In the twenty-sixth and final episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Shinji chooses himself. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Trigger Warning: For mentions of depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
I know that if there was not The End of Evangelion to come after this, I would probably be a little ticked off by this finale. Which is a weird thing to say! This is how the writers chose to end the show, and no amount of criticism or analysis will ever change that. It’s a bold choice for an ending, though there’s a part of me that adores how character-centric it is. That’s intentional, too. We learn that Instrumentality is taking place all over the planet, yet the title card tells us that we’ll be spending time with Shinji only. Even then, the process we witness is contained solely within his experience. We don’t know what Instrumentality is like for any of the characters.
It’s not a bad choice; Neon Genesis Evangelion was always about Shinji. It still feels strange, though, because in the end, the show has such a narrow focus. Much of this is comprised of images or animation we’ve already seen, given a filtered look and with dialogue spoken over it. It’s a re-contextualization of the series as seen through Shinji’s eyes, an attempt on his part to determine if he really is as isolated as he thinks he is. While I think the theme of self-identification is important to the series as a whole, I saw the finale as a chance to focus on perception instead. Now, I don’t think that this is something that should be applied universally to all problems, but in the context of this specific story, it worked for me.
Indeed, it was true that Shinji was isolated in some way. He was certainly isolated from his father and from most of his peers. The pain that Shinji felt from this, though, is part of why Gendo initiated Instrumentality. The entire human race had this weakness in them: they cannot live alone, yet are doomed to singular bodies and singular souls and singular existences. Yes, connection might happen through relationships and friendships and love, but it’s always temporary, and at the end of the day, every human was alone. (Again, that might work for this world, but I think extrapolating it to our world would raise a few issues.) Instrumentality allowed for the simplest existence of all, and it meant that no human ever had to be alone.
And yet, Shinji still has a mental battle with himself. Why stay alive? Why be human? What do humans want? What do they crave? What do they need? Like the last episode, these questions are posed either through flashing title cards or through the various characters who have had some sort of impact on Shinji. Generally, he is spoken to by Asuka, Misato, and Rei, or at least his perception of them. That’s where I think Neon Genesis became something more than it’s parts. Why focus on this in the end?
Like many of you, I have experienced one aspect of Shinji’s life: the sensation that I alone am in pain. It is a very, very easy thing to slip into, especially as someone who has suffered from depression since childhood, who has anxiety issues, who has PTSD, who believed for many years that he was isolated from the world. Indeed, my strict upbringing made me feel that way! I understand now that my perception of the world was damaged by other people, perhaps even deliberately so. While I won’t go into detail about that here, I wanted to mention it because I believe that’s the most powerful part of Neon Genesis. Yes, awful things have happened to him, but in his grief, Shinji imagines he is so totally alone that everyone must hate him. It is understandable why he thinks that, but he takes this to a place where he feels unworthy. The only worth he has is piloting an Eva, and is that worth living for?
The episode conveys this journey through animation. The deeper into instrumentality he goes, the more simplistic the art style. It continues de-evolving until Shinji is nothing more than a pencil sketch. It’s an arresting visual image because his body floats in a white space. As he nears Instrumentality, it’s clear what freedom Gendo sought in humanity: free of all humanly ties, the soul can merely exist in peace. But without restrictions, without ways to conceptualize bodies, how is any of this worth it? Yes, Instrumentality gives peace, but that’s only because there is pure nothingness. There can’t be anything else there.
That’s why he flashes out of Instrumentality to a new reality. It was surreal to watch the cast of characters in a world where the Evangelions didn’t exist, where there were no pilots, WHERE SHINJI’S MOTHER DIED. Having other people around changes a person. It helps define them, too! That’s the catalyst to his epiphany. The end of Neon Genesis really has nothing to do with Angels or Evangelions or any of that. Shinji just had to choose to live his life and to accept that he could love himself as he is. Throughout this series, he’s been closed off and reluctant to open himself to others, so I saw the final scene as him breaking out of this enclosure. It’s more metaphorical than literal, you know?
At the same time, it’s not the most satisfying ending. For Shinji, sure, but all the other characters are largely ignored unless they’re serving his growth. There’s also zero acknowledgment of the fact that Gendo was the main cause of all of this. Is he just let off the hook in the end? I can only sort of piece together the Angel mythology, since it’s completely abandoned in the final two episodes, so I feel like there are a lot of holes in the story. Yet I can’t be too disappointed because I know I’ve got more to watch, and perhaps that’ll have a more concrete ending for everyone else.
The video for “Take care of yourself” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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