364. NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: THE END OF EVANGELION (1997)

“…for who would lose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated Night,
Devoid of sense and motion?”–John Milton, Paradise Lost

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of , , ; , , (English dub)

PLOT: Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion picks up where Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth ended, with NERV under attack by the JSSDF and Asuka unconscious in the hospital. NERV mastermind Gendo frees a Rei clone which merges with the body of Adam. The resulting entity then initiates the “Third Impact,” which might bring about the end of the world, but leaves the final decision to angsty teen Shenji.

Still from Neon Genesis Evangelion: End of Evangelion (1997)

BACKGROUND:

  • The “Neon Genesis Evangelion” franchise began as a television series (and concurrent manga) in 1995. The final two episodes of the series were abrupt, abstract, psychological, and generally impenetrable and unsatisfactory to many fans. Creator Hideaki Anno received a stream of hate mail from fans after this polarizing ending, including at least one death threat. In response, The End of Evangelion was conceived as an alternate ending. Before it was released, the studio produced the feature Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth, which recapped the series and began the new ending which concludes in End of Evangelion.
  • Anno was severely depressed when he conceived the “Evangelion” series, and some interpretations often suggest the entire work is a form of self-psychoanalysis.
  • In 2007 Anno began a complete feature film reboot of the series, beginning with Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone in 2007. To date the reboot has produced three movies, with the conclusion to the planned tetralogy due in 2020.
  • “Time Out” ranked The End of Evangelion #65 on its 2016 list of the best animated movies.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The poster features a picture of goddess Rei’s giant white head rising from a blank landscape. That glowing face, with its sharp anime nose, is indeed iconic, but we’ll go instead for the moment when Rei’s head is floating in the upper atmosphere, a vagina-shaped third eye suddenly opens in the middle of her forehead, and a phallic cross drops into it, suturing it shut. But yeah, just about anything from the movie’s last half hour could qualify.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Shenji the strangler; 1,000 permutations of a giant Rei head; sandbox stagelights

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: End of Evangelion is like a Jungian treatment of the Kabbalah performed by giant anime robots. You need to just float along on the occult imagery of the last half. Don’t try to understand it; like its Western cousin “Revelation,” it becomes disappointing when reduced to a literal meaning.


DVD release trailer for Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion

COMMENTS: You can’t possibly understand anything in The End of Evangelion without having seen the original Japanese television series for which it serves as an alternate finale. And, let’s face facts: you can’t really understand it after you’ve seen the entire series. Due to the exceedingly odd structure, history and mythology of Evangelion, much of this entry will consist of a plot synopsis. You can skip to the final paragraph if you do not want the movie spoiled, with the caveat that the nature and general inscrutability of this movie may make it unspoilable. Those who have already seen The End of Evangelion may find the next three paragraphs a fond, if somewhat arch, recap of the chaotic events therein. Those who haven’t seen it can absorb some of the msytico-scientific flavor of the series, and its extreme weirdness, without losing much of the element of surprise. You can expect to still be confounded by Anno’s brain-rending magnum opus after several viewings.

To reiterate, starting from the TV show’s beginning: the series is set in the future after a cataclysm has unleashed giant monsters, known as “Angels,” on the world. An organization known as NERV has set up operations in the fortified city “Tokyo-3” to combat the angel attacks using giant robots known as “Evas.” The Evas can only be piloted by three gifted teenagers, who merge with the bio-machines: quiet, blue-haired Rei, angry Asuka, and main protagonist Shinji. Shinji is the neglected son of Gendo, the founder of NERV, and is known for his whining, daddy issues, fear of women and intimacy, and reluctance to engage in any sort of positive activity that might help save the world. Shinji is trained and aided by Misako, a flirtatious female NERV officer and surrogate mother to whom he develops an attraction. The three teenage Eva pilots continue to battle Angels as Shinji’s relationships with his father and the three women in his life continue to flounder helplessly. It is also gradually revealed that NERV, under Gendo’s leadership, may have a more sinister and more mystical purpose involving clones, captured angel corpses (?) named “Adam” and “Lilith,” and the “Third Impact,” a plot to either end the world, or create a new form of humanity. So far, so good; a little “out there,” but generally comprehensible science fiction with occultist overtones. The TV series concludes with episodes 25 and 26, a fantasy entirely in Shinji’s mind, and long-time fans considered them highly unsatisfactory.

Armed with a proper budget to achieve his aims, Anno reworked and reimagined that ending for the feature The End of Evangelion, which is divided into sections titled “Episode 25: Air: Love Is Destructive” and “Episode 26: Yours Sincerely: One More Final: I Need You” (each of which come with their own title cards and credits embedded inside the feature presentation). So, let’s pick up the action with the beginning of End of Evangelion (which is also the end of Death & Rebirth, but let’s not confuse the issue further). 1 As Episode 25 begins, Shinji performs an icky act while whining at an unconscious Asuka in her hospital bed. NERV soldiers wonder why they are still on high alert after the last angel has been defeated. Deep in the bowels of NERV a bunch of numbered monoliths discuss plans for humanity’s evolution with Gendo. The reason for the state of alert becomes apparent: SEELE is going after the MAGI to set up JSSDF’s assault on NERV. (Consult your cheat sheet.) Special forces troops pour into the NERV compound and massacre the soldiers there. Misako orders the comatose Asuka transferred into an Eva to be hidden at the bottom of a lake. Gendo fetches a nude Rei from a tank. Misako rescues Shinji from soldiers who are about to execute him, reveals to him that “we are the 18th angel,” and tongue kisses him to try to goad him into action after he refuses to help save the world by destroying the remaining Evas. Asuka wakes up inside her Eva on the lake bottom to give us one last, surprisingly bloody giant robot battle scene, scored to Bach. Back at the base, Shinji continues to whine about how no one understands him, until Eva Unit One reawakens!

