There’s an easier way to discuss the end of End of Evangelion and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Then there’s the hard way.
The hard way is dealing with the nuance of what happened. Specifically, the relationship between Angels and Humans. Adam vs Lilith. What SEELE is? What NERV is. When did the First Impact happen? Etc. etc. etc. There’s so much backstory to the world of Evangelion that you could write an entire book.
The easier way is to look at the main thematic purpose of Evangelion. After all, it’s the entire reason for the story to exist. When you focus on the “why,” it demystifies the “what.”
Evangelion‘s main theme: loneliness
To that end I have a single word for you: loneliness. Loneliness drives Neon Genesis Evangelion. Every character is responding to their own relationship with loneliness. The mysterious Human Instrumentality Project is about banishing loneliness. And the final scenes in both episode 26 and End of Evangelion are in the context of, you guessed it, loneliness.
It also is important to know Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno based the story on his own struggles with depression and negative mental health. The original end was going to be the failure of humanity and the success of the Angels. Which is a truly pessimistic conclusion. But, instead, Anno sought a kind of salvation for his characters—possibly as a means of finding a similar path for himself.
When I said “There’s an easier way,” I really meant it. This is how easy it is to explain Evangelion. The entirety of the story builds to Shinji having a decision to make: does he choose to hide in a collective humanity where everyone is no one, or does he finally find value in his individuality and face the world?
So what’s the point of the show? For 24 episodes, Evangelion develops its world and characters, and reinforces just how alone they feel.
- Shinji can’t get over his dad’s abandonment so rejects everyone and hates himself.
- Rei is only kind of human and has no opinions on herself or others because of it.
- Asuka, like Shinji, was abandoned by both her mom and dad (in different ways) and uses a false bravado to hide her true sense of isolation.
- Misato is hung up on her workaholic dad so struggles to accept a loving relationship.
- Ritsuko never felt connected to her workaholic mom and is in a terribly one-sided romance with Shinji’s dad, Gendo.
- Gendo only cares about being reunited with his (sort of) deceased wife, Shinji’s mom, Yui Ikari.
Everything that happens in those 24 episodes serves two purposes. One, show us how broken each character is and the origins of the self-esteem and insecurity issues that breed their isolation and loneliness. Two, bring about a climactic moment of choice where the characters have a final break—whether that’s a breakthrough or breakdown.
That final break comes in the form of the Human Instrumentality Project. What is the Human Instrumentality Project? Just a fancy way of describing an extinction-level event that causes human souls to form into an eternal soup that prevents people from feeling alone and uncertain. No self-esteem. No insecurity. Only togetherness.
It’s an appealing thought, to no longer feel alone and be reunited with everyone you’ve ever loved in a spiritual existence that’s not unlike the classic concept of Heaven.
And it’s exactly that world that Shinji’s bringing about during End of Evangelion. Christ-like Unit-01. Giant Rei. The Mass Production Evas speared through with lances. The crosses and swirling spirits. This is the weird and evocative way Anno decided to show the creation of this place where everyone is melted into unity.
Then something strange happens.
Live-action shots of actual Japan—reality vs dream in End of Evangelion
Real-world/live-action shots interrupt End of Evangelion‘s animation. Anno hasn’t just had the characters lose the A.T. Fields that had separated them into individual forms—the show itself has lost its distinction from reality. The animated world has fallen away. It’s during these shots of actual people and places in Japan that we hear a conversation between Shinji and the women from his life:
- Shinji: “I don’t understand reality all that well.”
- Voices: “You can’t tell where the gap is between your truth and another’s reality.”
- “I don’t know where I can find happiness.”
- “You can only find happiness inside your dreams.”
- “That’s why this isn’t reality. It’s a world devoid of people.”
- “Yes, a dream.”
- “That’s why I’m not here.”
- “You used a tailor-made fantasy to get revenge against reality.”
- “Was that wrong?”
- “You were avoiding the truth by escaping into a fictional world.”
- “What’s wrong with having a private dream world?”
- “That’s not a dream. That’s just a substitute for reality.
- [After a pause] “Then where are my dreams?”
- “Beyond where reality lies.”
