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The Anti-Escapism Themes of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Mamerto Adan is an engineer by profession but a writer by night. He's interested in science, history, and martial arts.

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Sometimes, I see the Evangelion series as a grumpy and cynical old man who would voice out bits of wisdom in a least cheerful way. I mean on the outside, the Evangelion series was just a bunch of incomprehensible sketches pasted together in a rather bleak backdrop. Yet if we learn to get pass those depressing scenes, we might uncover some important lessons that will help us fight our own giant monsters. Yes, a boy doing something obscene before an unconscious girl might not be a great stuff to show to the youngsters. But once we dig deeper and realized why he was doing that, and why he was like that, we then start to see ourselves in that messed up Shinji. And it’s by then that we are learning to decode the hidden meanings and lessons in the Neon Genesis Evangelion series.

And one of the hidden issues being tackled here is escapism.

Yes, as preteens, we are guilty of doing it. But even as we get older, we can’t stop doing it. Sometimes we felt that it’s a coping mechanism, or a necessity for our survival. Some people thought that the Evangelion series is a proponent of escapism. But by digging deeper, we realized that it is not.

And by the way, watch out for spoilers ahead.

Get In the F***ing Robot Shinji!

Shinji, facing his problem.

Shinji, facing his problem.

This is just my take on the pilot episode of the original NGE, a scene that generated memes.

Anno has a stormy relationship with otaku culture. Those die-hard fans simply want to dwell in the fantasy world and escape the harsh reality of life. But his NGE series was no ordinary anime, and in fact a deconstruction of what we know about traditional Japanese animation.

And it seems that Anno made that clear when his rather vile character Gendo Ikari forced his son to do the dirty work of fighting a rampaging Sachiel. That in the very first episode, he is voicing out his opinions against escapism.

Now, Shinji had seen a lot of misfortunes in his life, and keep seeing more of it thanks mostly to his dad’s neglect. His mom’s disappearance never made things any better, and he ended up scarred. And the last thing he wanted was to hear his good for nothing dad forcing him to do stuffs he wasn’t trained to do. Even worst, that said task involved risking his own neck. Naturally, Shinji would choose to reject the order, but he had a change of heart upon seeing what his escape attempt could do.

They will make an injured Rei Ayaname pilot the mecha instead of him.

Shinji had no choice but to stand his ground and face the challenge presented to him. He must man up. Attempting to escape will result in bigger consequences, like the possible demise of the injured Rei, or worse the whole city! The problem won’t go away, and it will only worsen. Sure, it was never his decision, but that’s life. After all, we are always facing a lot of everyday demons we never asked for. And better slay it before they start trashing about! At least as a reward, Shinji gets to live with a smoking hot chick.

Shinji’s Other Escape Attempt

Shinji being Shinji.

Shinji being Shinji.

Nevertheless, Shinji did attempt to run away and give up his duties as a pilot in later episode. Simply it was too much for him, and an argument with Misato added to the dilemma. After drifting around, he ended up meeting Kensuke, but was taken by the agents. The troubled Shinji then made it clear that he doesn’t want to become an EVA pilot anymore. Toji then asked Shinji to hit him, to show how sorry he was on what he did. But as Shinji was about to be taken away, he tells Toji and Kensuke that he himself deserved a good beating for being weak and coward.

This episode highlights Shinji’s tendency to ran away. But his stressful duties of being an EVA pilot wasn’t just the reason. He fears of developing relationship with others, and Misato realized that the reason Shinji stayed with him is that he needed a family/

But his meeting with Toji and Kensuke seems to put him to his senses. For the first time, we have two people that accepted him for what he is, and he realized his worth. We then saw Shinji going back to Misato, and telling her he is home.

In this episode, we see Shinji wandering around, as if finding a place he belongs, or a hiding place he could escape. But it only resulted to nothing. The problems persisted even after he ran away, and it was only resolved once he learned to deal with it. He ran away because he had enough, but it never solved anything. He ran away because he was afraid to be in a relationship. But drifting around never resolved any, and he only found resolution by interacting with people.

How Others Ran Away

This is all Misato did.

This is all Misato did.

The notion that running away never solves the problem could be found throughout the show. Remember the broken Asuka, and how she ended in that filthy bath tub? Does she solved anything by running away and swimming in that dirty liquid? Some adults too are shown to have their own form of escapes, that were not exactly helpful. In real life, people will turn to alcohol to soften the harshness of life. But a friend suggested, too much of it only gave a false sense of relief. Misato never realized that, and her dependence on alcohol never really helped her cope with Kaji’s loss. In fact, we have a feeling that too much beer almost made her touch the hapless Shinji!

Anno also seems to bring out his messages in cryptic ways.

We felt that Shinji killing Kaworu was Anno’s way of telling how we must accept the real and flawed world over an idealized, but fake one. Kaworu was the idealized form of Shinji, yet he was not a real human. And having a true, but flawed human like Shinji destroying the idealized, but a non-human version seems to symbolize the rejection of escapism. Maybe it’s Anno’s way of saying that we must get back to reality.

Rejecting Instrumentality

It began, only to end.

It began, only to end.

Finally, we have the Instrumentality, the ultimate expression of escapism. For an alienated character like Shinji, the Instrumentality is a utopia, where no one was around. Everyone transformed into goo and merged into one entity. Yet. Shinji realized that Instrumentality only resulted in a lonely existence, and what made him happy was his connections with people. Again, his interaction with Toji and Kensuke was what gave him the reason to stop wandering away and face his role as a pilot. So much was the happiness of being with people, that it was worth the pain. This caused him to reject Instrumentality and face the world after it.

Overall

So, what does the Evangelion series tell us about escapism? For once it never solved the problem, and at some point, it worsened it. It had more harm than benefits, from losing connections with people, to missing out the purpose in life. So that next time you are thinking of going away, just tell yourself to get in the freaking robot to slay those problems hounding you.

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