Descent Into Madness

A Talk on Neon Genesis Evangelion Themes


There are many themes throughout the Evangelion series and movies. The themes of the anime are more religiously based while the characters each have their own mental problems. By taking a look into the mind of Anno Hideaki and behind the production of Neon Genesis Evangelion, we can further understand this genius series.


How it Began

Anno Hideaki created a great series, both loved and hated by many. Those who hate are generally those who do not understand the series. Neon Genesis Evangelion is a very deep story line that many pass up as a bizarre uninteresting show. Why is the series this way? Anno had just finished his work on Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water and the failure if a sequel project of Royal Space Force and fell into a deep depression. He began working on developing a new series in 1993. This series would focus on the theme of not running away, much like a failed project of his Aoki Uru. He wanted to gain new otaku fans and focus an interest on the medium. The series was first called Alcion, but due to little consonant sounds that are hard, it was changed.

He borrowed scenarios from a previous work, Gunbuster. He also used the narrative format of Nadia. He also wanted to leave it opened to the audiences interpretation by using multiple references. He used a lot of inspiration from other animes such as Devilman, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Space Battleship Yamato.

When the series got to the 13th episode, the script was thrown out since it had deviated so bad from the original story. By the time they had gotten to the 16th episode, the focus changed to the individual character from the plot line. Halfway through the creation of the series, Anno had a nervous breakdown. This is the point the series changes course. Anno also received a mental illness book from a friend. The deadline ran really close when it came to the production. Toshio Okada commented that this was due to the fact that the ending was decided three months before airing those episodes. This was the reason they used a lot of flashback scenes along with photographs, abstract animation, and fixed image scenes with only dialogue. Amongst the fans, the ending sparked condemnation and controversy some directed at Anno himself. To wrap it up better, Gainax released two different films in 1997, Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion.


Religious Themes

Neon Genesis Evangelion is filled with religious themes mostly from Judaism, Christianity, Shinto, Zoroastrianism, Kabbalah, Buddhist, and Gnosticism. An Evangelion-specific mythology was created from the influence of the Book of Genesis, while still having some connection to the original words. The assistant director of the series, Kazuya Tsurumaki, said they were more for exotic and interesting reasons and not for Christian views. Anno stated however: “As the symbols are mixed together, for the first time something like an interrelationship or a meaning emerges”. The Angels are mostly based after the Jewish Kabbalah along with esoteric and mystic themes of the Kabbalah. The Judeo-Christian themes that run deep in the series include the names Adam, Eve, Lilith, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Lance of Longinus, and the Kabbalistic Tree of Life and tikkun olam.

Shintoism is another religion that runs deep in the Evangelion series. Both the Kojiki and the Nihongi have several references. The primordial cosmos of Shinto religion shows up in the series while the mythical lances of Izanagi and Izanami are both used to fight with. The oni (Japanese demons) show reference to the visual designs of the Evangelions. The figure comes from Jewish folklore.

The Christian religion was used mostly since it is not a really celebrated religion in Japan. It holds mystery and that is why it was used according Kazuya Tsurumaki. He even went as far to say “none of the staff who worked on Eva are Christians. There is no actual Christian meaning to the show, we just thought the visual symbols of Christianity look cool. If we had known the show would get distributed in the US and Europe we might have rethought that choice (Otakon 2001 anime convention)”.

The NERV supercomputers are named after magi’s. In the Gospel of Matthew these magi’s are mentioned Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar. They were the ones who visited Jesus in Bethlehem. Another reference from the Bible is Marduk. It is an institute that finds the teenagers that best fit the Eva’s. In the Bible it the name of the main Babylonian deity. Christian/Jewish references are all throughout the series, as mentioned earlier. The description of Yahweh (having seven eyes) is seen in SEELE’s logo.

The cross is another religious symbol that shows up often throughout the series. It is usually just loose depictions of ‘cross like’ events. They hold no meaning (especially religious meaning) what so ever. they are just simply there throughout the series. It’s only meaning is that of sacrifice. The staff just decided to use crosses because they looked cool. They used several different types of crosses: the Latin cross, the Latin Inverted cross, Greek cross, Cross of Lorraine, and the Tau cross.


Mental Themes

While Anno was created the series, he was battling his own emotional struggles and this shows through in his characters. We will be taking a look into each character separately, but all of these characters have a similar fear of loneliness.

We will start with Shinji Ikari. He is said to have libido-destrudo conflict. He is shown throughout the series battling depression. When Shinji uses the Unit-01 and enters into the Evangelion it is a ‘return to womb’ according to Freudian views. This is his struggle of freedom and his passage into manhood. He is also a representation of the Oedipus complex. This shows heavily in the series since Shinji’s father holds the power throughout the series. This is possibly why he hates his father so much. Though with the Oedpius complex, the son usually tries to please the father in some way. Since his father holds the power, he has the ability to create his son into what he will become, the pilot of Unit-01. But since Shinji has no mother, the Oedipus complex really does not work here. The Lacanian theory would work much better. This theory focuses more so on the father figure than a mother. According to this theory, the father holds the definition of what his son is to become and becomes the center of the Symbolic order. Either way, Shinji is nothing more than a mere tool for his father’s usage. Gendo even says this in the first episode. Shinji honestly is not his own person. He chooses to hide behind a cowardly persona than be his true self.

Asuka Langley Soryu is the character that suffers from PTSD due to her mothers suicide. She has abandonment issues along with a female version of the Oedipus complex. She also shows a similar desire to please others. In many ways she is a female version of Shinji. This is only when you look deep down into her inner core.

Rei Ayanami not only represents the unconsciousness of Shinji, but she is also schizophrenic. Her thoughts are mostly represented by static backgrounds and abstract animation. She questions the truth behind herself. She has many hallucinations mostly devoted to Shinji’s character.

Kaworu Nagisa represents Shinji’s jungian shadow. Their friendship is one of unconditional love and acceptance of each other. Although he turns out not to be real, he still has an impact on Shinji.


What Makes it so Good?

Neon Genesis Evangelion owes its biggest success to the psychological craziness. It is not the story that draws the audience, but the characters themselves. How realistic these characters back up how great the series truly is. If Anno had not experimented with his characters, the series would have been meaningless. Even the early episodes have a lot of character development. The fact that Anno spends most of the series analyzing his characters, shows action genres really can focus on the characters. Anno develops his characters so detailed that the viewer becomes so involved in their actions.

Most people will argue that the characters are nothing more than the usual mecha anime stereotypes. Shinji the timid boy, Rei the shy girl, Misato the sexy one, and Asuka the angry one. As they may have been adapted from the various mecha shows, they still deviate greatly from those characters. They are completely believable human persona.

The fact the characters developed so realistically makes up for the unfinished plot line. Even though the series has many haters, it still remains as one of the most critical and commercial hit. There are few anime series that try to encompass the character, philosophy, plot, and much more into the story. Even though the series had many short comings, it still has feet much more than other anime series put together. Due to the themes and character development, this series will stand forever as a significant works in the history of anime.