- “Then where is my reality?”
- “Where dreams end.”
While that entire conversation is a back and forth between Shinji and Rei/Asuka/Misato/Human Instrumentality, it’s also Anno talking to himself. Anno is the one who doesn’t understand reality and has retreated into his dreams—his creative work. But he has to admit that his creative work isn’t reality. It’s lacking actual people and actual relationships. He, as much as any of his characters, has to face reality and overcome his loneliness and insecurity.
We transition from the shots of real-world Japan back to the animation of Evangelion and Giant Rei’s slit throat spraying blood across outer space. Shinji awakens in the LCL ocean, in the middle of Instrumentality, where Rei tells him, “This is exactly the world you wished for.” To which he says, “No, this isn’t right. I don’t think this is what I want.”
Shinji chooses individuality. He chooses to see people again, even if it means being afraid of them, having drama with them, etc. Because the real positive feelings you do feel are better than the annihilation of emotion brought about by Human Instrumentality.
Neon Genesis Evangelion episode 26 helps explain End of Evangelion
The live action sequence in End of Evangelion actually goes back to the original television ending in episodes 25 and 26. In those episodes, we’re entirely in Shinji’s Instrumentality experience. The show limits perspective so viewers have no idea what’s actually happening in the world. All you understand is Shinji’s having this intense debate with himself, working through his psychological trauma. In the final moments, we again have a discussion of reality.
- Various Characters: “If you think of it that way, this real world isn’t such a bad place.”
- Shinji: “The real world might not be so bad. But I do hate myself.”
- “It’s your heart that perceives reality as being ugly and painful. Your heart which is interpreting reality as being the truth. How you see reality, how you interpret it—the slightest changes in those leads to huge changes in your heart. There are as many truths as there are people. But there’s only one truth for you. Built from a myopic worldview using information altered to protect yourself. It’s a contrived truth. A worldview that one person can hold in their head don’t amount to much. But people can only measure things based on their own little yardstick. People try to see the world using only truths that have been handed to them. Sunny days are cheerful. Rainy days are depressing. You start to assume that’s the case because others tell you so. But fun things can also happen on rainy days. A change in how one small detail is interpreted can transform everything. The truth within each of us is a fragile thing. That’s pretty much all that human truth amounts to. That’s what drives us to seek out a deeper truth. You’re simply not used to being liked by others. So you don’t have to worry about what others think all the time.”
- “But doesn’t everybody hate me?”
- “What are you, an idiot? You’ve just gotten that into your head on your own!”
- “But I really do hate myself.”
- “People who hate themselves can never be capable of loving or trusting others.”
- “I’m a sneak. And a coward. And dishonest and a weakling.”
- “If you understand yourself, you can be kinder to yourself, right?”
- “I hate who I am. But maybe I can learn to like myself one day! Maybe it’s okay for me to be here! Right…the only person I can be is me. I’m me. I want to be myself! I want to be here! It’s okay for me to be here!”
- “Congratulations. Congratulations. Congratulations. Congratulations. Congratulations. Congratulations. Congrats, buddy! Way to go, man! Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations.”
- “Thank you.”
End of Evangelion takes all of this exposition and re-works to “show” rather than “tell.” It’s a stronger visual demonstration of the emotional journey Shinji experienced in episode 26. With a lot of refinement. And more tension.
Three moments lines of dialogue are of particular importance to the last few minutes of EoE:
- Shinji: “Maybe I can learn to like myself one day! Maybe it’s okay for me to bare here! The only person I can be is me! I’m me. I want to be myself! I want to be here! It’s okay for me to be here!”
- Shinji: “But doesn’t everybody hate me? …I’m a sneak. And a coward. And dishonest and a weakling.”
- Asuka: What are you, an idiot? You’ve just gotten that into your head on your own.
When you change from “showing” to “telling” you have to ground exposition into action. How do you show Shinji deciding it’s okay to be there? How do you show Shinji think everyone hates him and his negative qualities? How do you show Asuka correcting Shinji’s assumption everyone hates him?
Telling: “Frank came home angry.”
