to write about.

The Dead Sea Scrolls is used as a staple to an overlying plan to further evolve humanity to the next stage of “human evolution” by the committee behind NERV and humanity. This is where the term “Human Instrumentality Project” is used within the show, and that’s Seele’s overall goal, the very committee pulling on Gendo Ikari strings until Gendo goes his way later in the series. Seele was the committee behind the Second Impact that lead to the environment we see in Evangelion, and their ultimate purpose is to create the Third Impact. 

On the subject of Third Impact in the series, it has three different objectives depending on who wants to use it for their use. The main reason to stop the Third Impact from happening is to not let the Angels come into contact with Lillith to eradicate the human race (which in the shows lure, humans are not from God but Lilith and the Angels are Adam’s offspring.) Seele has their plan in place (or so they thought), all the while Gendo wants to use Third Impact as a way to reunite with his deceased wife Yui (which the character Rei serves as a clone surrogate in the series, which is why Shinji is attracted to her the way a boy would be attracted to his mother) and Shinji objective that came out of his desire to be in peace and not have to feel emotional and phycological pain anymore and rejects the Instrumentality he is going through during the events of Third Impact, which is why you get the ending to End of Evangelion. It more or less lines up to what Seele wanted, which we visually see that the next stage in human evolution is turning into orange tang, or…something. But hey, humans aren’t dead, they’re just… around.

What I want to mention next in this article is about the characters, and more specifically the sexualization the show represents with them. When Evangelion came back through Netflix last year, there was one type of article that seemed to get under my skin that was written by talking heads of websites that seem to fit the narrative of today’s moral politically correct culture. Now before you start accusing me of something I’m not, I will gladly explain my position in what I’m about to state and put that in perspective to the age of the characters in the show. What I saw was too many grown adults claiming that Evangelion was promoting pedophilia of some kind because how dare it to offend them that cartoon teenage kids wanted to explore their God-given sexuality for one another (aside from the homosexual undertones from Karou, that’s beside the point.) This of course offended such talking heads on major sites because its adults looking through their hipster adult glass lenses and crying virtue signal that they were afraid of being labeled a creepy pervert or something if they said nothing about it, no one would have either known or cared. This is where I get to support character sexualization in Evangelion to a point.

Guys (and gals), we all went through puberty, we all had our sexual awakenings by now which has led us to find your ideal spouses sexually desirable for marriage and to bear children with them because that is from the design of God. Everyone who has ever grown up through their teenage years was understanding their God-given sexual desires, which is a good thing. And this is one of the reasons why a lot of teens gravitate to Evangelion because some several men and women mentally fit the mold of a character like Shinji and Asuka (Rei is there, but she’s her own thing). Some kids see their lives like Shinji in a way, just trying to survive and understand women (aside from being told to get in the @#$% robot), and girls are trying to find themselves the same way Asuka was by being upfront in personality and sexually, regardless if they know they’re doing it or not. So for a show that appeals to a teenage audience, its meant for them as its main demographic. As an adult, if you’re watching Evangelion, you can relate to the characters as understanding those traits and how you are either still going through them, or grown past them and look back at the teen butthole you once were. If anything you probably were involved in a dumb young adult fling at one point in college like Kaji and Misato once were. Am I condoning the actions of Kaji and Misato as biblical? Of course I’m not. It’s visually obvious they sinned, but to the viewer, you can at least relate to them on some level and see how they can grow in the series. And Evangelion isn’t without its anime fanservice like nearly a lot of anime does and has done for many years, which to the male viewer it can paint a picture of how it would be like to live with a crazy redhead like Asuka, both someone you can’t stand but also attractive too. Come on, we’ve all been their guys.

One thing I will mention that’ll probably get me in some hot water for saying this because “that” scene at the End of Evangelion has been labeled that’s the most screwed up thing an anime character has ever done (aside whatever you find in hentai, just saying) is the scene where Shinji ejaculates by looking at a naked comatose Asuka at the beginning of the film. For a guy being totally honest here, I’m not fully blaming Shinji for what he did on account of a couple of reasons. One: Shinji is a teen boy, full of hormones and sexual curiosity, just like every guy ever. Two: The moment he laid eyes on Asuka nude body, he reacted the way God made him by seeing women sexually appealing by the visual because she’s a beautiful girl and he’s a horny teen. Three: A man’s sexual nature is how he shows his affection and love for a woman, which is defined by Eros’s love in the bible, which Shinji reacts in that way. Based on how Shinji and Asuka acted to one another in the series up until Asuka goes psychotic near the end, there was always some form of sexual tension between the two, and how could there not be. They are together under the same roof, work together, and have moments of physical intimacy before the End of Evangelion film. There is even some fan theory floating about that Shinji and Asuka did have sex in Episode 15, and while there isn’t a straight forward answer to that (this is Evangelion, when do you EVER GET A STRAIGHT FORWARD ANSWER?), there’s some clear evidence that can back that up with how Asuka acts in Episode 16 and during her instrumentality regarding intimacy issues. 

Oh Yes It Is Sweetie!

I bring this up because Shinji not hiding his sexual release from Asuka can verify that he and she were physically open to one another before that moment, which shows that Shinji’s natural affection to her still exists. Eventually, there was going to be some kind of “release” between the two, and this was the scene Anno wanted to use which are his reasons alone. Now, do I support Shinji’s sexual activity in that vulnerable moment of his as acceptable? Of course not. But I can be honest in asking questions to the “why,” which is just based on how males respond sexually. These characters are sinners, so how can the viewer expect them to not act non-sinfully. If there’s one thing this series does well, it’s the character development, and to apply biblical principle it’s how sinful they can become to try and save humanity. That’s one of the shear beautiful parts of Evangelion, and one of the things Anno does well and is being honest about. Evangelion is about the flawlessness of humanity. I bring up sexuality in Evangelion because no one is talking about it properly right now. There’s so much more about characterization in the series that I would love to discuss, but that could be for another article for another time, or to read up on EvaGeeks.org to get that info, there’s plenty of it!

There’s a whole lot more to Evangelion to write about, enough to get me a darn doctrine in understanding the series (and because college is such a joke, I would get one. I mean people write doctrine thesis on Buffy the Vampire Slayer!) There’s twenty years of research, late-night binges, sweat, blood, tears, confusion, alcoholism, antidepressants, flame wars and capitalism dumped into the Gainax/Studio Khara Evangelion machine to keep that joker running for another twenty or more. As I stated earlier in the article, people who have seen Evangelion are going to have some kind of strong opinion on it, but they can’t say it didn’t impact them or impact the anime community in some way. These are just some of my main thoughts jumbled through my brain in the past year or so that I wanted to get out. And with that being said, if you’ve seen Evangelion, go out and have your theory about the show, because that means you’ll be watching it the right way!

 

The Bottom Line

 

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Dustin Kopplin

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