The ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion is not the ending Anno originally wanted. After real-world tragedies forced the animation staff to rewrite the finale, and deadlines forced them to cut corners, the last two episodes of NGE ended up being the best they could do under the realities of tv production. Audience reaction to these episodes was mixed. While it’s commonly assumed that fans overwhelmingly hated the NGE finale, a better description is that most people were simply confused. They weren’t quite sure what to make of the ending, and like myself, while they still loved the show, the last two episodes coloured their overall experiences.
However, controversy attracts attention, and with the already sizeable fanbase that had developed over the course of the show’s run combined with newfound publicity from the controversial finale, home sales of NGE on VHS generated a massive profit for GAINAX, to say nothing of the money made from merchandise, manga, and mmmvideo games (I’m sorry I couldn’t think of an appropriate alliterative aaaa… y’know what let’s just move on).
The point is, Hideaki Anno was now in a position to do something few artists get to do: have another go at the ending of his story. He had the money, he had the audience, and he had the passion for the project. All he needed was to get to work. But with this opportunity came expectations; expectations from studios that they would get a return on investment, expectations from fans that they would get the ending that they wanted, and expectations from Anno himself that he had the ability to see his vision realized. And with these expectations came pressure.
Another commonly held misconception about End of Evangelion is that it was intended as some sort of revenge by Anno on fans who hated the NGE finale. The film itself doesn’t really dissuade people of this notion, for reasons I’ll get to later, but before that I want to clarify that this misconception is just that, a misconception. The genuinely toxic hate mail and commentary Anno received simply did not make up a majority of the reactions from viewers and critics, and when Anno talks about those trolls, he does so with dismissive laughter. I think the real culprit behind EoE’s reputation is simply that Anno, already not in the best headspace while crunching during NGE’s production, slid even further into depression thanks to the previously mentioned pressure he faced.
Before discussing that though, and discussing End of Evangelion, we need to discuss the bridge between NGE and EoE.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth
Death and Rebirth is a weird duck of a movie. Partly made to bring viewers back up to speed, partly made to generate a bit more money and hype for EoE’s production, and partly made to reanimate certain scenes of NGE for the home video releases, the one thing D&R doesn’t seem to have been made for is continuing the Evangelion story. With multiple different versions available, as Anno and co. kept tweaking things, it’s almost impossible to find all the various versions of D&R that exist.
And yet, after my rewatch of NGE, I was determined to track down all these versions, because… well, it’s a bit of a long story. But see, back when I first watched NGE, I was an avid AsuShin shipper. Yes, I know, I participated in shipping culture in my youth. I’m not ashamed, though I am a bit embarrassed, especially now that, since I’ve gotten older and made friends in the poly community, the idea of Shinji having to choose between Rei or Asuka seems like a silly question to me. But anyways, during my time shipping, I found an AMV that I would later go back to watch on repeat throughout my youth, which, to my surprise, contained footage I’d never seen before in the show. I was confused, since I’d seen every episode of NGE, and so I asked my friends what was up.
This is when I learned about the extra footage that shows up in the Director’s Cut of Episodes 21-24, which would later be used in D&R, including scenes like how Asuka was actually really upset by that kiss between her and Shinji, or how she actually secretly harbors romantic feelings for Shinji, and a whole assortment of other stuff that sounded like fresh red meat to my juvenile AsuShin ears. I never did watch D&R or EoE back then, but being reminded of this conversation whilst rewatching NGE made me want to watch this footage.
But then came the part where I had to actually find the damn thing. Like I said, there are multiple versions of Death and Rebirth. There’s the theatrical release, the Evangelion:Death(True) release, the Death(True)² release, and the Revival of Evangelion release, each of which have their own slight distinguishing tweaks, as Anno and co. kept fiddling with things (this is something he keeps doing a lot). Death(True)² is available on Netflix, and while it uses the new Netflix scripts (gag), it seems to be the only version one can easily find online. I confess, I’m not exactly an expert on matters of the high seas, so perhaps there are those more acquainted with putting boots on legs who are rolling their eyes as they read this (How could he not know about this specific site, geez?). But the point is, I spent several days scouring the internet for the various versions of D&R, and specifically in the Manga dub with the English cast I’m familiar with, all to no avail.