Showing: “The door flew open and crashed into the wall. As it swung back from the force of the collision, Frank kicked it back open and into the wall. The door rebounded again. This time, Frank put a hand out. Caught it. Then flung it shut. When door met frame, the whole house trembled.”
So how does Anno show these important bits of dialogue between Shinji and himself and Shinji and Asuka?
Shinji strangles Asuka
Shinji’s “It’s okay to be me!” speech from Episode 26 is dramatized in EoE by the death of Giant Rei and the rise of Unit-01 from Rei’s eye. The destruction of the Black Moon and the freeing of the souls back over the Earth. For a moment, End of Evangelion turns life-affirming and downright hopeful. The voiceovers in this period have a sense of hope, triumph, and determination that line up with how positive Shinji was at the end of e26.
Then Shinji leaves Instrumentality. He’s back in Evangelion‘s regular world. Which is now very post-apocalyptic. And the only person there with him is Asuka. Instead of channeling that positive energy about finding happiness and hope and the potential inherent to being alive…Shinji mounts Asuka and strangles her.
In Instrumentality, Shinji had been the one mounted. By Rei. A moment that symbolized the connectedness inherent to Instrumentality. Which we know now Shinji thinks of as a “dream” and something he must wake up from. Now that he’s awake, though, now that Shinji’s returned to reality, he kind of freaks out.
This is why we get that visual inversion. It highlights the emotional difference between Instrumentality and Reality. Intimacy has transformed from affection to violence. That’s Shinji’s first reaction: to hurt, to kill. Which gets back to what characters had said about A.T. Fields. Without them, people can be part of Instrumentality and no longer fear one another and no longer hurt one another because of their fear. But with them…you dread the other. You reject the other. You try and destroy the other.
But this also is part of a 3-act structure within End of Evangelion of crucial encounters between Shinji and Asuka.
The first is the opening scene of the movie. Shinji visits a comatose Asuka in the hospital. Shinji’s overwhelmed and begs the unconscious Asuka to help him. Shinji: “Please help me. Help me. Make fun of me like you always do! Come on!” At the end, he pulls on Asuka and accidentally opens her hospital gown, revealing her naked body. Shockingly, Shinji locks the door to the room and masturbates. Looking at his stained hand, he says, “I’m the lowest of the low.”
The next encounter happens right before Instrumentality, 20-minutes prior to the last scene. Shinji has a vision of being back in Misato’s apartment with Asuka. He tells her he loves her, tries to connect with her. In response, Vision Asuka chastises him. Insults him. Rejects him. He screams, “Help me! Don’t leave me alone! Don’t abandon me! Don’t kill me!” To which Asuka says: “No.” Vision Shinji throttles Vision Asuka in the middle of the upended dining room. This moment of rage and abandonment triggers the process of Human Instrumentality.
Then finally we have the end of End of Evangelion. Shinji wakes up from Human Instrumentality and sees Asuka next to him, he returns to that pain of rejection he associates with Asuka—from her inability to answer him in the hospital to the vision of denial before Instrumentality. This time he doesn’t even ask for help because he doesn’t expect help. Instead, he just resumes strangling her.
Asuka, despite the assault, puts a hand on Shinji’s cheek and caresses. It’s arguably her first time showing actual warmth to Shinji. It’s kindness. A sign that, despite the A.T. Fields, despite reality, you can connect with someone. Affection is possible in this place, even in the midst of the hurt we cause one another. She hasn’t denied his cries for help like he feared she would. He’s not alone.
Notice the visual similarities between the hospital, dining room, and beach. Shinji’s over Asuka in both the hospital and beach. Asuka looks down on Shinji in the dining room and beach. In the dining room she calls him pathetic (not shown in the GIF), on the beach she calls him disgusting. The yuck on Shinji’s hand is similar to the tears he drops on Asuka’s cheek.
When a filmmaker has these visual resonances, it’s a clue to the viewer to make connections between these specific scenes. To compare and contrast them in order to discover meaning. Like the juxtaposition of Rei mounted on Shinji in Instrumentality vs Shinji mounted on Asuka in reality.
In the hospital, Asuka wasn’t able to respond, but on the beach she can. That lack of response early on was part of what sent Shinji on such a downward spiral. And the actual response at the end causes an intense (albeit complicated) moment of catharsis.
