“End of Evangelion” is a perplexing movie to say the least.
Not that the original classic anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion” series ends on exactly the most conclusive note itself, but “End” takes everything that transpired in the series and literally destroys it.
The films ends with Earth experiencing the long foreshadowed Third Impact and all of the planet returning to the primordial “soup,” as fans call it, with its main protagonist Shinji Ikari and comrade Asuka Langley Soryu as the only remaining humans left. A pseudo, twisted rebeginning of Adam and Eve’s Genesis.
The film is fairly divisive among the fans to say the least. Some fans consider it a masterpiece for its nihilistic tone and mind-bending illustrations of body horror and others despised it for being too dark and confusing with no clear explanation of anything that happened in the film’s events. Hell, even the movie’s fans have a difficult time explaining what exactly happens in the narrative.
I was somewhat in the middle with it after I watched it the first time not super long ago. It was certainly abstract, and I like plenty of stories that don’t make it easy for me to understand. The animation is definitely the franchise’s best and I enjoyed the character moments between Shinji, Asuka, and Misato. But it was also, as stated before, dreadfully confusing and still to this day hard to makes heads or tails out of with its plot.
But, as with more than a few movies I have revisited this year, 2020 helped me contextualize one aspect I think the story is concretely trying to get across.
At my lowest points not long ago, I had this frequent vision that would crawl across my mind.
I imagined being up in the clouds on a beautiful sunny day, but I wasn’t floating or flying. I was plummeting, falling like a bird without wings at a speed that would definitely kill me once I got to the ground. But I never imagined actually hitting the Earth like a meat-bagged, human sized asteroid. I only ever imagined the falling part. The wind reaching a terminal velocity and the air rushing past my body and you know what look I had on my face?
I was confused a bit by why I kept imagining this moribund fall into oblivion over and over again. I wasn’t suicidal, though I certainly have had thoughts of self-harm plenty of times before and general detachment from life. But why the fuck was I so happy? I’m about to die after all!
What I have come to realize in recent years, as I’ve developed a better understanding of my mental health and what makes me tick, it wasn’t that I wanted to die so much as I wanted the freedom that comes moments before it. The feeling of finally letting go and letting fate/gravity do the rest.
Years of my life failing at various aspects of societal expectations and career obligations from not being able to get the girls I wanted to date so badly, relationships ending poorly, not quite applying myself the way I should’ve in college, and working a plethora of unfulfilling jobs since graduation made me yearn for that release. Just that feeling of saying “fuck it all” and giving in to the void.
I wanted to stop feeling out of control. The way the world is structured often feels like you are on a wild, rapid river flowing in one very stark direction but you desperately want to go the other way. You keep fighting and fighting it and realize after a while you are just swimming in place, you tire out and either float where the river wants you to go or you drown. I wanted neither of those things, I just wanted control and unfortunately part of life is accepting that a very large percentage of it is beyond your power to alter.
2020 made this feeling starkly apparent once again as we were hit with a once in a lifetime global pandemic that has killed 2.21 million people and counting. As common people struggle to find ways to handle the loss of loved ones and the fallout from economic instability those tasked with protecting us have more or less ignored the cries of needy. Hell, they’re fucking miffed that we would even have the audacity to ask for $2000 of our own fucking tax dollars to put a band-aid on the situation. Combine this with an extremely volatile two-party system and late stage capitalism, we are about as out of control as ever in terms of how much we actually can course correct our destinies in a period like this.
It is why so many irony-pilled millennials and gen z-ers are posting dank memes about meteors colliding with the earth over the course of the year. We’ve lived through two recessions, two forever wars, and now a pandemic in our lifetimes while paying off our crippling debt with slave wages and yet boomers still wonder why we are near universally depressed as a generation.
This is what I feel is the real heart of “End of Evangelion.” The movie is a lot of things, obviously, but, after the events of this year and looking back on the more depressing parts of my life, I feel this film is about the tempting nature of oblivion. Giving up when things are clearly beyond your control so you can get that sweet but twisted, fleeting sense of freedom from it all.
Director Hideaki Anno didn’t feel too entirely different about the state of life when he made this series and certainly by the time he made “End” he was in a very dark place.
So, quick history lesson, “Neon Genesis Evangelion” debuted in 1994 and quickly became a classic among fans of anime and the giant mech vs monster genre. Critics loved it for its exploration of mental health and depression and of course plenty enjoyed the hell out of it for its giant monster/robot escapism as well. Fast forward to the conclusion of the series, critics and fans especially are far more polarized. I won’t try to explain exactly what happens in the ending and frankly I don’t think anyone can, but that confusion led to quite a bit of outcry by the fans.
Hideaki Anno, the series’ director, received tons of hate mail and death threats following the series conclusion. The fans hated how abstract it was, how it had an undecisive ending and chose to dive into the mind of Shinji instead of conclusively describing the events of the Third Impact with plenty going as far as to say he had “ruined” his own series for them. This made him unfortunately quite depressed himself over the ending he felt creatively fairly content with.
The fan reaction was toxic to say the least and all too familiar for many creatives who didn’t adequately satisfy the insatiable vapid needs of their fandom. Anno did not take this well to put it lightly. A man who was known as a delinquent in high school and expelled from the Osaka University of Arts much earlier in his life, and dealt plenty with his own bouts of depression, Anno had plenty of his own demons to sort out and quite clearly wanted to explore that mental state in “Neon Genesis Evangelion.”
