The first installment in the “Does X Anime Deserve to be a Classic” series was a collection of my thoughts on the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, and how much I hated it. The bulk of the show is tedious, the characters are unlikable across the board, and the story lacks any forward momentum. The ending above all is a train wreck of Freudian rambling and meaningless symbolism.
I said it before, but episodes 25 and 26 of NGE represent some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen in a professional setting. They threw out the entire narrative in favor of a bare bones lecture to the audience about what the characters were feeling. It was the ultimate violation of screenwriting’s first rule, show, don’t tell. It couldn’t have been handled worse if they tried.
So my hopes for The End of Evangelion were mixed. It retcons the last two episodes, but I really don’t approve of editing your work after it has been released; it’s a cop-out. However, the fact that they were willing to listen to the audience after how poorly received the ending was gave me some small hope that they had learned and were willing to rectify the mistakes made.
And to put it simply, I like The End of Evangelion, you could even say I really liked it. I don’t love it, this movie is definitely not without fault, but it made strides towards improving my opinion of Evangelion as a whole. The way it did so isn’t revolutionary, but that they did it at all is impressive enough. Oh, and spoilers for Eva, if that wasn’t clear.
The original Evangelion follows the teenage pilots of the titular mechanical titans created to fight Angels, primordial entities that share a common ancestry with humans. Shinji is the anxious and depressed son of Gendo, the man running the Eva program forced into the robot. Rei is the artificially created vessel for Lilith, the second Angel, and a tool for Gendo to enact the cataclysm that will create the Instrumentality, or the collectivization of human consciousness. Asuka is a tsundere.
Obviously it’s all a bit more complicated than that, especially Asuka, but I cannot understate how much time Evangelion wastes. I hope you’re interested more in Kasuragi’s love life than the clash of ancient godlike monsters, because guess which gets more screentime. The plot meanders for 23 episodes, only broken up by the newest Angel fight, and then back to tedium.
The series does a haphazard job of characterizing the thee pilots and the supporting cast up until then, a gradual peeling back of their psyches, but it mostly falls flat. Then, in episode 24, we are introduced to the enigmatic Kaworu, the newest Eva pilot who flirts with Shinji and sympathizes with his plight. However, in the same episode it is revealed that Kaworu is an Angel and Shinji is forced to kill him. One of the most significant and interesting characters gets killed off in the same episode he appears in, and people still wonder why I hate Evangelion.
The next two episodes are a big group mental breakdown/therapy session. I have tried to write this complex analysis of what the writers were really getting at, but there is nothing there. The subtext is that the writers smoked weed for the first time and immediately googled Freudian psychology. It’s all your parents’ fault, so you’re acting out and exploring your sexuality, explained in the most self-confident, pretentious way possible.
Now, the reason for this is obviously that they didn’t have the budget for a proper finale, so I’m not criticizing that it wasn’t a wild and action-packed couple of episodes. It doesn’t excuse how laughably armchair psychologist it comes across, but you see the missed potential when you see what The End of Evangelion does with a movie budget.
The End of Evangelion is vastly superior to the ending we got initially. The presentation is excellent, though that’s the bare minimum, since the original series already looked good and this is a movie. No complaints with the music, and Asuka vs. the mass-produced Evas, the big action set-piece of the movie, is competently executed. However, my assessment of Evangelion has never really been concerned with its visuals, rather its writing.
They don’t retcon episode 24, and that is really a shame. I think failing to develop Kaworu as a character and his relationship with Shinji was a real missed opportunity. However, doubling the runtime of the original two episodes gives them a chance to clarify the finale. The psychological sequences suffer when you cut out all of the context.
Most of my complaints with the last two episodes are minimized with that context. The pseudo-philosophical rambling makes a lot more sense and way less out of place. The original ending abruptly shifts from Kaworu’s death straight into this manifesto reading and I’m stuck wondering if I fell asleep and missed three episodes. The movie does a much better job of leading you up into those surreal moments.
We also get a much better idea of Asuka’s psychological state by placing her breakdown and eventual death in the middle of a hopeless battle. Her character writing in 25 and 26 was essentially done in a vacuum, divorced from the development she had received so far. In the film, she is woken up, plunged into battle, and forced to confront her mortality in a matter of minutes. The raw, primal anger she feels in retaliation at her own demise hits much harder than the soapbox preaching of the original finale.
