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Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion

Synopsis: NERV faces a brutal attack from SEELE, but with Asuka in a coma, and Shinji in a nervous breakdown, things soon turn into the surreal.

Release Date: 07-19-1997 | MPAA Rating: TV-14 | Runtime: 1 hr 27 mins | Transcendant Genitalia: 5 of 5 | Source: Netflix

Directed by: Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki

Starring: (Japanese) Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Yuko Miyamura

(English) Spike Spencer, Amanda Winn Lee, Tiffany Grant

SPOILERS AHEAD. It’s impossible to talk about this film without spoilers. This review spoils the film extensively. You’ve been warned.

Content warning: While according to IMDb this movie is rated TV-14, it depicts nudity and blatant sexual imagery, along with an amount of violence and gore that feels a little excessive for that rating. Watch at your own discretion.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion is a Japanese animated scifi movie in the giant robot anime subgenre. This film is an almost direct sequel to the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series, and there is no recap, so I recommend that you watch that show in full, otherwise you won’t understand the plot of the film.

The plot of the movie could almost be argued as not very good, but later I’ll describe how that’s probably the point. I’ll outline the story in a few paragraphs on the off chance that anyone reading this has not seen the show or the film and isn’t concerned by my very blatant spoiler warning.

Shinji Ikari is a young pilot for a secret international program called NERV, designed to protect the world from the impending Third Impact, a cataclysmic event involving transcendent aliens that humanity has no confidence in surviving if it ever occurred. Shinji is one of three pilots in this program. The other two are Asuka Langley, a literal wunderkind, and Rei Ayanami, a biological clone of Shinji’s dead mother(this is one reason why you need to watch the show first).

The movie picks up shortly after the end of the series, where Shinji killed the last of the Angels–the beings that would be responsible for the third impact–and saved his friends, as well as realized his place in the world and his desire for life.

The film immediately takes the positive ending of the series and corkscrews it into something unrecognizable. SEELE, the secret leaders of the UN, decide they’ve had enough of Gendo Ikari, the head of NERV, and orchestrate a massacre sugar coated as a raid to remove him. This provokes Gendo to bring Rei to an even more secret chamber beneath NERV headquarters, where another transcendent being called Adam stands crucified. This action unintentionally triggers the Third Impact, as Rei merges with Adam and transcends into a new ultimate being.

Shinji spends the film deeply depressed and apathetic, refusing to be cooperative or step up and save his fellow NERV employees from violent death. Eventually his butt is kicked into the cockpit of his giant robot, and he attempts to save Asuka, who has been battling an army of pseudo-Angels created by SEELE all by herself.

The story turns surreal shortly after that point, with Shinji’s robot becoming a crucified figure that the ascended Rei intends to consume in order to finally trigger the Third Impact, which causes the entirety of the human race to liquefy and merge into a collective consciousness, which it turns out was the goal of SEELE all along, in order to defeat death and bring humanity into the only possible age of peace and understanding, at least in their eyes. The latter half of the story is Shinji’s descent into a surrealist fever dream as he struggles, and seemingly fails, to stop this. There is a lot of powerful but subtle imagery that often relates back to moments in the series.

The ending of End of Evangelion is distinctly uncertain and dark. The world is wrecked by the cataclysmic event that just occurred. There is no evidence that humanity was restored by Shinji’s efforts, or if he was too late to save anyone. The only person confirmed to still be alive is Asuka, and in a fit of passion, rage, and despair Shinji tries to strangle her. He hasn’t let go of the feelings he had at the start of the film. He hasn’t grown, and he hasn’t grown up. That concept is key to the understanding of the themes and subtext of the film

I came into this movie fascinated with the meta-narrative centered around the director, Anno Hideaki, and his show’s fanbase. Hideaki is widely believed to have created this film in response to the complaints from the fans that the ending to his show “wasn’t right.” The idea seems to be that this film was a somewhat petty response from an artist to the audience whom he felt completely misunderstood his work, and in the process of that misunderstanding they demanded that the story express the exact opposite of the message that Hideaki originally intended, and the fans were completely oblivious to that irony. I find that narrative hilarious and compelling, and I want to talk about it.

You really do need to at least watch the original show before seeing this movie. The movie is kind of a partial retcon of the series ending plus some extra content, and there is no explanation of anything. And that’s fine.

