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Revisiting the Time Loop Theory in Neon Genesis Evangelion

Mamerto Adan is an engineer by profession, but a writer by night. He loves toys and knives. He also has a martial arts background.

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In the 90s, what sets the Neon Genesis Evangelion series from most of the anime wasn’t the unique themes, symbolism, realism of human psychology, flaws and emotions, or the unique meaty mecha. Simply, the Evangelion series was crazy. We have never seen a show this weird and insane before, let alone an animated series. Sure, we have seen troubled anime before, like how Tomino once left his fans grossing out when he turned his Victory Gundam into a butcher shop. But it never reached the level of peculiarities we got in the Evangelion series. I mean just look at those sketchy scenes!

Being weird is the Evangelion series’ biggest selling point, and strange shows beget strange fan theories. We have seen it all. The Evangelion series has some of the most compelling, and insane fan ideas there is. It ranged from people suspecting that Asuka is pregnant in the End of Evangelion, to Rei being a character with special needs. We even hear claims that the A.T. field is a genuine psychological term.

Then, there is this fan theory that the Rebuild movies are the time loop of the original Evangelion series. It sounds silly, until you hear why.

Time Explored in Anime

A scene from Tatami Galaxy.

A scene from Tatami Galaxy.

Firstly, let’s talk about anime that really explored time.

Most classic anime never really had time loop as their plot devices. Often times, it’s more as time travel, which ranged from serious, childish, to silly. A good example is the awesome Tatami Galaxy which featured a parallel universe. Then there is the realistic, but outrageous Zipang (when a group of Japanese navy men in their modern warship strayed into a strange storm, and before they knew it, they are in World War II Imperial Japan). Those two are adult anime, but a Doraemon movie once featured an older Nobita going back to his childhood years.

And Neon Genesis Evangelion is not one of them.

The Evangelion series tackled a different story. On the surface, it is a mecha anime. Deep down, it’s the story of a troubled teenager forced by his psycho dad to fight aggressive abstract figures. So far, few sentences weren’t enough to describe the overall oddities of the Evangelion series. But who knows, knowing the overall nature of the show, it may conceal hidden themes.

Time Loop Theory

A scene from the Rebuild series.

A scene from the Rebuild series.

Firstly, we need to know what the hell is a time loop for the sake of the newbies. It is more than a plot device in films and fictions rather than an actual scientific theory. But imagine yourself as a character of a certain film, and you keep re-experiencing a span of time. And that span of time keep on repeating and resetting, as if you are trapped in an ever-repeating time period. Example, you killed someone or on the run, and the clock reaches a certain time, and it all began again. An example of such film is Groundhog Day, whereas an unfortunate weatherman must continuously relive the 2nd of February.

And now, let’s talk about the time loop in Neon Genesis Evangelion.

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It all started in 2007, when fans first saw the Rebuild series. Fans claim that it’s actually a sequel to the End of Evangelion, happening years later after the crazy ending. You know, after the Third Impact, Shinji and the rest were returned to where it all began, and everything is about to repeat again, and again each time the Third Impact happens.

Now, we all know that the Rebuild series was meant as a “faithful” retelling of the original series. It was a theatrical version of the TV anime without any relationship to the original. Basically, it was an attempt to show the anime classic to newer generations.

And that’s it.

Nothing mystifying or secretive on this one, and the notion that everyone was returned to the beginning of the series thanks to a time loop was just a fan theory. But for the sake of fairness, we will explore why the fans came up with such theory.

Examples

The red sea

The red sea

So, one might wonder, why?

Let us look at the sea in Evangelion 0.1. It was red instead of the usual blue. Fans insisted that it was the remnant of the Third Impact (in the End of Evangelion). But in the following Rebuild series, it was made clear that the sea wasn’t the remnants of the Third Impact, but just the result of the Second Impact, when it purified the sea.

This basically debunks the fan theory, but they have more in store.

The blood on the moon.

The blood on the moon.

Fans were quick to notice the blood on the moon, something not present in the original series, but was present in the Rebuild. Only one thing can explain this. The mark of the End of Evangelion, when they cut Lili’s neck. But some felt that it’s another remnant of the Second Impact. In the cut scene of 2.0, the Second Impact caused a huge blood spurt on the moon. Plus, the stain doesn’t match the one in the EOE.

Seemingly Unexplained Stuffs

He knows.

He knows.

There are seemingly unexplained elements in the Rebuild series that support the time loop theory. Fans are wondering if Kaworu remembered the events of the Third Impact of the End of Evangelion based on various hints he made. For one thing, he was familiar with the Third Impact, and he knew Shinji well even though they never met before. Fans heard him saying "Third Impact again, huh?" As if it happened before, while he said "I look forward to seeing you, Ikari Shinji-kun," in their first meeting. Is this the evidence that the Rebuild is connected with the previous Evangelion series? And the Rebuild is a continuation in an ever-repeating time loop, and not a remake?

That theory about Kaworu came out before the rest of the Rebuild series was released. And as the Rebuild progressed and the story becomes clearer, most fans agreed that Kaworu’s mention of time looping is just on a meta level.

Overall

But perhaps the best evidence to counter the time loop theory is Shinji himself. The Shinji we are seeing in the Rebuild is very different from the original Evangelion series. We are seeing a stronger Shinji in the Rebuild. He is also more mentally stable than his original version. My friends reckoned that he is much closer to the traditional mecha anime pilot, though some fans pointed how realism was lost. Fans also never liked how this Shinji is a jerk and care less about people. If the Rebuild is a time loop, then the fans will see the ever-crying Shinji they loved. Proponents also can’t explain how the Rebuild will connect to the End of Evangelion. EOE showed that Shinji rejected Instrumentality, without clues on how the Third Impact caused time to reset.

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