Evangelion and the end of the world

Still from Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0

It’s 2015 and Shinji Ikari, a lonely fourteen year old boy, is recruited by his estranged father to pilot a giant robot and fight against equally giant monsters called Angels. A fantastic premise for SF action, but also the premise of the disorienting deconstruction of humanness that is the series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The Evangelion story began with a 1995 anime series, which was followed in 1997 by the movies Death and Rebirth and End of Evangelion. The series is currently being remade as a film tetralogy called Rebuild of Evangelion, with the third film set to be released later this year. I recommend the Rebuild series on Blu-ray as it has incredible production values and is much more accessible than the anime which towards the end goes very art-house (though we’ll have to wait to see how the second half of Rebuild turns out.)

Evangelion is about the desperate attempts of broken people to stave off the end of the world. It is a bleak world and almost every character has strained interpersonal relationships. It is a world without joy and with limited happiness. Writer and director Hideaki Anno had depression for four years and its likely that many of the characters reflect his personal experience. And yet, depression in Evangelion is in no way one dimensional. I know several friends who have struggled with the black dog, and just as it affects each differently, each character in Evangelion faces it distinctively. Passive and passionate, lonely and obsessed, hopeless and decisive; each is the public face of a broken person. I think Evangelion affirms what Steven Moffat has said: sad is more dramatic than happy. But over all of this is confusion, and a scene of Rei crying without understanding why reminds me that these characters don’t understand what’s happening to them any more than we do.

The series’ climax is the the disastrous Third Impact, which is said to bring the end of the world. The portrayal of disaster feels distinctive to me, although I’m sure it can’t be unique. In many films disaster brings relief and peace to the earth, if indeed the disaster wasn’t the earth’s own reaction to the deeds of humanity. Even though I share the pain of the human protagonists, sometimes the earth gets more sympathy, especially if the film is pushing environmentalism. But in Evangelion the earth is just as affected as are the people. See in the still above how the natural and built environments alike are tortured and torn apart, even in defiance of gravity.

Evangelion is deeply human centred. I can think of little else in our present culture which so ties humanity and the world together. It almost feels uncomfortably brash to do so, when we usually like to think of ourselves as an inconsequential aside in the universe. It is a story of fighting over what it means to be human, but the horror of seeing the Third Impact says that our world depends on the resolution of that fight. As a Christian I believe many uncomfortable things, and Evangelion has illustrated to me a little of what it means for creation to groan (Romans 8) and what it will be like when the heavens are set on fire (2 Peter 3).

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