Are you still with us? Ready or not, it’s time for Episode 26—where things really get weird. Gendo announces the only way he can reunite with his wife is to meld Adam and Lilith, so he tells Rei to merge all souls into one and sticks his hand through her breast. The Lance of Longinus flies off the moon to threaten Shinji in his Eva, as the monoliths chant, “Bring forth the true form of Eva.” A bunch of angels turn Shinji’s Eva into a flying cross in the sky, which then turns into kaballahistic symbols. Misako announces that the Third Impact has begun. Stuff blows up. Rei declares she is “not a puppet” and levitates into the giant crucified seven-eyed alien in NERV’s basement, which then turns into a giant albino Rei. Then the acid kicks in, and psychedelic trailers and crosses cover the screen. Extras say stuff like “The solenoid graph is inverting! His Ego barrier is weakening!” and “The Fruit of Life is held by Angels.” Shinji whines some more, then flashes back to playing in the sandbox as a kid, when he apparently built the Pyramids. Then Shenji whines while having some fantasies about women rejecting him, then he strangles Asuka while watched by a startled penguin. We see some kids’ crayon drawings and all of the title cards from the TV series flash by in a couple of seconds, then the animators speed up the frame rate to try to set off epileptic fits in as many viewers as possible. Giant Rei falls out of the Earth and cups a black planetoid in her hands while an extra muses, “The door to both the beginning and end of the world is open at last.” Rei turns all of humanity into orange juice. (All of this is accompanied by a peppy epic pop song with the refrain “tumbling down, tumbling down…”) Then we go live-action for a bit, including a shot of a movie theater audience with their eyes glued to the screen, and Shinji says “I don’t understand what reality is.” (You’re telling us.) Then giant Rei, with angel wings, bursts an artery in her neck and starts spraying the moon with blood. Shinji gets sick of nonexistence and decides to Be again, so an Eva bursts out of giant Rei’s eye. A multitude of glowing crosses levitate to the heavens. In the final scene, Shinji is lying on a beach with blood-red waves, next to a prone Asuka. He begins strangling her, then stops. “How disgusting,” she says. “Fin.”

There’s also some weird stuff in there I didn’t get to.

So what does all this mean? Don’t worry, an “Evangelion” geek will be here in a minute to explain it to you. (If you’re an Evangelion geek, you’ve reached the pinnacle of the geekiest sector of geekdom. Be proud—and I mean that sincerely.) On the pure textual level, it’s some sort of mystical rebirth of humanity via alien spirits of Adam and Lilith, alternate sources of life, or something like that. Deeper interpretations range from the Freudian (it’s all about sex, and if you want to find a phallic symbol or two in there, you’re in luck), to the idea that it’s a mystical text on the creation and meaning of life (the DVD commentary takes that tack, although there is evidence to suggest the director only co-opted Judeo-Christian imagery because it “looked cool”), or even that Anno intended the entire finale as a giant mocking “FU” to the audience of Shinjiesque otakus he despised. I think that the most fruitful avenue of interpretation is that it’s all actually about Anno’s own experience with depression, and that the entire series is a form of self-psycotherapy that culminates in a sort of epiphany. Cataleptic Shinji is the living embodiment of clinical depression. Audiences hate him, and he hates himself. “I want to die. I don’t want to do anything,” he says, while refusing to take any action whatsoever. Shinji’s final decision to reject the unification of all souls and return to the world of individuals is a breakthrough; he decides to accept life and face pain rather than escaping into nonexistence. This momentous decision to resist and to live manifests itself in imagery of the apocalypse; the cosmos becomes the Self, and vice versa. Only something so inexpressibly personal as existential melancholia could explode onscreen in a planet-crushing spectacle so hermetically universal. It’s a long trip for a shy little giant robot that could.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The second half of the movie … is so incoherent and obtuse that it completely loses the mainstream audience (and in fact, virtually any audience) this series has attracted before… the bizarre, anticlimactic ending, which was as utterly insane as the end of the television series, just left me with a bad feeling in my gut…”–Carlos Ross, T.H.E.M. Anime reviews (DVD)

The End of Evangelion gets really exciting at exactly the moment it becomes most slippery and impossible to parse without a notebook in one hand, the entirety of the series including the two ‘superceded’ episodes in the other, and a collection of Jewish mysticism in the third.”–Tim Brayton, Antagony and Ecstasy

