Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion by Hideaki Anno (Review)

More than anything else, Evangelion’s focus is on the hopes and dreams of its characters, as well as their fears and weaknesses, and their attempts to overcome them.
The End of Evangelion

After the Evangelion series ended, many of its fan were left scratching their heads. Rather than end the series with a huge climactic battle, series creator Hideaki Anno decided to take a more introspective, metaphysical approach. Many fans protested the original ending, feeling that it left too many questions unresolved and unanswered. Although initially resistant, Anno’s response was to create End Of Evangelion, a feature containing an alternate end to the series. But to prepare audiences for the new ending, Evangelion: Death & Rebirth was created.

Whew… now that I’ve finally seen practically everything in the Neon Genesis Evangelion canon — the “Perfect Collection”, Death And Rebirth, and now The End of Evangelion — I’m struggling to come up with a simple description for a series that’s anything but. However, I think the word “trainwreck” is a fairly apt summary of my Evangelion impressions. The whole saga is a veritable collision of tragic characters, melodrama, Freudian psychology, metaphysics, and Judeo-Christian themes and imagery. Like all collisions, the result shatters every which way, constantly frustrating any attempts to put it together or make any sense of it.

It is a trainwreck in every possible definition of the word. It is also brilliant, moving, captivating, and wholly unlike anything else the world of anime has ever offered, or likely ever will.

At the conclusion of the television series (which makes up the “Perfect Collection”), fans were left irate by the conclusion, and I can’t really blame them. The whole series had been building towards a final confrontation between the agency called NERV and the mysterious Angels, beings bent on destroying humanity. Time and again, NERV had stood against the Angels and prevailed, while the shadowy SEELE organization pulled strings in the background to complete the mysterious Human Instrumentality Project.

It is a trainwreck in every possible definition of the word. It is also brilliant, moving, captivating, and wholly unlike anything else the world of anime has ever offered, or likely ever will.

What’s more, the characters of Evangelion — the young, insecure Shinji, the mysterious Rei, the fiery Asuka, and the battered Misato, among others — had suffered so much that you earnestly wanted some sort of resolution for them. To know that their sacrifices weren’t in vain.

But that’s not what we got, or at least, not in the form we were expecting. Mounting production costs and series creator Hideaki Anno’s nervous breakdown forced GAINAX (the company producing Evangelion) to shelve the original idea for the ending. In its place was a finale that completely eschewed a climactic battle in favor of delving into the psyche of Shinji Ikari as he comes to terms with what he’s experienced. No mention of the Angels was made, but rather, the focus was on Shinji and his role in the Human Instrumentality Project.

Needless to say, that ending rubbed fans the wrong way and they let GAINAX and Anno know it (apparently, Anno even received death threats). Personally, I liked the ending. It didn’t provide closure for everyone, but it did provide closure for Shinji (always the series’ focus). It was nice to see Shinji experience true peace for once.

However, I’ll admit that particular ending was missing the sense of grandeur that the series had always hinted at, as well as many of the themes and ideas it had been building on over 24 episodes. And, in all honesty, who doesn’t want to see a climactic, “once and for all” type of battle? Anno, GAINAX, and Production I.G. dusted off the original ending and set about fulfilling the fans’ wishes, albeit with a big “up yours” attached.

The End of Evangelion is incredibly ambitious, the scope of its vision rivaled only by the likes of Akira. At the end of the series, NERV has defeated the last angel, but its personnel are in ruins. Shinji is comatose with grief, Asuka is no longer able to pilot her EVA, and everyone else isn’t doing too much better. That’s when all hell breaks loose, as SEELE attempts to wrest control from Gendo Ikari, Shinji’s estranged father and NERV’s commander. Their desire is to bring about the Human Instrumentality Project and bring humanity into its next stage of evolution. Gendo, it seems, has other plans.

The first half of the movie (or the 25th episode, if you will) details SEELE’s brutal attack. At times, it’s gutwrenching to watch, as the invading forces systematically wipe out NERV personnel. But we also get to see Asuka’s redemption, one of the high points of the movie (and the series). At the start of the movie, she’s completely useless. But when she realizes the true nature of her EVA, her confidence soars and we’re treated to one of the greatest mech battles ever, hands down.

Asuka’s Unit 02 soars through air, hurls battleships at her foes, and moves like a kung fu fighter as she first takes on the invading forces, and then SEELE’s own EVAs, who have arrived to finally end NERV. Despite Asuka’s valiant efforts, however, she is unable to hold against SEELE’s mysterious weapons, and they descend on her crippled Unit like vultures. That’s when Shinji arrives on the scene, and with him comes the Apocalypse.

More than anything else, Evangelion’s focus is on the hopes and dreams of its characters, as well as their fears and weaknesses, and their attempts to overcome them.

If the first half of The End of Evangelion depicts the physical action, the second half dives headfirst into the spiritual and psychological. The Human Instrumentality Project moves ahead, with Shinji and Unit 01 as its medium. It might help to brush up on your kabbalah beforehand, otherwise watching Unit 01 and SEELE’s EVAs form a giant Tree of Sephiroth in the sky might be a bit surreal, as will Rei’s transformation into a giant Lilith as she collect humanity’s souls. Shinji’s tenuous grasp on reality is practically nil by this point, as all of humanity is drawn into the Project.

It was at this point while I was watching The End of Evangelion that some friends came in and joined me. I can only assume what they must’ve thought, because by this point, the already surreal imagery begins moving towards its climax. Shinji finds himself the conduit of mankind’s extinction and rebirth, and a process similar to the series’ original ending occurs. Shinji waxes metaphysical, trying to figure out what exactly is going on and wondering if the peace he’s finally experiencing is really all that desirable. It’s pretty heady stuff, so don’t be afraid to rewind and rewatch certain parts to get a real grasp on what’s going on.

I can assure you that what I’ve detailed so far barely scratches the surface. The End of Evangelion is really something you must watch and try to figure out for yourself. Anno reveals some of the series’ secrets, but he still leaves much unexplained. And it’s a safe bet that he threw in plenty of extra stuff to keep people guessing (again, another “Up Yours” to unsatisfied fans). Admittedly, I’m still left scratching my head on a few things, and I spent hours scouring the Web to find answers. I can’t help but get caught up Evangelion’s world. There’s a wealth of content left untapped, but since neither Anno nor GAINAX seem likely to revisit Evangelion, plenty will be left up to speculation.

I have to say that I love that approach. It leaves the sense of mystery, the epic scope, and the emotional impact intact. That sense of intrigue ensures that I will always find it interesting. What’s more, it forces me to really mull over everything I’ve just seen.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the focus isn’t on explaining A.T. Fields, dummy plugs, LCL, synch ratios, and the other terms thrown about. More than anything else, Evangelion’s focus is on the hopes and dreams of its characters, as well as their fears and weaknesses, and their attempts to overcome them. Yes, Evangelion is a confusing mess of ideas and concepts, some of which are left very underdeveloped. But that sense of confusion allows us to sympathize, to see something in all-too flawed characters forced to deal with forces and concepts that they don’t understand either.

The End of Evangelion may not be the perfect ending everyone was hoping for. But it deals with the key aspects of the series, and it feels very appropriate. But it refuses to wrap everything up in a complete package. Better yet, it delivers all of this with incredible animation and some of the most stirring images I’ve ever seen in anime (again, only something like Akira really compares). There’s a reason why Neon Genesis Evangelion has been considered by many to be one of, if not the greatest anime series of all time. After watching the utterly fascinating finale (and before it, the entire series), I must wholeheartedly agree.

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