Asuka calls Shinji “Disgusting”
We still have to talk about Asuka. First, why is she back in reality with Shinji?
The answer to that is something Shinji’s told in Instrumentality: “If they can visualize themselves in their own minds, anyone can return to human form.” Shinji prevented Instrumentality from being the mandatory and unending experience it was going to be. Instead, now people have a choice. They can continue on in the LCL ocean, or they can return to human form.
Asuka was always the most arrogant character in the show. And during End of Evangelion she has a major breakthrough that causes her to truly feel empowered and as confident as she had always pretended to be. Her faked strength becomes actual strength. Then she’s killed.
It makes sense that Asuka would return to human form, as her sense of self was so intense. Even if it was often forced and masking deep anxiety, Asuka still had a fighting spirit that was bound to reject Instrumentality.
So why caress Shinji’s cheek during an attempted murder? Having earlier found closure with her mother’s abandonment, Asuka can finally be emotionally honest with Shinji. Expressing, first, the tenderness she’s developed for him. Followed by her loathing.
That moment on the shore is the first time Shinji and Asuka have been together since the opening scene of the movie. They hadn’t even had a chance to speak. Shinji was busy with his existential crisis, while Asuka was off fighting the Mass Production EVAs. So when they’re on the shore, re-materialized from the LCL, Asuka finally can say something to Shinji.
Except he’s choking her. So the hand on the cheek is her non-verbal answer to Shinji’s earlier pleas of “Please help me.” She’s there. She’s willing to help.
So why does she call him “Disgusting” if she’s showing affection? That’s a little more complicated. On the one hand, Shinji wanted Asuka’s distaste of him. Back in the hospital, he asked her to make fun of him. So calling him “Disgusting” while Shinji weeps is very on-brand for the couple. On the other hand—there’s more to it than that.
Originally, the line from Asuka was supposed to be, “I’d hate to be killed by a bastard like you.” Which is pretty obviously a payoff on Shinji saying, “Make fun of me like you always do.” But it’s also incredibly one-dimensional and arguably too simplistic for a story like Evangelion. The falseness of the line actually impacted the making of the episode.
Asuka voice actor Yuko Miyamura revealed that Anno wasn’t happy with her reading of the line. He had her re-record it time after time after time. But none of the takes sounded right. Anno even had Shinji’s voice actor choke Miyamura before a take to try and get the right performance. Even that didn’t work.
This is what Miyamura told Anime Yawa in an interview in 2005:
“At last Anno asked me ‘Miyamura, just imagine you are sleeping in your bed and a stranger sneaks into your room. He can r*pe you anytime as you are asleep but he doesn’t. Instead, he masturbates looking at you, when you wake up and know what he did to you. What do you think you would say?’ I had been thinking he was a strange man, but at that moment I felt disgusting. So I told him that I thought ‘Disgusting.’ And then he sighed and said, ‘I thought as much.’”Yuko Miyamura to Anime Yawa
In Anno’s mind, he had thought Asuka and Shinji could go back to how things were. He envisioned this moment of classic banter between them despite everything that’s happened. But when he shares that vision/dream with reality—reality doesn’t agree. Miyamura’s honest answer of “Disgusting” is the more realistic response. Not what Anno had imagined. And so Anno changed the final line.
That’s kind of amazing. Given that theme of dreams vs. reality and Anno’s struggling with hiding in his creative work to avoid reality and Evangelion exploring that very struggle. It blows my mind that, ultimately, the last line comes from a real encounter he had rather than something he dreamed up. It’s a perfect example of form merging with function.
And this gets at a truth both Shinji and Anno have to accept: you can try to hide from reality within a dream, but when you eventually return to reality you still have to face the consequences of your actions. Judgment is still there. You can’t avoid the truth. The truth is Shinji’s disgusting. And so is Anno. And so is everyone else, in their own way.
Despite that, you have to move on. You have to accept yourself. And accept others may not hate you as much as you hate yourself, even if they are disgusted by you. Reality is harsh. But it can still be loving.
And that, my friends, is the end of End of Evangelion. Congratulations.