I’ve been wanting to share my amazement over Evangelion for a long time, so this awesome video by PBS Idea Channel is a nice occasion to do so :
Although it is a great statement on authorship and the nature of a work of art, I think it only brushes why Evangelion is so great. The heart of this matter lays in the many layers of appreciation the whole Evangelion saga proposes (not entirely unlike ogres), so without further ado let’s jump into them without delving into too much detail. Also this is spoiler free (apart maybe for one or two white sentences):
Layer 0: A mecha anime
If nothing else, Evangelion is a mecha anime where gigantic robots fight monsters and shit. Not my thing, but I know some people are into that. It’s kinda pretty too I guess ?
Layer 1: A rich anime ?
The mysterious plot and numerous endings and versions makes for very interesting analysis but let’s talk about the most interesting aspects of that more in detail.
Layer 2: A meta critical deconstruction of the established mecha genre
Literature is plentiful about how Evangelion takes all the well known archetypes of the mecha genre and destroys them thoroughly. All the cliches are present and crushed to ashes, all the stereotypical characters turn out to have a painful and tortured psychology. Exit the mecha babydoll, welcome darkness and depression… Everything in this series up untill its ending is a giant Fuck you to the basic otaku. More on that
Because of that, and also because of the well known psychological difficulties the creator Hideaki Anno had to face during the making of the original series, it is filled with the side effects of the psychological demons that were haunting him at the time (some even say madness). The whole series is tainted with the depression of the creator or the characters, so deep that it makes a neverending source for psychological studies. More on that
As long as we are into psychology, let’s talk about why Eva redeems the whole mecha genre to my eyes. Giant humanoid robots are a scientific heresy and do not make sense from a logical point of view whatsoever. I cant stress that enough: Noone would ever build such an inconvenient shit. However the one thing they are good for is symbolism (this is the key word for the rest of the article). The fact that mecha is a human inside a human-looking shell allows some clever work to use this as an excuse to work on the difference between the inner-private self and the outer-public self. Under this light, you can appreciate how the insecurities of the characters are hidden from the public world to which they display this cold and reliable (and fake) image. It’s a lense I like to adopt while watching good mecha.
Layer 5: A freudian/oedipian nightmare
But let’s face it, when you say Eva and psychology, the most interesting and richest part of it is the freudian mumbo jumbo. The whole dynamic of the show, hell the number one motor force is the relationship between Shinji and his father. The ambiguous and enigmatic nature of the evangelion robots make you wonder what exactly is Shinji getting inside of (get in your mom shinji, dad orders it). You could write books and teach class with the interaction between Shinji and his parents, but I don’t want to be too long or to spoil anything.
Layer 6: Symbolism, religion and human nature
Now to my favorite part of it and the biggest. If you’re not into psychology, regardless of the intent of the author, there is more than enough philosophy in the original series to feed your curious mind. If you’re anything like me, Evangelion will leave you with a feeling of “dafuq did I just watch” and you’ll be looking for commentaries and analysis on the internet. The everpresent and often played-with christian mythology comes here as a vector to reflect upon human nature (yeah ok much like in Pullman’s His Dark Materials). Countless analysis provide for a very interesting litterature on the subject, centered around the nature of the angels and why are they attacking ? Why are they called angels ? What’s Seele’s project and who is even Seele anyway ? The number of lines you could write/read on these topics is unfathomable. Writing this article, I spent hours browsing the web to find the analysis I liked the most. I recommand this post, this, this…. the list is endless tbh. This is also a cool document. Anyway I said no detail and you should probably travel your own path as Hideaki Anno keeps saying ^.^ but I can’t help but love the analysis centering on self-awareness, innocence, abnegation….
Layer omega: A meta-meta post-post modern self deconstruction
And that’s where genius turns into the absolute best and my mind is blown to the point I have to write this article. Because this meta post-modern deconstruction of the meta genre now carries with it its self deconstruction, delightfully ironically entitled Rebuild. In this successful attempt to troll every-fucking-body, the creator Hideaki Anno took this whole mythology and huge work he had constructed and proceeded to tear it to pieces by wiping out symbolic aspects, messing up all the analytical aspects of the previous work (which makes it kinda harder to find good analysis of Evangelion nowadays). More on that
Conclusion: A delightful irony coating
Rich from all of these layers full of symbolism, of the original criticism of the otaku archetype, and of its self-reflective deconstruction, one can’t deny the artistic interest of this outstanding saga, probably in spite of all the efforts of its creator to diminish its work, making it the ultimate irony (yeah I do love irony).