Review: “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and “The End of Evangelion”

A dive into the controversial psychological series and a few brief character analysis

Abigail Duchow, Columnist

In light of “Evangelion: 3.0+1.0,” the fourth and final movie in the “Rebuild of Evangelion” series, being released in Japan, I decided to rewatch the original Japanese mecha anime series “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (1995-1996) and the movie “The End of Evangelion” (1997). 

The movie acts as the 26-episode-long show’s conclusion, with the events in the last two episodes of the show and movie occurring at the same time. It’s a show that the viewer has to really pay attention to make sense of, and even then it’s still a bit vague and abstract. Fair warning, spoilers ahead.

“Neon Genesis Evangelion”

The show is based in 2015 and focuses on 14-year-old Shinji Ikari, who becomes the pilot of Eva Unit 01, one in a series of 246-foot-tall bio-machines that synchronize with the nervous systems of their pilots and have force-fields called A.T. Fields. The purpose of the Eva units is to fight off Angels, which are giant alien beings that attack Tokyo-3 (the main setting of the story, a city designed to intercept Angels before they can reach Japan) for various reasons. 

The Eva units were created by Nerv, a special organization established to combat the Angels, which Shinji’s estranged dad, Gendo Ikari, is the commander of. There are also two other 14-year-old pilots, Rei Ayanami, pilot of Eva Unit 00, and Asuka Langley Soryu, pilot of Eva Unit 02.

While this may just sound like a cool robot-fighting-action-science-fiction anime, it’s a lot more than that. The show focuses on the faults of humanity, living and relationships, as well as self-worth, awareness and acceptance (and the awkwardness of adolescence). The characters in the show have to come face-to-face with the reality of themselves and their relation to others. 

Shinji isn’t a typical protagonist in an action-type story. If you’re expecting a badass main character, you’re going to be let down by Shinji. He repeatedly runs away from being an Eva pilot and has his fair share of mental breakdowns. 

He admits he pilots Eva Unit 01 because people tell him to and he craves approval and praise, especially from his father, who constantly reminds Shinji that he is expendable to him. Shinji is terrified of rejection and loneliness, and it shows throughout the series. Piloting Eva Unit 01 is how he can be close to people, as well as restore his nonexistent sense of self-worth.

Shinji isn’t heroic, and his actions aren’t driven by a deep-rooted desire to help people or save the world. This is what makes him one of the most interesting and realistic protagonists I’ve ever seen in entertainment media. 

Asuka, while coming across as the most confident character, deals with the pain and feeling of rejection of finding her mom who hanged herself (and attempted to take Asuka with her) by putting all she has into piloting Eva Unit 02, as it’s all she has and it’s something she’s really good at. 

She wants someone to love her, but says she doesn’t need anyone and that she’s going to live for herself. This is a heavily-debated topic, but I don’t think Asuka liked Shinji. She is deeply insecure and wanted someone to love her, and Shinji just happened to be there. 

Asuka is more of a determined and badass protagonist than Shinji, but her reasoning for being a pilot is also rooted in wanting approval and wanting to be seen as better than Shinji and Rei (which she isn’t). This is why she hates Rei, and in my opinion, hates Shinji too.

Rei is referred to by Asuka as being a “weird one.” Rei is a clone, and her character revolves around questioning identity and authenticity and if she can truly be human. She’s also pretty much the exact opposite of Asuka, being mostly emotionless throughout the whole series. 

Rei thinks of herself as a tool or an object that exists to pilot Eva Unit 00 throughout most of the series. Unlike the other two protagonists, she isn’t driven to pilot out of a desire for approval, though she’s the only person Gendo Ikari gives his approval to except for once to Shinji (but this could also be due to the fact that Rei is a clone of Gendo’s late wife, and Shinji’s mother, Yui Ikari. Weird, I know). 

Eventually Rei is able to think of herself as something other than a doll. She is the catalyst for the events that occur in “The End of Evangelion,” and doesn’t do exactly what Gendo created her to do.

Throughout the show, the pilots face off against numerous Angels, adding the action aspect of the heavily psychological show. So, viewers get to see giant robots fighting huge alien beings along with deciphering the psychological meaning of the show. 

The creator of the show used heavy religious symbolism throughout the show, which doesn’t have much bearing on the plot but provides interesting visuals and names for things in the show. The drawing and animation is excellent, especially the scenery, Eva units and Angels.

Overall, the show has amazing writing and is incredibly complex. After finishing it the first time I spent hours scrolling through people’s analyses, theories and reviews of it. Every character’s writing is very complex and different, making them feel more real than characters in other series. And, on top of that, there is gripping action and great visuals.

“The End of Evangelion”

While the last two episodes of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” are happening in Shinji’s head, “The End of Evangelion” is what’s happening in the (mostly) physical world. The movie shows the “Third Impact,” an event triggered by Rei, during which Rei begins “Human Instrumentality,” which dissolves all humans on earth into Link Connect Liquid (LCL), basically conscious primordial soup, merging all human souls into one consciousness. Weird, I know. 

The reasoning is a lot more complicated than this, but basically, Rei causes the Third Impact and Human Instrumentality for Shinji. And this is where we really see that Shinji isn’t a typical hero.

At first, Shinji wanted Human Instrumentality. He doesn’t want to face rejection or pain anymore, and if everyone is dissolved and becomes a single consciousness he won’t. But, after a long inner-battle, Shinji realizes that without other people, there is no individuality or meaning. He decides that life is about experiencing pain and joy and the company of others, and stops Human Instrumentality.

Of course, this is after all of humanity has dissolved into LCL. So, this decision isn’t really heroic. Rei states that “Anyone can return to human form as long as they can imagine themselves in their own heart,” which is kind of ambiguous and up for interpretation, but indicates to me that people can choose whether they want to come back to the hellscape-that-is-now-Earth or not. 

“The End of Evangelion” is quite the experience and a great ending to “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” Really, it’s a happy ending for Shinji, who finally discovers meaning in his life, but only after destroying pretty much everything. The movie is consistent with the deeply psychological show, and has even more amazing visuals and action scenes. 

While the series is very controversial, I would definitely recommend it. It’s an unforgettable experience that’s made a huge impact on entertainment media. After watching it, I’ll never look at orange juice or Fanta the same again.