I’ll be honest and say that I myself was not fond of the ending either when I watched it the first time as a freshman in college, and even went as far as to describe it as everything that was wrong with anime to friends in the years that followed for a while. I felt it was confusing and “fake deep,” existential for no reason other than because it just wanted to and people were “dumb” if they liked it.
When I rewatched it again as a much older adult when it came on Netflix last year, I found it much more fascinating and interesting. A sort of abstract introspective into the mind of a troubled teenager, who I had written off many years prior as a “whiny baby.” Though I wouldn’t say I completely understand it still, I get it much more now and I think it has a lot to say about depression and mental health.
Unfortunately, most fans did not have that reaction back then and as a result Anno made his true conclusion “End of Evangelion” as a response to that negativity.
As mentioned before, “End of Evangelion” is an extremely nihilistic film that seems to one up each dark moment as you traverse its spiraling narrative. It’s a film where things never get better. If you go into it blind expecting that big last minute heroic save the day moment, it’s always teased and never comes. Things just end very badly for everyone. Nobody gets a “happy ending.”
While the ending to the original series is strange for sure, it does end on a light note that can be interpreted in a number of different ways but ultimately positive. With the way fans reacted to it Anno decided to write a big “fuck you” to them by, in many ways, smashing his toys so no one could play with them again. He even went as far as to splice in the actual hate mail he received into the movie to quite clearly show to the audience, as their favorite characters met their grissly ends, that this was their fault.
In a way though, Anno created something strangely beautiful from that reaction. “End of Evangelion” is about giving up in some ways and accepting our inevitable doom. There are no easy answers, no workable solutions to achieve a happy ending because sometimes in life there isn’t one. Despite last ditch efforts by Misato, Shinji, and the crew of NERV the world still ends through the Third Impact. But tonally it’s not quite pessimistic; it’s actually positive, in a very twisted sense of course.
Set to the song “Komm Susser Tod” by ARIANNE, the film’s apocalypse can almost be described as a celebration. With people “popping” and turning into the primordial soup they all largely have smiles on their faces as they kind of get what they want whether it’s a desire to reunite with loved ones, to be with people they have crushes on, or happiness that they have sought for so long in the embrace of others. Everyone’s depressed! But now they are happy because it’s finally all over, they don’t have to give a shit anymore.
As the planet lights up like a Christmas tree, there are images of suicide and death that rapidly cross the screen in the form of the Angel’s final transformation but again, nobody is truly sad about it. They all have some kind of twisted smile or joy that they get from it. It’s a shocking film, if you’re not already prepared for what’s going to happen, and provocative to say the least.
I had no idea what any of it meant at the time when I watched it several years ago (I watched it well after I had seen the original series), and to be fair there are many ways fans have interpreted what exactly took place in the film and have debated endlessly on its meaning for decades now. But at least in my interpretation, after everything we’ve been through this year, “End of Evangelion” to me is about the sweet release of not giving a fuck anymore.
Whether it’s about Anno feeling that way about his own life or the expectations of his fans or both, the film quite clearly doesn’t care about what people may or may not have wanted for Shinji and the NGE characters and is perfectly fine with the way it all comes “tumbling down.”
This past July 4th, city fireworks shows were prohibited in my area because they wanted to limit mass gatherings due to COVID but this didn’t stop people from buying plenty of their own to fire off. In what amounted to a collective “fuck you” to everything and 2020, beginning pretty much exactly at dusk people started firing off their at home lightshows like they were mortar gunners in World War I and did not let up until well past midnight. The entire Southern California night sky was lit up not to unlike the thousands of crosses that filled the screen during the Third Impact of “End of Evangelion” and though it could certainly be interpreted as a moment of people patriotically going “Yea, America!” that night, my head canon was much different. It felt like tens of thousands of people across the region just saying “Fuck it” into the night sky at everything; COVID, our horrendous government, police violence, pending World Wars, environmental disaster, and our collective impending doom from it all.
As these fireworks hit their zenith around 9pm I broke out my phone and started playing “Komm Susser Tod” from the movie and it felt perfect. Everyone just wanted to feel that freedom in the moment, that freedom of not giving a damn anymore. To be removed from expectations, from control, from hatred, from pain and it was kind of beautiful in a sick way.
And that’s what “End of Evangelion” feels like to me now; kind of beautiful in a sick way.
There are still many ways to interpret Hideaki Anno’s cult classic, and it’s part of its charm but I think the take away fans should have is definitely not that suicide is ok but that we get it. We understand why people have those feelings and why it feels freeing to desire the void and oblivion. It’s a pity that the series most toxic fans didn’t get that clue through the original finale but Anno, not a person who likes being shoved around, clearly created perhaps the most twistedly beautiful “fuck you” to that in anime history.
As we enter 2021 all I can say is it’s ok to feel like this, it’s ok to desire freedom from the relentless gloom and doom of the world and people’s prying expectations of what they think you “should” be. No one blames you. At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to survive the apocalypse we have zero control over, so the least we can do is be a bit nicer and considerate of one another.
At least it’ll make the Third Impact more pleasant whenever it eventually comes…
Happy New Year, everyone!