Note: This will be focused on the manga for Neon Genesis Evangelion rather than the anime. Also, some lines quoted may not exactly correlate with ones that you read, this is because I’m using quotes taken for the Viz Media release as well as various scanlation groups.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is a title that is frequently thrown around in niche circles and is often regarded as one of the most important anime to grace the industry ever. While the validity of this praise could be debatable, I will be focusing on the manga for this series, which seems to be not as popular and not discussed as often which seems odd based off the popularity of the anime adaptation.
The manga for Neon Genesis Evangelion was serialized from February 1995 through June 2013 while the anime was released in the Fall of 1995. Both followed a similar storyline but had noticeable differences towards the end of the manga. I will not dwell upon the differences and will treat the manga as a separate entity in this analysis just to avoid overlap with my hazy memories of the anime, which I have not revisited in nearly two years.
One common “counter argument” I often see as a reason to dislike Neon Genesis Evangelion is largely focused towards Shinji’s character. Those critical of his actions claim that he acts weak, unmotivated and like a “little bitch.” Those are completely valid points because that’s how Shinji was written, but they are missing the point. I read “Your enjoyability of Eva is inversely proportional to how much you hate yourself when you watch it” or something like that. Here, the key to understanding Shinji is to understand yourself. If you have ever felt like life was pointless or the overwhelming feelings of sadness you most likely can understand Shinji, but those who only see him as a “whiny bitch” are those who fail to understand the difficulties of being a human.
First we must understand the significance of the Human Instrumentality Project. Seele’s goal was to fix the impurities of the human race to evolve towards a new being devoid of pain and suffering. The goal was to reunite everyone in a sea of LCL to create a single entity that would share their feelings with everyone- no more A.T fields.
A.T Fields (Absolute Terror Fields) were a way to block off the heart that everyone has. Other humans cannot share your problems so you only ended up letting the burden of your problems pile upon you. (You’re Going To Carry That Weight) However, the A.T Fields allowed humans to remain in their physical forms and live their own life individually. The importance here is that while these barriers trap your troubles in with you, they also allow you to be an individual, something Shinji learns at the end.
Before sending him off, Misato gives advice to Shinji which is the key to his understanding that maybe the suffering and pain is what makes us human. During this encounter she explains how Shinji needs to pick his own path and do things for himself, because he’s “not a kid anymore.” I interpreted this scene as Shinji’s “graduation” from childhood and his passage into adulthood. Misato encourages him to take the next step of life on his own, not to be pushed around by adults because he is now one of them- to become an individual. She seals this with an “adult kiss.” While studied in depth as a source of Misato’s sexuality, I see this signifying Shinji’s passage into adulthood. Earlier in the story he Attempts to kiss Asuka because neither of them have had their first kiss. This ends up being interrupted by Kaji and Misato making-out in the elevator. (quite possibly the same elevator that Shinji takes later on) Regardless of what happened, this was a childish act. It isn’t until Shinji kisses Misato that he is transformed into an adult, while the kiss he was going to receive from Asuka would not have been.
During the attempt to initiate the Human Instrumentality Project, in the void, Shinji conversed with Rei (or Lilith, or Yui?) about his decision of whether to move forward with instrumentally. It is here when Shinji, now as an individual, realizes the truth of being a human. Suffering and pain are gone in the sea of LCL, but so is happiness, “it’s just like being dead.” Emotions are what make us human, removing them take away what is essential to being an individual. Similarly, there there was no comfort of being with another human. Before this, Shinji did not understand the importance of interacting with others and saw them as a hollow act but he has now grown to understand that we cannot live alone, we’re imperfect creatures. Humans cannot grow alone, though we cannot grow too close to one another. Despite this, he realized that it’s better to not be alone. Even if it was impossible to fully understand another person and even if his hands caused suffering for other, his hands could also bring joy and warmth to others which is something he wants to learn for himself. With this, he holds the hand of Rei and she disintegrates returning the humans to the world, reversing the instrumentality project.
After this, we see Shinji on a train heading to take an exam in Tokyo. He recites the same lines he stated at the beginning “I don’t aspire to any future profession of career. I’ve never had any cherished dreams of ambitions. I’ve always just drifted along, and I thought it would always be that way… I’ve never really cared whether I got into an accident or something and died. But… these days I think… the reason I don’t see any hope… is because I’m not looking for it.” Over the course of the events that took place, Shinji was able to learn that life is worth living, he just never understood that he just needed to find hope to help him on his journey.
Neon Genesis Evangelion deals with heavy themes that are often difficult to grasp which may leave you feeling depressed or empty after finishing the series. However, it is important to understand the optimism of the ending. This was the story of a wandering soul learning what it means to be a human, becoming an adults, and individual, and finding a reason to move forward. Finding that hope in life is the key to find a life worth living, regardless of what it is. Eva never tells you what that hope is specifically, but that’s what’s so great. The ending leaves you to think on your own, as an individual, to understand what that hope may be for you instead of holding your hand like a child and steering you towards a specific answer.
Afterword: While Eva is analyzed to death, there is still room for everyone’s own interpretation. That’s how art works, everyone sees the same thing on the surface, but what’s important is how the artist made you feel and how that changed your understanding of the world or yourself. This is applicable for Eva since the lesson here, or at least the one I was able to get out of it, resonated deeply with me. This is why I want to express my understanding of this work to not only help others who feel the same, but to share a piece of myself to the world.
“Pick your own path”
“Do it for yourself”
“You’re not a kid anymore- being pushed around by adults”
“So take the next step out of your own free will”
“Look for those answers without anyone’s help”