Unfortunately, by this point Rei has become a non-character, more of a device for the plot to happen to. I think the early episodes where she developed a relationship with Shinji was one of the series’ brightest points. After that, though, they’re separated for most of the anime and the film, and that weakens the importance of her rejecting Gendo’s will and choosing Shinji.
And Shinji, my boy, you actually become a character who I don’t hate. Shinji’s character arc only works if you consider EOE to be the true ending, as the previous 24 episodes are just the sum of everyone tearing Shinji down. Once he’s given agency in the story and acts on it, you can finally see Shinji as a person instead of an empty vessel of psychoses. Shinji’s decision to end the Instrumentality could have been handled better, especially if the movie was longer, but with what we got I am more than happy with how Shinji was treated.
And because this is Evangelion and I don’t get anything I want, I still have a fair number of complaints. Most of the movie’s problems could have been solved if it was 40 minutes longer, or more. Clocking in at under 90 mnutes, we just don’t get the time to fix everything, so they just had to settle for fixing most of the problems.
Extending the movie would have let them adapt episode 24, and pace Kaworu’s introduction, betrayal, and death a lot better. We could have gotten proper fulfillment of Shinji’s relationships with Rei and Asuka if only there was more time. I’m not saying we need romantic resolution, as this is not that kind of story, but we need more development.
Make me understand Shinji’s grief at losing Asuka, how he feels in the dream sequence where she rejects him, and why he strangles her on the volcanic beach at the end. Give Rei more time to explore her reasons for betraying Gendo, the man who raised her. If Shinji’s interactions with both girls had gotten more thorough resolution, the quality of the film would have risen dramatically.
We could have gotten a proper explanation of the origins of the Angels, or for humanity’s relationship to Adam and Lilith, and what Rei was. I shouldn’t have to wiki this stuff, they just don’t do a good job of explaining it. I mean, the whole point of a novice protagonist is that things can be explained to them without breaking up the flow of the story. Shinji never finds out the details of this conflict, so you could explain the story better to the audience while making Shinji a more active participant in it.
Other than that, my only major complaint is that the ending still contains a lot of those ramblings I’ve protested. It’s important for art to handle important and often uncomfortable ones, but it needs to be done subtly. Evangelion has just never been any good at subtlety. They improved upon it, but they did not actually fix the root of the issue.
Oh, also, I don’t know what possessed them to include flashing strobe lights, but don’t do that. I’m not sensitive to lights, and yet this film gave me a migraine with a sequence of red and black flashes. I had to skip multiple straight minutes just to keep my sanity. If a relatively healthy person can’t get through unscathed, it’s just plain unwatchable to anyone with epilepsy or photosensitivity. Netflix doesn’t even warn you, so I hope you don’t get a seizure, or you’re just SOL.
The End of Evangelion is a good movie, and a far better ending to the original Neon Genesis Evangelion than I had any right to expect. Far from being perfect, it bears many of its predecessors scars, but manages to learn from those mistakes.
I want to point out that Kasuragi and the research team are nearly absent from the film, the same minimal roles they should have occupied from the beginning. Gendo doesn’t get the same attention as he should, but I stand firm that this could have been a two hour movie. It would have been best if this had been the ending to the anime, but I understand that budgetary constraints are often out of the creative team’s control.
I also stand by my assertion that it is wrong to go back and amend a finished piece of art and change it. Art is a reflection of the person who made it and who they were when they made it. A wonderful way of gauging your growth is to look back at projects over the years. By returning to a previous project, you are disrespecting the work and sum of your talent at the time of creating it. As a writer, it just rubs me the wrong way.
That being said, I’m still pretty glad that this movie was made. Not just because my essay on Evangelion was one of my most popular and I’m counting on all you fine folks to strike gold again. There’s a lot of regret I held towards Eva, and I’m pleased that I can at least them some of them go.
So if you can’t get enough of me talking about Evangelion, that’s good, because there’s a bunch of movies I can talk about if this essay does well, so let me know. You can do that in the comments, or by liking this essay, you can even follow the Otaku Exhibition on WordPress. there’s also the option to tell me over on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku whee I’ve been chronicling my desperate efforts to not go broke playing Fate GO. Until next time, thanks for reading.