Self-help is a huge industry. People get motivated to turn around their lives through books, motivational speakers, and even YouTube clips. But if their advice and motivation is helpful, then why is there so much of it? If a single piece of media could help you reach your goal to lose weight, get rich, or just be happy, there would be no need for so many works on self-improvement.
The truth is change is never as easy as we expect it to be. And that is the core idea of The End of Evangelion.
Released in 1997, The End of Evangelion wraps up Hideaki Anno’s mecha anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. The final two episodes of the original series are, to say the least, strange. Supposedly, the Gainax team ran out of money and had to wrap up the series with limited animation. The climactic and foreshadowed Human Instrumentality Project begins but rather than seeing what actually happens, the last two episodes dive into the psyches of the main characters, so the audience can see the mental battles they face. The End of Evangelion shows what actually happened in the narrative. Kind of. Therefore, both the film and the original two final episodes must be analyzed together. The movie is even broken up into two distinct parts to further strengthen this link.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is about a lot of ideas: Giant robots fighting each other. How your parents screw you up. Why you should never admit to jerking off to someone you know. But the main theme of Evangelion is about loneliness.
The protagonist, Shinji Ikari, struggles to connect with those around him. Asuka treats him with disdain. Rei is cold and distant, but Shinji is jealous of her relationship with his father. Misato and Shinji’s relationship fluctuates between maternal and sexual, ultimately failing at both. He craves the slightest praise from his father, but Gendo’s affection is almost nonexistant. And even when Shinji does form a relationship with Kaworu, the last Angel, Shinji is forced to kill his friend.
Naturally, this loneliness is what drives the Human Instrumentality Project when all human minds are melded together. Out of desperation, Shinji triggers the Third Impact and the beautiful piano notes of “Komm Susser Todd” begin to play. This is supposed to be a triumphant moment when all humans become interconnected.
But back in Shinji’s psyche we realize this is a hollow victory. Due to Instrumentality, individuals cannot truly connect with each other because there is no concept of the individual, no concept of the self. For this reason, Shinji rejects instrumentality and allows others to do the same.
No matter how difficult it may seem, individuals will always be able to connect with each other. This is what AT fields symbolize. The Angels and Evangelions use AT fields to protect themselves. However, AT fields can be pierced by another AT field. We eventually learn that all humans are held together by AT fields. In a sense, the characters of Shinji and Asuka simultaneously use their past traumas to wall themselves off from others and connect with one another. After seeing her mother hang herself, Asuka becomes brash and headstrong. Having lost his mother, Shinji becomes depressed and lonely. But ultimately, the two are able to connect due to the similarities of their traumas. This is much better than indiscriminately tearing down every AT field, eliminating all pain, and turning everyone into the orange goop of LCL.
So what does Shinji learn during Instrumentality? He learns that truth is based off his mind’s perception, not reality. Throughout the series, Shinji is surrounded by people who care about him. But because Shinji hates himself, he never notices their love for him. In the triumphant final scene of the TV series, Shinji realizes that if he loves himself he could then connect with others. Happiness is all in your mind. With this realization, the music swells, and Shinji is surrounded by his friends and a beautiful blue sky.
How often do you get struck by inspiration? You get hit by a rush of blood to the head and come up with a new idea for a project or motivation for a goal. This is one such moment for Shinji. Frequently, such inspiration comes late at night. You go to bed excited to take on the world tomorrow.
And then you wake up. For Shinji, he wakes up in a post-apocalyptic world. The cool blue sky of his dream has been replaced with a world of blood red and ash gray. The deformed remains of skyscrapers, the Evangelion series, and Giant Rei are littered everywhere. And Shinji is all alone.
When Asuka shows up, the situation does not improve. For some reason, he takes his anger out on her and starts choking her. In the last line of the film, Asuka says, “How disgusting.” Maybe, considering their minds were melded, she is thinking of Shinji masturbating over her. Maybe she is referring to the entire state of the world.
Right now, Shinji is probably doubting whether his revelation and his potential for happiness are true. But the brief moment of affection from Asuka brings him to tears and reminds him that connection is still possible for him. It’s just not going to be as easy as he thought it would be.
No matter how powerful the inspiration, reality tends to have a sobering effect. Your project ends up not being as good as you hoped or laziness overtakes your motivation. What you want is never as easy as you thought it would be. And so The End of Evangelion leaves me feeling sad. But underneath that sadness is still the hope that I can change.