October 4th, 1995. The first episode of Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion airs on TV Tokyo. Set in the distant future, 2015, the plot appears to follow a young boy named Shinji Ikari, who must pilot a giant robot known as the Evangelion to defeat Angels, mysterious beings that come from outer space. That may be the outer layer of Evangelion, but this series dives so much deeper than a traditional mecha anime. At its core is a massive tangle of Freudian psychology and Anno’s personal turmoil.
The easiest way to analyze Evangelion is through the three children who pilot the Evas:, Rei Ayanami, Asuka Langley, and Shinji Ikari. Shinji Ikari is the main protagonist of the series. His father, Gendo Ikari, is the head of NERV, the organization behind the Evas, and his late mother, Yui Ikari, is literally the soul of Unit 01, the Evangelion that Shinji pilots. Yui Ikari is an incredibly important character, not only is she the soul of Unit 01 but in Gendo’s attempt to bring Yui back to life, the first Rei Ayanami was created. This introduces the first idea of Freudian psychology, the Oedipus Complex:, the idea that children have an inherent attraction to their opposite-sex parent and anger towards their same-sex parent for stealing them away. This idea is not used literally in Neon Genesis Evangelion, but metaphorically. Since Shinji’s mother was killed during the creation of EVA Unit 01, her soul was placed inside the robot, becoming the robot that Shinji pilots. Shinji and Unit 01 form an incredibly strong bond, and the robot often takes control to protect Shinji when he is in danger. Shinji has always hated Gendo since he abandoned him as a child, furthering his Oedipal Complex.
One of the most obvious representations of the Oedipus Complex takes place in episode 19. After Gendo forces Shinji and Unit 01 to attack and kill the rogue Unit 04 (which Shinji learns is piloted by one of his classmates Toji Suzuhara), Shinji refuses to leave his EVA and threatens to kill Gendo and destroy the NERV headquarters. Shinji is physically inside his mother, threatening to kill his father, an almost perfect representation of the Oedipus Complex.
Asuka Langley is equally as complicated as Shinji. Asuka clearly hates Shinji, due to the fact they are extremely similar, and Shinji represents everything about herself she dislikes. Both of them view piloting Eva as their entire identity. Asuka, like Shinji, had a very traumatic childhood. Her mother’s soul is part of her Eva, Unit 02; however her mother survived the experiment, going insane and abandoning her daughter in favor of a doll that she believed was the real Asuka. Meanwhile, her father has an affair with the doctor taking care of Asuka’s mother. Asuka witnesses her mother’s suicide, in which the doll is hung next to her. This turns Asuka into the cold, self-protecting person she is. Much like Shinji, her issues with her parents turn us to Freudian psychology. The Electra Complex (coined by Carl Jung, but taken from Freud’s Oedipus Complex) is clearly a very prominent part of Asuka’s life. After her mother dies, and her father abandons her for his new wife, Asuka becomes very attached to men, especially Ryoji Kaji– an adult man who was once the lover of Asuka and Shinji’s guardian, Misato Katsuragi. Asuka attempts to seduce Kaji several times, constantly calling him and trying to show off her body to him, saying she wants Kaji to see her in her plug suit, the tight suit the Eva pilots wear. As soon as Kaji and Misato begin to see each other again, Asuka becomes depressed and angry, and it becomes clear that to her, her entire life is her sex appeal (despite being a child) and her EVA. As her synchronization with Unit 02 begins to drop, she loses everything.
Another important element of Asuka is her castration anxiety. Although traditionally reserved for men, it is the fear of being physically emasculated. In Freud’s “The Uncanny”, Freud describes the story of the Sandman and its effects:
A study of dreams, phantasies and myths has taught us that a morbid anxiety connected with the eyes and with going blind is often enough a substitute for the dread of castration… We may try to reject the derivation of fears about the eye from the fear of castration on rationalistic grounds, and say that it is very natural that so precious an organ as the eye should be guarded by a proportionate dread (Freud 328).”
The idea of castration anxiety comes from the idea of parents of the same sex causing damage to the child’s genitals, thus causing an erasure of their sexuality and identity. The rejection by Kaji represents the metaphorical castration anxiety in which her womanhood was destroyed. The idea that the fear of losing womanhood and castration anxiety could be represented via eyes is represented in the movie The End of Evangelion. Asuka dies when her eye is stabbed via Unit 02 (all pilots are connected to their robots and feel the pain their robots feel) and eaten to death by the angels attacking.
Finally, there’s Rei. Rei Ayanami is not a real person, but rather a clone created in the failed attempt to bring back Yui Ikari. She has no soul, and no family. She is just an empty shell that exists solely to pilot her Eva. She is completely aware that she is replaceable and meaningless. Rei is incredibly important in showing the themes of the Oedipus complex in Shinji, as well as being the catalyst for the end of the world in The End of Evangelion. However, it seems Anno does not care for her. He has even said, “I have no attachment to her at all.” This begs the question: Could Anno’s relationship with Rei be symbolic of his relationship with the series as a whole?
