Medium Matters: Neon Genesis Evangelion


Okay, it’s all here and it’s all done. I’m not sure whether to cheer or feel sad. Probably both: Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0, and the entire rebuild, is a heckuva ride, and I enjoyed the heck out of it, which is what one would like to expect from a heckuva ride.

Okay, if you haven’t seen 3.0 + 1.0 yet, don’t read any further. SPOILERS FOLLOW. For that matter, why in Heaven’s name are you reading this instead of watching that?

What’s key from my standpoint as a storyteller, the rebuild restructures the story in one very critical and specific way: It makes Shinji the protagonist as well as the main character.

In all the iterations of Evangelion – the anime, the manga, and the rebuild – Shinji is the main character. The story follows him and his journeys; whenever the focus is on anyone else, it’s a side plot (as between Misato and Kaji, for instance) or a digression. But the story starts focused on him and his arrival in Tokyo-3, and ends in whatever world he inhabits at the end of the story. The story is ABOUT Shinji.

But at some point Hideaki Anno decided it was not only about Shinji. He decided Shinji needed to be the hero.

The anime, if you include the End of Evangelion OVA that completes the story it tells, and the manga both have much the same ending: As all Hell breaks loose and Gendo starts to loose the dogs of war (metaphorically), he’s stopped by his creation, the clone of his missing wife Yui, Rei Ayanami. Right? In both there’s that terrible moment where, imbued with his godlike powers, Gendo reaches directly in Rei’s chest, to do something there that will trigger the end of the world.

And she stops him. She kills Gendo, tears all his work apart, and the rebuilds the world. Because she loves Shinji she rebuilds it as he chooses, but SHE does it.

Of that story, the protagonist is Rei Ayanami.

When you look at Evangelion 1.11, it tells much the same story, in fact, almost identically the same story, as the original media.

Of course, if that went on, there’s be no need to write this essay.

The second film announces firmly that the rebuild is a new story by dropping in a new character, Mari, at the start. BOOM. Who the hell is that and what the hell is she doing here?

From left: Mari, Asuka, Rei, Shinji, Kaworu

Well, as it turns out, from the standpoint of plot, she’s not doing much of anything. With her outgoing personality and kooky ways, Mari is actually a Look At Me woman. She attracts attention and creates action without actually advancing the plot. But what she also does is announce, “This is no longer the story you knew.”

And it’s not. At the end of 2.22 Anno changes a key plot point: Rei fights an Angel and sacrifices herself for the others, and is consumed by/with it. In the anime and manga she is gone and this helps drive Shinji’s sense of futility: No matter what he does, people around him die.

In the rebuild Shinji fights the Angel after Rei, dives deep inside it, drives forward to where he can rescue her. And he does. He drags her bodily into Unit-001, and they are together in 001’s plug.

There you go. Now he’s the hero.

Structurally that has to change the rest of the story in two specific ways. One is that Shinji has to drive the plot at its climax, not Rei. And the other is that the underlying plot, Shinji’s search for love, has to resolve as well.

How do you get there? Well, there are a zillion ways. Anno chooses to invent what amounts to a new plot that starts in 3.33 and runs to the end of the show, but the new plot encompasses many of the key points of the original story: The death of Kaworu at Shinji’s hand, Misato’s self-sacrifice, Shinji’s near-catatonic depression as his efforts feel futile. In fact, his new status as hero drives that last one even deeper in the rebuild: Yes, he rescued Rei, but where is she? Where has she gone?

Hey, dude, she’s buried in the operating system of Eva-01, just like yer mum. Surprise!

But never mind that, except that at the end Shinji in unit 01 destroys all the rogue Evas singlehandedly and saves the world. Shinji, not Rei.

Now it’s not explicit, unless I missed it, but part of that’s possible because Shinji’s not alone in 01: Yui and Rei are in there, too. Piloting with his mother and his half-sister? Oh, yeah, no wonder his sync rate is infinite!

But Shinji saves the world. He’s the hero! Not Rei, Shinji.

And the love theme finally gets resolved as well. Remember now, there are five kinds of love. Three of them are going to come into play here: Philos, or love among friends, storge, or love among members of a family, and eros, romantic love.

In the anime and manga, Shinji ends up in the world Rei has recreated. It has a hopeful future where you can see the possibility that Shinji might find one or more of these. He’s on his way to school and may find friends there; his father is out of the picture but one of his classmates is his now-cousin, Rei Ayanami; and on the subway he meets a hot redhead named Asuka. Anything might happen. Fade to black.

Well, “anything might happen,” is not a resolution. It’s the possibility of a resolution.

But now that Shinji is the hero his story needs to resolve. In 3.0 + 1.0 we see him developing, being healed by his friends in the protected village they inhabit: Koji and Kensuke and Hikari just be with him, demanding nothing from him, just loving him as they love all their classmates. And even Asuka shows she loves him, with typical violence (she force feeds him) in her typical unaware-of-how-love-works way.

And Rei, too, although it’s not the original Rei but another clone who also learns to be human. Knowing he never wants to be in an Eva again, she kills herself to prevent it. Bizarrely, that triggers the end of plot, him in an Eva saving the world.

Philos, check.

He doesn’t really get love from Gendo. That’s not possible, I think. The only person Gendo has loved or can love is Yui. But Shinji gets CLOSURE from his father: Gendo tells Shinji what he is doing and why, explains to him why he’s obsessed by the idea of getting Yui back. Gendo transforms himself from a monster into a man tortured by love, from someone Shinji cannot understand into someone he might even have some empathy for.

Plus there’s that infinite sync rate. I’m convinced that’s Yui and Rei in there helping him.

Storge, check.

In the last scene of the film Shinji and Mari are obviously lovers.

Eros, check.

By making Shinji the hero, Anno turns the denouement of the rebuild into something with real finality. Not only is the Evangelion story finished, Shinji’s story is finished as well. That’s totally new, and while it was unexpected – after 3.33 I was convinced there would be no eros and I wasn’t certain Shinji was going to be the hero – it works. The rebuild’s ending is true to the previous versions but complete in a way the other iterations of Evangelion aren’t.

I wonder if it makes the previous versions obsolete. We shall see.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

4 thoughts on “Medium Matters: Neon Genesis Evangelion

  1. This film really made a man out of Shinji (to pull a Mulan quote into the fray)! And honestly that’s probably the only positive aspect that this series managed to recognize, rather than making him into another Anno expy with depression. In spite of all the whacky shenanigans the third film put us through that one arc made up for all the mess more than it ever could, and ofc Shinji hooking up with Mari 😉

    All in all though, so glad to see that he was finally happy. Unfortunately can’t say the same for the overall direction of the Rebuilds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think the story was too big for the format so we ended up with incoherent decisions like moving the action fourteen years ahead. But making Shinji the hero gives this story a chance to actually finish (when the hero beats the baddies and gets the girl 🙂 ) as opposed to just sort of hanging there

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh man, making a 14 year timeskip was a HORRIBLE decision. So many unanswered plot threads (Third Impact, Ryoji Kaji’s son, Curse of Eva, I’m looking at you 👀). Seriously, I can tolerate maybe an eight month timeskip but 14 was WAYYYY too big. I wanna know what kush they were on to approve that decision lol.

        Honestly they should have made the third film a more psychological trip for Shinji inside Unit-01 just like in episode 16 instead of the Gundam ripoff that transpired. At least it would keep the feel of the original series and the timeskip would have been more cogently transitioned, and explained the hero’s journey better. But, that’s all in the past I guess…

        Liked by 1 person

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