Real talk: if you never actually watched Neon Genesis Evangelion all the way through, everything you know about it is wrong.
Although for that matter, even the people who watched it all the way through are wrong about it.
Let’s talk about the creator: Hideaki Anno, and why he’s happiest when you are angry.
If you like Eva, Hideaki Anno hates you. That’s just how it is. If you can’t wrap your mind around this basic truth you are missing out on a lot of hysterical black irony.
It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t grown up with anime in the 90’s (or at least, don’t make the effort to go back and watch a lot of older anime) just how revolutionary Evangelion was to the industry. There was an expectation—even from people within the studio—that it would be cancelled within the first ten episodes. They were given a hugely limited budget which they famously used up before the finale episodes. It was not only a psychological exploration of what it means to be depressed, but it was a blatant dress-down of mecha and harem anime—i.e. the shit the otaku cult fap to constantly. Psychological breakdowns and meta-commentary are so common in anime, nowadays, people don’t realize that it’s a trend Eva more or less pioneered, along with a bunch of other things.
A large basis for Evangelion—of which Anno has openly owned—is kind of an intensely public therapy session. Anno was said to have a huge disenchantment with the otaku lifestyle, going so far as to say said lifestyle was akin to autism. He fell into a depression. That depression took form in Eva, and basically started tearing apart a lot of what was common at the time.
For example, Eva basically deconstructs mecha and harem archetypes by asking “if fully developed human beings that acted like this existed in real life, and were forced to pilot giant robots, how would this play out?” We’re given a hypothetical scenario of how teenaged pilots would realistically react under the pressures of piloting a mecha at the stakes are SAVING THE WORLD. We’re given common archetypes—the tsundere, the cool onee-san, the kuudere—and have the show go out of its way to show that they’re not walking sex fantasies but actual three-dimensional women: human beings capable of living and operating without your penis to validate them. We’re also given the pressures of society that is placed upon people with depression, giving them little sympathy and instead berating them for not sucking it up.
And then, you know, there was Kaworu, who showed up at the end of the series for one episode and gave the otaku fanbase a huge case of gay panic when Shinji was kind of on board to ride his baloney pony. With all the harem options available, it was kind of a sardonic twist of the knife to have Shinji go with the dude that shows up out of nowhere instead. The promotional pictures of Kaworu and Shinji hanging all over each other in pin-ups similar to Asuka, Rei and Misato just kind of shove that in their faces all the more.
Hell, to show how much people still perceived Eva to be the passionate-shonen romp mecha anime usually they thought it was at the time: Eva was originally aired on a children’s time-slot. When people started to side-eye Anno about the show’s descent into ugly cynicism, he more or less responded saying children should be subjected to how much life sucks as early as possible. (The show was moved to a later and more adult timelot, regardless, but this is still funny)
Basically, Anno was making a hugely sarcastic commentary to people that didn’t actually pick up on sarcasm very well, and as we all know—it backfired big time. It became a moebait titan.
Your thoughts on the TV ending aside, what followed was a vicious backlash. The otaku fanbase lashed out at Anno with multiple death threats (some of which were later featured in the End of Eva movie). They missed the point on a lot of characters, but Rei was probably the one Anno was most furious about, as by trying to breakdown how a emotionally-dependent, submissive fuckdoll would be REALLY CREEPY and NOT OKAY, he only had her end up being an iconic cultural wet dream.
So, Anno responds by creating the theatrical finale of the series, End of Evangelion, and it was just one giant “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yooooooooooooooooooou” to the fanbase. The TV ending was a pretty positive, constructive resolution to Shinji’s plight, but given the backlash, Anno was basically OH, YOU WANT MORE EMOTIONAL TORTURE PORN? I WILL GIVE YOU THE EMOTIONAL TORTURE PORN and he delivers. If you watched EoE without actually watching the series, a lot of that context can go over your head. THAT scene with Shinji in the hospital room with Asuka? That was Anno basically pointing a finger at the otaku fans through the fourth wall and going THIS IS WHAT YOU’RE DOING, YOU’RE THIS FUCKED UP, YOU SICK FREAKS. The irony is a large portion of the fandom DIDN’T GET IT and instead praised that scene to show Shinji was “maturing” and “growing up.”
Basically, End of Eva was one of the most beautifully animated middle-fingers ever to be conceived.
Like, I have no doubt that a lot of the narrative resolutions in EoE were always planned, but I also suspect that EoE was made to be a lot angrier, and with a lot more spite, than was originally intended. Asuka’s last line, the famous “I feel sick” or “how disgusting” (depending on how you want to translate her line), could be interpreted as directed to the fanbase.
And hell, in interviews after the movie he’s also on record as saying he did End of Eva to “bring the fans back to reality” and also compared fan commentary on his work to bathroom graffiti.
He really hates you.
And now the Rebuild movies, which seem to be a continuation more than a retelling. We’re introduced to a new character: Mari, who doesn’t seem to exist beyond providing panty shots and talking about how her breasts are too big, stealing the spotlight from Asuka, and sell a lot of figures.
Anno was apparently on record as saying he put her in the movies to “destroy Eva.” She’s the moebait fantasy the otaku nerds clearly crave, and Anno is sarcastically giving it to them.
And then 3.0 came out, which was a theatrical-length about Shinji’s big gay awakening with Kaworu, among other more emotionally torture porn trolling.
It’s to the point where I’m kind of left delightfully pondering if the fourth Rebuild movie will have an obscenely positive resolution (along the lines of the TV series) or a spiteful miserable one (along the lines of the End of Eva movie). Knowing Anno’s track-record, he’ll go by whatever he thinks the fanbase will rage at the most, and it’s a really hard call because they’re both proven to give his fandom a collective aneurysm.
Evangelion is a franchise that keeps being worked on and continued seemingly out of pure spite. It’s not even a secret. Anno is quoted everywhere as telling everyone that he hates his fans, that he wants to destroy his own franchise, that this is a thing that he is in fact doing. …and he seems to get even more furious when they keep making him a success instead. It’s really funny. All the more so is how tragic this irony is as he’s clearly invested in telling the story he wants to tell as artfully and skillfully as he can: his own commentary on the rise and pitfalls of human nature and what it means to grow as a person.
It’s the ultimate bad romance between a creator and his fanbase and it’s tragic how many people miss out on how amazing this is.
So, here you go, it is explained. This is brought to by the collected conversations between me and Muun as we laugh at Anno’s life. Enjoy.
(Don’t get me wrong, though, Hideaki Anno is clearly a genius artist in his own right and there’s a reason Evangelion has the legacy that it does—it is an absurdly good series that still stands better than a lot of things that is coming out to this day. It is worth the watch and it is highly recommended.
To put it into perspective, Puella Magi Madoka Magica would be the equivalent of today’s Evangelion. The same sort of deconstructed take-down of a genre to reach high critical acclaim and popularity, wildly influencing a new generation of anime fans…. and with the same sort of otaku back-firing.)
EDIT: since I keep seeing some notes on the very last part of this post, the madoka comparison wasn’t in the least implying they are equivalent things! I was trying to find a way to communicate the sort of wide-spread media acclaim of what eva was sort of like back in the 90s.
EDIT 2: those interested in sources can do a wiki-stroll in the Evangelion and Hideaki Anno articles. All of this isn’t news, Anno’s quotes have been all very well documented! Just kind of rehashing everything while adding my own figurative laugh track/commentary and by all means I can be wrong about a lot of my own interpretation, so feel free to go out and research Anno yourself and come to your own conclusions. Thank.