It was then that I suddenly thought to myself, “Wait… why am I doing this?” Yes, there’s the matter of the extra footage, but what purpose does that footage serve, really? To establish that Asuka was actually really upset by the kiss, and that she secretly has feelings for Shinji? That may have been revelatory to me as a teen, but as an adult that information was blindingly obvious, even with the ADV dub missing the nuance of the kissing scene (a regrettable misstep in an otherwise superlative dub).
The things I was still confused on, even after my rewatch, weren’t anything to do with the characters and such. I’d spent so much time with them by this point I had a pretty good idea of them and what made them tick. I simply wanted a satisfying conclusion to their stories, and if D&R wasn’t going to give me that anyway, why was I exerting so much effort in finding all its varied versions?
Eventually, I just watched the Death(True)² release with English subs, and honestly? Unless you’re a diehard completionist I think you can skip it. It’s a clip show, and while there certainly is some really touching new footage involving the characters playing music in an auditorium, it’s mostly just a recap of information and events we already know. I can definitely see the purpose of D&R, especially when not everyone who went to watch EoE in theaters would have owned all the show’s episodes on VHS, but in this day and age, it’s not really necessary viewing.
So what about EoE?
The End of Evangelion
Oh God where do I begin?
Okay, so, let’s start with the stuff I liked. One of the strengths of NGE was in showing how, even in the wake of the apocalypse, petty human rivalries and power-grabs will stay with us, and be an even bigger danger to humanity’s survival than the massive kaiju coming to destroy the earth. Having the final enemy of the series be Seele and fellow humans feels like a fitting conclusion to this plot element, and raises the emotional stakes of the conflict even if the physical stakes are a lot smaller and more mundane. The enemy this time around isn’t some alien kaiju, but NERV’s fellow man, and having to kill or at least defend themselves from their own kind puts the human characters through the ringer.
Also, it was great to see Gendo get some kind of comeuppance after all the hell he put people through. Seeing Rei rebel, his plans fail, and the spirit of Yui call him out felt so satisfying. More than that though, EoE gives us the culmination of Asuka’s arc, and it’s glorious. Leaving aside the first scene with her (more on that later), when Asuka is brought to her lowest point, hearing her mother’s voice, feeling her mother’s love, and resyncing with her Eva, she comes back from the brink stronger than ever, and fights for the first time not out of a desperate desire to be seen, but a real, genuine joy and love for piloting the Eva. It’s amazing. It’s glorious. It’s the perfect ending to Asuka’s arc.
And then the mass production Evas defeat her, and while I can understand how the idea of this is necessary (Shinji needs to face the final conflict alone), I loathe the execution. Firstly, it’s way more violent and brutal than anything we’ve seen in NGE. Wounds inflicted on Asuka’s Eva don’t simply induce pain, they’re reflected on her own body. So when her Eva bleeds, she bleeds, when it breaks, she breaks. It doesn’t fit with anything that’s come before it, and it feels like its only purpose is to be overly edgy.
Secondly, it sells Shinji short, and honestly, this is a problem with the whole film. EoE starts out with Shinji distraught over having had to kill Kaworu. And the thing is, I completely understand why he would be distraught. He was distraught in NGE, and while he’s faced trauma and trials before, this was a particularly traumatic trial. Not only was Kaworu essentially human (remember, the whole reason the invasion of NERV HQ is so intense is because of how different it is to fight and kill humans instead of angels), but he was the first person to give Shinji unconditional love. You don’t just walk away from an experience like that. I know this.
However, the Shinji we have seen for the past 24 episodes of NGE would at the very least get in the robot to save the people he loved. If NERV was invaded, if Misato, Asuka, Rei, and everyone else needed Shinji to step up and help out, he would do that. But he doesn’t. And here we have the central problem with EoE.
I mentioned in my NGE review how the caricature of Shinji as a whiny wimp isn’t really reflected in the actual show. But it is very much reflected in this film. Shinji spends all of Episode 25 (remember this is a redo of the last two episodes) not simply mopey and whining, but mostly catatonic. When the invasion of NERV HQ starts, Shinji’s response is to curl up in the fetal position and wait to die. Misato has to literally drag him to Unit 01, and even when he gets there, even hearing that Asuka is in danger and needs his help, even after everything everyone sacrificed to give him this chance to save people, his only response is to go back into the fetal position. I’m sorry, but this is not the Shinji we saw in NGE. It simply isn’t!