The movie begins almost immediately with a slap to the audience’s face that anyone familiar with otaku culture would understand, and it’s specifically poignant for the Evangelion fanboys because it involves Asuka, a fan favorite of the female characters. It’s an uncomfortable scene that clearly criticizes fans for sexualizing fictional characters and for wrapping their entire identity into cartoon shows and being dependent on them for happiness. To be blunt, Shinji stands over a comatose Asuka in a hospital bed, demands that she wake up and help him, because he’s afraid of the women in his life. He jostles the girl angrily and accidentally exposes Asuka’s breasts, and then proceeds to masturbate while standing over her(thankfully all but the aftermath of that is kept off-screen). And things only accelerate from there.

Shinji is a stand-in for the audience in a very literal way, and if you picture any line of dialogue directed at him as being directed at an overzealous fan of the show, or anything said by him as Hideaki’s interpretation of the voice of the fans, things start making a lot of sense. Hideaki has a very clear and disdainful opinion of the people who missed the point of his story.

The film also addresses audience complaints in a less overt way. People didn’t like the quiet, surreal, character focused ending of the show, demanding the giant robot fights and explosions that are mainstays of the genre. Hideaki grimly says “As you wish” and packs more violence and gore into the middle thirty minutes of the film than the entire series had. It becomes gratuitous and uncomfortable if you’re not a 12 year-old boy looking for mindless action scenes. Hideaki kills all his beloved characters and literally burns his world down, turning the audience’s bloodthirstiness into a monkey’s paw of an event that mangles the original series into something grotesque and exploitative. And that’s the point. You’re not supposed to be happy with what you asked for.

After the gratuitous and uncomfortable violence of the first half or so of the film, Hideaki then says “Now I’m just going to give you my style again, but I’m going to show you how the story ends when you try to take charge.” The surrealism comes back even stronger than in the series ending, and still manages to be gratuitous and disturbing. Hideaki takes Shinji completely out of the narrative as a character with agency–though he didn’t have much beforehand–and lays out even more clearly the point that he tried to make in the series. You can’t live your life running away from the real world. Escapism is not a valid way to live your life.

But the end result has changed. The fans looked at Hideaki’s original message and said “No,” so Hideaki showed them in this movie what he thought of that. You refuse to live in the real world, you refuse to be your own person and insist on finding your identity in this fiction you obsess over, and as a result you literally strangled the life out of it(Shinji tries to strangle Asuka twice, once during a strange bastardized retelling of the scene in the series where Shinji and Asuka kiss, effectively ruining the one moment of fan service that the more obsessive members of the audience had latched on to). And as a result you’re left hollow and broken, with no sense of self or of the world. Everything loses meaning. The imagery of the importance of connecting with other human beings, and the protagonist’s complete failure to even attempt that connection is so strong.

This film is so good. Even if you don’t subscribe to that interpretation of Hideaki’s motivations for writing The End of Evangelion, you can view it as a fascinating tragedy that resulted from some characters being consumed by their single-minded, selfish goals, and other characters failing to grow out of their mistakes and act quickly enough to save their friends. It’s a mature story that doesn’t shy away from an unhappy ending. You don’t see stories like that anymore.

And in a way, Hideaki’s feelings on otaku culture warping the content it obsesses over became a little prophetic. Not a lot of anime are truly artistic anymore. They get churned out with the same awesome protagonists and sexualized girls and cool fight scenes to appeal to the broadest audience, and rarely explore psychological concepts or trauma in any depth. There are a few that break the mold, but as time goes on there seems to be less and less differentiation or creative risk. It’s a shame.

I didn’t know I was going to love and appreciate Evangelion so much as a piece of art and as a statement, and I wish I had watched it sooner. But who knows, if I had watched it as a kid maybe I would’ve ended up in the camp complaining that we don’t get to see more fight scenes or more overt romance between Shinji and all the pretty girls surrounding him. I was definitely one of the kids who escaped into anime and other stories to avoid dealing with the real world. At least I grew out of it and avoided the kind of bleak future that is likely to come from it. A lot of people could stand to take that point to heart. Love the things you love, but don’t let them consume your life when there is so much of the real world and real relationships with real people to experience.

Published inMovie Reviews
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