Neon Genesis Evangelion; The Psychology of identity, and the desire for purpose in one’s life

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An anime Series that I have been watching this past week is ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’, a world renowned animation for it’s religious symbolism and deeper psychological exploration; as well as it’s postmodern aesthetic and environment; that of  a post-apocalyptic world in which Giant Mechas piloted by teenagers battle alien entities called ‘angels’. Now, this sounds like the beginning of a rather stereotypical ‘mecha’ series; but the story , although simplified here, delves into the psychological states of the people within this apocalyptic world as they attempt to face their own psychological torment, the torment of the environment around them, as well as their eventual mental breakdowns. Each character, once introduced, is as whole, and as fully rounded character as they will ever be in the series; and as it goes on, the characters are stripped away until they quite literally, lose their identity and struggle to define who they are. As the end of the world looms, and humanity desires to transcend to it’s next stage in evolution through the re-awakening of a God; they initiate the ‘human instrumentality project’, in which humanity reverts to the primordial ooze from millenia ago, and each human being shall exist as one single entity; without pain, but with a sort of fake happiness; they shall not live, they shall exist.

The Wikipedia article here provides this synopsis for the plot of the anime;

Evangelion is an apocalyptic anime, set in a futuristic Tokyo fifteen years after a worldwide cataclysm. The story centers on Shinji, a teenage boy who is recruited by the shadowy organization NERV to pilot a giant bio-machine mecha called an Evangelion in combat against monstrous beings known as Angels. The series explores the experiences and emotions of Evangelion pilots and members of NERV as they attempt to prevent another catastrophe. It features religious symbolism throughout the series, including themes and imagery derived from Kabbalah, Christianity, Judaism,Buddhism, and Shinto.

The majority of the last act of the series, and it’s accompanying movie ‘the end of Evangelion’, we find the characters struggle to find their purpose in the world, as well as derive an identity that is not that of the mecha that they puppeteer; which sort of becomes an extension of their own body. They are appreciated when they drive it successfully, but seem to hate themselves when unable to, or not commandeering the robots. It’s as if, to escape the torment of their lives, they ‘become’ these cyborg bodies that they control. As the characters discover more about their buried pasts (clinically insane mothers hanging themselves, loss of parents, fathers who regard them as cannon fodder which they can control like a rank and file soldier, as well as a myriad of other psychological issues), the series was created as a sort of catharsis for it’s creator, Hideaki Anno, who created each character as an aspect of his personality whilst attempting to recover from a severely powerful bout of depression, that lasted some 4 years. The Character’s attempts to find purpose within their life by the appreciation of others resonates somewhere deep inside of me, and through the journey that the characters took within the storyline; I feel more confident in myself as a person, due to the fact that these characters do the same. They each discover that they, themselves, have enough of a reason to exist within their individual wills to survive. To be themselves is enough of a reason to survive; and it is stated that anywhere can be ‘paradise, as long as you have the will to live’. 

There is also heavy religious symbolism within the show, which blends incredibly well with the psychological nature of the show. Inspired by Eastern theology and philosophy, but with Judeo-christian symbolism throughout the series. It has been a big influence on me these past few weeks, and explores notions of transcendence through the connection of all of humanity. If all human souls came together into one entity, then technically it would have the power of a God; each flaw of a human being would be counter balanced by the strength of another, until there is nothing but a strong, unanimous being. Through the absorption of the seeds of life and knowledge from the two original beings of ‘Adam’ & ‘Lillith’, one can become a God, and this occurs within the finale of Evangelion. The main character Shinji delves into his own subconscious, and is questioned by the recently transcended Rei Ayanami as to the fate of humanity. As Shinji comes to the ultimatum of his long quest for happiness and self worth, he rejects this notion of a ‘unanimous being’ choosing to feel pain, over a plain, un-shifting existence. To be reborn after the liquification of all of humanity into the primordial ooze, one must imagine that they exist once more; and with this will to live, one can be reborn (much like in notions of being born again in religion, or those who come back from comas due to their will to survive). It is said near the end of the series that ‘humans exist, because they imagine themselves as human beings’.

Within my artwork, I often attempt to find purpose, or catharsis, within concepts of eternal recurrence or the aspect of creation. These are often attempts to discover what exactly it is within my life that drives me, and what my actual ‘purpose’ is within my existence. Am I here for a reason? If not, then I must find a reason for happiness within the world. This is the reason I create, to derive pleasure and purpose within the act of creation and re-animation (whether it be of  concepts, or dead matter, it does not matter. All that matters is that the cycle of creation and exploration is continued).

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