Neon Genesis Evangelion is an anime series – available on Netflix – which has now become a cult. However, if we try to ask ourselves why the product of Anno – director of the series – has become so popular, we cannot answer only by thinking back to the epic fights between Mecha trying to save the world. This look, as exciting and entertaining as it is, is just a mask for that hides an important introspection of characters with a troubled past and with equally complex relationships in the present.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is able to excite us from the very first episodes because it confronts us with the lives of real people. Its peculiarity derives precisely from being able to make us empathize with characters free from stereotypes and conventions, showing us a range of very true and sincere feelings with which everyone at least once in their life we got in touch.
Shinji and Asuka: two souls troubled by the constant search for a familiar figure
Mandatory is to start from Shinji Ikari, the main character that we will follow from the first seconds of the anime. Although we will see him – for most of Neon Genensis Evangelion – inside his huge EVA, what is striking about him is his humanity and simplicity. Behind a metal armor capable of defeating any enemy – or almost – hides a fragile teenager who constantly seeks a glimpse of fatherly love. Shinji is a simple thirteen year old who is faced with the classic problems typical of adolescence – such as self-acceptance and first loves – which must add, to all this, a huge boulder that weighs on his shoulders: to save the world. As would happen to any human being, Shinji often seems on the verge of giving up, abandoning everything and running away to a peaceful refuge. But sadly, he knows that he can’t do it. In the moments when our protagonist seems to be ready to drop his mask once and for all, he freezes: his awareness of being part of a plan greater than him does not allow it. Thus, that metal armor – already a metaphor for the adolescent’s closure towards the world – becomes a mask that sticks to him, enclosing him in a fate chosen even before he knew it and making him a puppet in the hands of his father Gendo.
The latter, apathetic and stoic, is presented to us as the Biblical Adam, ready to sacrifice his son to achieve his goals. Gendo is not a loving or good-natured father towards him, but a great puppeteer who uses his son as a simple piece of the game. We can forget the classics evolutionary paths that interest characters like him: there will be no second thoughts on his part. Until the last moment, Gendo will prove closed and absent from his son, demonstrating that his only goal is to achieve his goals, at any price.
If Shinji shows himself to us as a hesitant, fearful and unsure of himself teenager, Asuka is quite the opposite. There second Children – in fact – could be defined as the dopplegangers in Shinji: a stubborn, grumpy German girl with big ambitions. Although the two are complete opposites, they are related from a fil rouge that runs throughout the narrative: the continuous attraction and repulsion of each other, in an eternal competition. But – deep down – Shinji and Asuka have much more in common than it seems: this attitude is nothing more than an armor built from what only in appearance she is a strong warrior, but who hides within herself a great suffering, born of a childhood made of pain.
Shinji and Asuka become metaphors for the porcupine’s dilemma
Both Asuka and Shinji they take us deep into the common thread that runs through the entire series: the loneliness and suffering of man. All the episodes, whether they speak of the past or present, tell of difficult, tormented and suffering relationships. First of all, the protagonist is the best example of this: since his mother’s death he has done nothing but try to get the slightest sign of approval from that father who shows the slightest interest or affection for him; Asuka, on the other hand, is tough, grumpy and sometimes unmanageable, and this leads her to have no one but herself.
In an attempt to explain these emotions, the director decides to make it through Schopenhauer’s porcupine dilemma, introduced directly in the fourth episode through the words of Miss Misato. She the latter seems to be the only one to be open and positive towards Shinji and – in the fourth episode – she reflects on her situation by talking about this dilemma of which Shinji and Asuka are protagonists:
He too will soon realize that growing up is basically a continuous attempt to approach and move away from each other, until the right distance is found so as not to hurt each other.
Despite all his pain, Shinji himself – who has faced a long and hard path of growth – he will be able to acquire great fortitude. In the actual ending Shinji manages to free himself from that huge one for the first time armor in which he had been imprisoned all that time and decides – once and for all – not to be passive. It is here that the character finally manages to redeem himself – at least in small part – from all the pain and feeling of inadequacy felt from the beginning. He may not have gotten the father’s love he craved and he may not have proved himself to be an unbeatable hero, but he did something much more. human and real: he became aware of his weaknesses and by accepting them he managed to create a small crack in that armor that seemed unbreakable.
If in souls we have the dark association that aims to eliminate every human defect, unifying all souls in a sort of single god – aiming to make all suffering cease – at the same time we have a protagonist who becomes aware of his own individuality. Neon Genesis Evangelion leads us to the conclusion that it is precisely these imperfections that make every human being unique who, like Shinji or Asuka, he finds himself facing his own monsters hidden in the solitude of his armor.