“Not everyone will like what Anno has made, and indeed the film was just as divisive as the show’s final 2 episodes, but it is his. His creation, his psyche, his heart and soul poured into the pen and ink that make up the fabric of his strange, surreal world.”–Christopher Runyon, Movie Mezzanine

OFFICIAL SITE:

エヴァンゲリオン公式サイト – The official site for the series is almost entirely in Japanese

IMDB LINK: Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion (1997)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

The Evangelion Otaku Page, Since 1998 – Fansite with just about everything you might want: a script transcription, program books, a FAQ, fan commentary, and more

Alan Moore x Hideaki Anno: Their Failed Assassinations of Their Genres – Article comparing the deconstructionism of Western comics author Moore with Anno’s work on Evangelion

Evangelion- Explained – A succinct explanation of the mythology of the series that explains this movie in a paragraph

Insane Fan Theories About The End of Evangelion – Light-hearted ranker for people who take the movie way too seriously

Neon Genesis Evangelion is heading to Netflix – Announcement of the upcoming run of the series (including End of Evangelion) on Netflix in Spring 2019, with a new trailer for the entire series

HOME VIDEO INFO: For a long time, The End of Evangelion—which Hideaki Anno never expected to be successful outside of Japan—had no home on video. Rabid fans traded unsubtitled bootleg copies taken from Chinese VHS releases. In 2002 Manga Video got hold of the rights and released a disc (buy) that, if it was not the mega-edition fans thought the film deserved, at least helped bring the movie to a wider audience. The film can be viewed either in subtitled Japanese or in the English dub. Besides a couple of alternate trailers, the only meaningful extra feature is the commentary from those involved in producing the English language version: director/screenwriter/actress Amanda Winn Lee, co-producer Jason C. Lee, and Taliesin Jaffe (who voiced several minor characters and read about a hundred books on Jewish mysticism in preparation). Although the crew has a blast delivering the commentary, unless you already have at least a masters’ degree in “Evangelion” lore, it will leave you just as confused as the main feature. The disc also comes with a fold-out reproduction of the theatrical poster. One final unannounced bonus feature is a live-action prologue (see footnote and comments below) with three Japanese women going about their daily routines in Tokyo; this was apparently an outtake original meant to appear later in the film, but the Manga release puts it first, with no explanation. The sad news is that this release, once quite prevalent and affordable, has suddenly become quite the collector’s item, commanding $100+ per unit. I suggest looking around for a bargain on a used copy.

We know of no currently available English language (or any language) Blu-ray.

Although the film is not available for streaming at the moment, in 2019 End of Evangelion will debut on Netflix, along with the entire run of the television series.

(This movie was nominated for review by Reichu, who called it “weird even by anime standards.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

  1. On the Manga DVD, the film actually begins with a live action prologue with three Japanese women going about their daily affairs in modern Tokyo, complete with bicycle rides and a trip to the toilet. This section is unexplained and not subtitled; don’t worry, this will be the least of your comprehension problems.

5 thoughts on “364. NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: THE END OF EVANGELION (1997)”

  1. Considering how much the film and series has impacted me ever since first watching it, it means the world to me seeing a number certifying it weird (even if, curiously, both this and Meaning of Life are listed as capsules).

    I consider myself somewhat of an Evangelion “geek”, but the live action “cold open” part mentioned caught my eye, considering the versions I’ve seen/own don’t include it. Explaining it after some research may seem some to demystify, but I still think that within context it’s a strange decision to create (and even weirder within proper context, though I’ll get to that in a bit).

    The prologue in summation follows Asuka, Rei, and Misato ten years after the events of Evangelion, in a reality where Shinji does not exist. After some mundane conversations and events (like the aforementioned bike ride), and the revelation that Asuka is in a sexual relationship with minor/major character Toji, a voice that is implied to be Shinji (and sounds suspiciously enough like Anno’s) states “I’m not here”, proving this to be a false reality much like the straightforward slice-of-life segment in the series’ finale.

    Intended to follow the live action segment near the end of the film, this alternate sequence was cut and disappeared for some time, despite the theatrical trailer being comprised almost exclusively on this footage. It later resurfaced as part of the “Renewal of Evangelion” dvd set in Japan and, as such, has never been officially translated to English (though, of course, fan translations exist). Considering the nebulous nature of both Evangelion and its home media releases, it’s almost expected for an element like this to reappear in a context like being shown at the beginning of the film, and the fact that this sequence was seriously considered for inclusion alongside it’s animated metaphysical brethren is at least noteworthy (me personally, I would have picked the sandbox stagelights)

    1. Thanks for that background, Hunter. The opening was very mysterious to me and it makes sense that it’s some kind of apocrypha. That also explains why there’s no commentary or subtitles; it seems like Manga just stuck it on the front of the film as a bonus of some sort. I may need to revise the review to reflect that.

      Picking only three weird things in this movie is a fool’s errand, but we’re not going to list all 231 weird things in it, either.

      Also I’ll fix the category listings, thanks for pointing that out.

  2. (as one of the film’s three weird things)
    (boy I sure do love realizing I made a last minute mistake and remembering I can’t edit comments).

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