To answer this defining question, we must look at Hideaki Anno’s life before and after Evangelion. There is barely any information on Hideaki Anno’s life before college. Most of it is pretty mundane. He did alright in school, he liked manga and action movies. You would think based on his Freudian knowledge and personal attachment to Shinji, that Anno lived a dark, depressing life, but there’s no evidence of that. He seemed to live a relatively normal life.
A very important fact that people seem to overlook when discussing Anno is the fact that he did not create Evangelion— Yoshiyuki Sadamoto did. Sadamoto wrote the manga, he created the characters, the story, everything. That raises the question, why does everyone praise Anno so much for Evangelion? Well, if Sadamoto created a car, Anno turned it into a monster truck. The manga was much more subdued, and Anno made it his own, turning the characters into much more intense versions of themselves, removing a lot of the more mundane and domestic scenes, and making it much more psychologically intense.
The psychological element is likely believed to come from Hideaki Anno’s mental illness. One of the most prominent elements of Hideaki Anno’s life and career is his depression. Anno has been very open about his experience with mental illness, and it is very apparent as he experienced it during the creation of Neon Genesis Evangelion. We can tell his mental illness began to affect his work around episode 16. As we pass episode 16, the animation becomes much more surreal and abstract. More things begin to happen in the minds of characters rather than in reality, and the tone becomes much darker. We learn about the true reality of Evangelion: that the “armor” is actually binding to control the Evangelions, as they are living creatures.
So what caused Hideaki Anno to let his mental illness overtake him and turn his entire work upside down? Well, there is no answer to that. Mental illness can not be explained away. His therapist was so adamant about him stopping the production of Evangelion that she said in an interview, “I can no longer allow Mr. Anno (to) tear apart his mind for the sake of his fans. I appreciate the impact Eva has had on the world, but enough is enough. It’s quite literally killing him” (Sachiko Fukuda to Anime Maru). Hideaki Anno was clearly suffering so much that the only way to express it was through his art.
That brings us to the last two episodes of the Neon Genesis Evangelion series. In these two episodes, the Human Instrumentality Project has been successful (A project led by Gendo Ikari to return all mankind to a single consciousness in hopes of seeing his late wife Yui again). The last two episodes take place in the collective mind of humanity, and specifically analyze Shinji, Asuka, Rei, and their guardian Misato, with episode 26 being primarily about Shinji. The four characters attempt to find their meanings for existence and their own internal flaws. Shinji discovers that he can create a world where he can exist alone (which is what he always wanted), but quickly discovers you cannot exist without the presence of others. The series ends with Shinji having this realization and the other characters in the show stand around him, applauding, giving him the approval he always craved from his father.
When the finale aired in 1996, it was not taken well. Gainax, the production house of Evangelion that was in part founded by Anno, received hate for mutilating this series. Anno’s response was to create The End of Evangelion. Released in 1997, The End of Evangelion focuses on a different ending to the series, taking off where episode 24 ends. Kaworu Nagisa, the 17th angel who possesses a human form, has been killed by Shinji, the city of Tokyo 3 is destroyed due to Rei’s self-destruction, and Asuka is in a sedated state after a suicide attempt. The first half is action-filled, what one would expect from a mecha. Seele, a secret organization that controls the world, wants to force the Human Instrumentality Project by using the remaining EVAs. Gendo refuses, causing Seele to send troops into NERV, who slaughter everyone in sight, thus proving that humans are the final angels. After waking up, Asuka reconnects to Unit 02 violently fights the man-made angels sent by Seele, but in the end, they tear her to shreds, disemboweling her after she is impaled by the Lance of Longinus. The second half is much more surreal. Rei bonds with Adam and Lilith to start the Third Impact, Unit 01 (with Shinji inside) becomes God, and all souls are sucked into Rei’s giant body to become one, the goal of the Human Instrumentality Project. Shinji rejects this and awakes on a desolate shore with Asuka, being the new Adam and Eve.
You could write an entire book about the meaning and symbolism at The End of Evangelion, but to focus on Hideaki Anno, the only thing that matters is a single quote from the movie, “After all we’ve been through our final enemy is our fellow man.” Anno poured his heart and soul into Neon Genesis and worked so hard that his mental illness got the best of him, and impacted his work. Instead of support, Anno was greeted with even more suffering. He created The End of Evangelion as a response to this hatred and received even more and it is incredibly meta as a result. The last half of the movie contains images of people watching the film in theaters, as well as death threats Anno received, saying things like “Anno, I’ll kill you!!” and “…If you won’t die on your own, I’ll do you a favor and set fire to your studio…”
The idea that mankind is it’s own worst enemy is very clear in the reception of Evangelion. Just as NERV worked to protect mankind from Angels, society turns on them, and slaughters them the moment they refuse to give over the EVAs, Anno worked tirelessly to create a piece of art and was attacked for it, since it wasn’t what people wanted. Anno has always said that he related to Shinji, and if he is Shinji, Rei is Evangelion. It would be easy and painless to conform, to make what everyone wants, but just as Shinji rejects instrumentality, Anno rejects this cop-out. In the final scene of The End of Evangelion, Shinji looks out and sees the ghost of Rei floating above the blood that forms the oceans. Rei will always be there for Shinji, just as Evangelion will always be there for Anno, whether he wants it or not.