Inspirations #1: Neon Genesis Evangelion

Hello everyone. As it’s been a while since I’ve last posted, I thought I should share a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. I’m actually thinking of turning this into a series of sorts, so you can better understand the things which make me the writer I am, and which have affected my style and thought process greatly.

The first of my inspirations I am going to share with you is a well-known and much-discussed Japanese anime known as Shinseiki Evangelion, better known as Neon Genesis Evangelion. As a bit of an introduction to those who don’t know of the series, I’ll allow Wikipedia to speak for me:

Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン Shin Seiki Evangerion?, literally “Gospel of a New Century”), commonly referred to as Evangelion or Eva, is a Japanese science-fiction animation series that first aired from October 1995 to March 1996. It was created by the anime studio Gainax and was both directed and written by Hideaki Anno. The series was received well by many critics[1][2][3] and won several awards.[4][5][6][7] It has had record numbers of sales in Japan,[8] and its franchise has made over two billion dollars.[9]

Evangelion is an apocalyptic[10]anime in the mecha genre. It focuses on a teenage boy recruited by an organization named NERV to control a giant cyborg called an Evangelion to fight monstrous beings known as Angels. The show takes place largely in a futuristic Tokyo years after a worldwide catastrophe. It also centers around other Evangelion pilots and members of NERV as they try to prevent another catastrophe.

Depth and richness have been often credited to Evangelion.[3][11][12] Throughout the series, many Christian religious symbols and terms are used,[1] such as the Christian cross. Later episodes analyze the mecha genre[13] and shift focus to psychoanalysis of the main characters.[14]

So there you have it. Actually, you don’t – Wikipedia’s entry, while laden with a few spoilers, barely scratches the surface of what the series is about. In fact, it is incredibly difficult to explain the series. The original, at the very least, has two endings as a result of budget constraints towards the end of the project, and both are so unusual in their plot and production that numerous theories have been posited about the series as a whole, such as that it is an allegory of the difficulties of puberty, a depiction of creator Hideaki Anno’s struggles with mental illness, or a story that is played out entirely in the main character, Shinji Ikari’s imagination.

Shinji Ikari, the protagonist of Neon Genesis Evangelion.

For me, the mecha-action storyline is at best a well-drawn out spectacle that plays out as a plot for the characters to develop around. The characters themselves are so flawed, so imperfect that their tales could be played out in any sort of medium, and the series would have a similar effect.

Take Shinji Ikari for example. His father is the Commander of the paramilitary organization NERV, which is supported by the UN to fight against the Angels, and thus had little time for him. His mother, Yui, died when he was young and his father abandoned him as he was incapable of raising him due to both the constraints his work placed upon him and his lack of contact with his own child.

Over the years, this creates a significant level of resentment in Shinji towards his own father. Indeed, his reunion with his sole remaining parent is not a happy one. When Shinji asks why his father sent for him after years of not speaking to him, making him believe that he was unwanted, his father coolly replies, “Because now I have a use for you.”

This drama is played out through Shinji’s reluctance to pilot the Evangelion unit assigned to him. While he doesn’t feel confident enough to pilot the EVA, he feels he has to in order to win praise and affection from his father and his peers. As if this wasn’t pressure enough, he is constantly reminded that humanity’s fate rests on his shoulders and those of his other teenage colleagues, the quiet, doll-like Rei Ayanami, and the overconfident and outspoken Asuka Soryu Langley.

Unlike other media, it isn’t merely the main characters who receive a complex psychological profile. Misato Katsuragi, Shinji’s guardian and a Captain in NERV’s military rankings, seems on the surface a laid-back and oft-forgetful young woman with a penchant for beer and snacks. But, unknown to her young charge for most of the series, she was the sole survivor of the expedition to Antarctica which caused the apocalyptic scenario in which they live, and had an equally antagonistic relationship with her own father. She is the only character who even tries to understand Shinji’s discomfort, who offers him both the parental affection he seeks and the tough love he needs.

The reason this series is so important to me in terms of inspiration is that it showed me how to weave a story in which the central plot is not the only important element, where character development is a parallel, not a side story. The series would not be anywhere near as successful as it was and continues to be without the deep focus on character development, calling out the flaws in Asuka’s ambition, Rei’s almost devotional approach to her role, Misato’s facade of happiness.

Neon Genesis Evangelion was not a series I enjoyed the first time I watched it. It cut too close to home with its dissection of psychological discomfort and the sometimes impossible pressures that are placed on us as human beings. And yet, it was this uncomfortable feeling that drew me back to it, that made me feel it was imperative to understand more than what was merely on the surface, that for all the explosions and action, the drama beneath the surface was more important. I learned a lot both about character development and myself from watching it thoroughly, and I think I have seen the series a good four or five times now, including the entirely-distressing End of Evangelion movie.

All this being said, I will not urge you to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion. It is a timeless piece of media which requires an open mind. You will need to be prepared to believe that anime is not quirky cartoons for children (although if you believe this anyway, you will suffer a disdainful expression from myself and my peers). You will also need to be prepared to understand that this is a work of symbolism, that the references to Judeo-Christian symbolism, Freudian psychology and Gnosticism are a unique context for the plot, unintended to be controversial. But if you do watch this series with an open mind and a preparedness to really think about what you are watching, I can guarantee that you will come away with an understanding of why this series means quite so much to me.

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