I mentioned previously that the original Episodes 25 and 26 were jarring because of how surreal they were. Well, the new Episodes 25 and 26 that make up EoE are just as jarring, but because of how sadistic and bitter they are. To stretch things out to a full movie-length, these new Episodes 25 and 26 have about double the runtime of a typical NGE episode, and so much of that extra runtime is consumed with pointless, mean-spirited bullshit! Case in point, the scene, over the body. You know the one. It’s infamous. But it also adds nothing to the story. It’s completely out of character for Shinji. And it’s just so foul. Let’s be real here, the reason that scene became so infamous is because the only reaction you can really have to it is a bewildered wtf. And if you cut it out, not only would it not change the story, but it would make the overall film better!
This is a problem that plagues the whole movie though. The basic plot beats and ideas all feel right and appropriate and cumulative of everything that came before them. But the execution is so violent and edgy that it doesn’t feel right somehow. It feels like the skeleton of a good idea trapped in a bleeding, black-hearted body, and the result is an overall unpleasant experience.
And then, to top it all off? The new Episode 26 is even more surreal and psychobabbly than the original one! Were you a bit confused by the original finale? Well guess what? You’ll probably be even more lost and bewildered by this new finale. And without even the glory that is the baloney pony scene, all you have left is Hideaki Anno pulling a Quest for Tanelorn and urging the viewer that there’s more to life than these tawdry, otaku entertainments! Don’t waste your time on anime when there’s a whole world out there for you to explore! The real AT Fields are the barriers we put around our hearts (okay that was in NGE too, but at least there they didn’t trumpet it as loudly as in EoE). Please ignore the sound of that ax being ground, I know it’s loud, but just bear with me.
I’ve been told that in EoE, Rei and Asuka are meant to represent the two possible answers to this central conflict. Will Shinji choose Rei, and the comfort of fantasy? Or will he choose Asuka, and the passion of reality? That’s an interesting way to frame things. But you know what else it is? Another instance of Anno completely wrecking the characterization of NGE and reducing the cast to shallow parodies of themselves.
Using Rei and Asuka as stand-ins for a metaphysical Betty and Veronica situation utterly undermines the fact that they are independent entities with their own agency and issues. They have their own lives and arcs independent of Shinji, both of which obtain pretty fitting conclusions in EoE’s Episode 25 (albeit with the same bitter, grotesque underpinnings that plague the rest of the film). Making them merely archetypes for Shinji to choose isn’t deep just because there’s a philosophical underpinning to that choice. It’s still ultimately Shinji deciding between the nice but boring girl or the bitchy but hot girl, and if those descriptions sound like they sell Rei and Asuka short, boy will you find the movie irritating!
As you might have expected, End of Evangelion did not solve anything it was meant to solve. It turned a profit at the box office. The audience reacted about the same as it had previously. But Anno was still not satisfied, and honestly, I don’t blame him. While the NGE finale was kind of confusing, it still ended on a high note, with Shinji having healed from his trauma, shining and bright. But EoE ends with Shinji curled up and crying, as Asuka hisses “Disgusting”. Whatever Anno still had left to say with Eva, his mind was simply not in the right state to express it at this time, his bitterness and depression weighing his voice down too thoroughly. After the sold-out premiere of EoE, Anno reportedly said that he would rather be noticed by a single woman than by millions of adoring fans. I think he was just lonely. And in that loneliness, his creation became something twisted and perverse.
A few years after EoE, Anno would eventually meet and marry Moyoco Anno, the same year he first drafted plans for the Rebuild films. I think his thinking was that, now that he had found the human connection he had sought for so long, now that he had made it to the other side like Shinji at the end of NGE, he was in a better place to give Shinji a proper end to his story. But given my own reaction to the Rebuild films, I’m starting to wonder if maybe that end lies outside of Anno. Maybe I need to go back, not to the beginning, but before the beginning.