'Evangelion' Asks Big Questions, But Doesn't Always Earn Its Answers

Neon Genesis Evangelion is often touted as a "thinking person's anime." Despite it's unevenness, it does tend to stay away from a monster of the week narrative and will often devote entire episodes to the mental states of it's main characters. What sometimes gets conflated with this fact is that all of this deep introspection lands or has narrative weight every single time it happens. At its best the show weaves plot and themes effortlessly, but sometimes just asking existential questions isn't enough to hand wave the ways characters have acted or been treated throughout the show. Can an existential line of questioning feel earned even if it ignores previous character growth? Does it cheapen earlier plot points when thematic elements ignore literal narrative? We tackle these questions and more as we discuss Episodes 20-21 on this week's Waypoints. You can listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below:


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/evyeae/evangelion-asks-big-questions-but-doesnt-always-earn-its-answers
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What is the theme for this episode?

Per the recurring question about when Gendo started wearing the gloves - I’m pretty sure they show that he started wearing them to mask the scars from his burned hands from rescuing Rei from her plug in a flashback from an early episode?

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I think one of the biggest problems in this late stretch is that it requires that several women fall for Gendo and are deeply invested in how he feels about them, while he’s been an unpersonable scumbag the whole show, including back to the events before the Second Impact. It doesn’t even attempt to address what it is about Gendo that makes people care about him in a personal way (rather than just caring what he thinks because he can have them fired or killed), and that gets really frustrating at times.

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so true, he’s not even really a full character so it’s hard to understand motivations or interest in him. It would be more interesting if he was this awful human being and we understood why characters found him magnanimous. Instead all we get is his hands steepled onscreen and inhumane actions offscreen.

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I agree - partly. I think he wears them for medical reasons initially, while the wounds are healing. Then, he stops wearing them brielfy, which is when Shinji notices the scars, but after that returns to wearing them full time.

Patrick bailing on the characters and hoping for more lore dumps is… lmao. Godspeed.

Austin mentions something to this effect briefly, but I think Shinji being stuck in place in episode 20 after he finally seems to figure out some shit in episode 19 is actually justified, not only by how depression works, but by the ending of episode 19 itself. Him being stuck is, to me, a testament to the power of the “Eva-01 goes berserk” sequence: Shinji goes from his resolute break with Gendo and NERV, to a determination to work past that rejection and protect the people he care about, to, when the power of Unit 01 goes out and the Angel starts pummelling him, the same powerless, agency-less, terrified wounded teen he has always been.

The fight against the angels is a fight in a scale unfitting for humans, and this pair of episodes underlines the extent to which the point of NERV’s project was never to have confident, capable pilots: it was to create, to use terms previously used in the podcast, a matching set of locks and keys. The Unit 01 cockpit, for Shinji, will always be a place of trauma, a place of fear and frustration and loneliness, and basically nothing will truly get better for him as long as he has to keep returning to that.

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Content Warning: suicide In the podcast, Austin says that Naoko “takes her own life, with a pistol. We hear the sound of a pistol firing.” There is no pistol, no gunshot. What we hear is the sound of Naoko’s body hitting the Magi after she jumps to her death. Quite literally throwing herself into her work, if you will. Later, there is a tracking shot from the command centre balcony down to the Magi, tracing the line of Naoko’s fall to her impact with Magi #2, Balthazar, the ‘Mother’ computer.

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Hearing Rob pick up on the ‘Yui as the mastermind of the whole series’ theory sure makes me feel less silly for buying into it. I very much enjoyed that part of the pod!

I do feel like the phrase “child-wife” does a lot of heavy lifting in the later half of the pod though. I presume they’re saving the discussion of that for a few more episodes, but like, I’m not wrong for reading strong pedophilic implications there, am I? I always read that as having an influence in the scene with Naoko?

I find it funny that I was actually happy about Fuyutsuki being understanding of Yui possibly having a child because this is not the usual reaction from supervisors in academia.

Going to ask you to spoiler that content with an appropriate warning!

We’re getting a content warning tag added to the episode description, so I would ask everyone to be mindful and use spoilers and content warnings! Thank you!

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so I think Gendo falls into the show don’t tell trap. we are told he has this charisma with women but as far as I know we don’t see it ever in the show. in fact I’m pretty sure we never see Gendo in the same shot as Yui, which also spoils their relationship dynamic, but considering that we only see Yui from Fuyutsuki’s perspective I guess it understandable. Also am I miss remembering but when Ritsukos mother kisses Gendo he has his eyes open and is just staring off into the distance, making no moves to hold her?

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Understandably, it got buried under the whole “sect” translation controversy, but in that hospital scene we also hear the newscaster talking about the Spratly Islands. I don’t remember when, but something connected to this issue was also on the radio in the background in an earlier episode. Rob’s comment on extreme left terror in post Second Impact Japan not making much sense applies here too, I think; it doesn’t make a ton of sense to me that half of humanity is dead, we’re being attacked by big otherworldly beings, and we’re still locked in a dispute over some useless rocks. I guess it might be the reason they’re in a school, imposing some sort of sense of 20th century normalcy on everything?

Ultimately, I don’t think much of this worldbuilding is very important to what the show is doing. But this is one of the few references to international relations not having to do with Evas in the show, so it stuck out to me.

I’ve always read the Naoko-Rei scene differently than anything they discussed. My impression was more like this: Naoko is smart and she knows Gendo. She doesn’t get really upset until Rei starts repeating Gendo’s words about her being “no longer useful.” Knowing Gendo’s history, she then loses it as she realizes that she’s doomed, about to be betrayed by her lover. She kills that Rei as a way to lash out at Gendo. In her mind she’s breaking one of his toys, not an actual kid. That doesn’t stop her from being horrified at the sight of the aftermath. She then kills herself out of some combination of disgust at what she’s done, seeing no other way out, beating Gendo to the punch, and realizing how disposable she is to him.

Mostly I just feel that scene was more about her realizing that Gendo is done with her than anything else.

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Anybody who’s seen “In Bruges” knows that if you kill a kid you only have one option, as a matter of honor.

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Given the ultimate themes expressed in eps 25-26, I think the show asking viewers to provide a lot of their own answers and head cannon context to “complete” the work is absolutely intentional.

I didn’t ever read Naoko’s actions as unearned, but by this late in the show I assume every character is, at a basic level, a basket case whether revealed of not. Likewise, I’ve always found Kaji being both a complete shitburger and a guy trying to do the right thing as consistent with the show’s overall viewpoint. Nothing about being a person is clean, simple or pure. It’s always a mess of contradictions.

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I clapped in my mind listening to Patrick Klepk finally went full on negative on the mythology of this show. As someone who started to follow Mr.Klepk since his Giantbomb days, I share his eh, hatred towards Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty. During my first year of high school, I saw EVA then beat MGS2, both for the first time. I disliked both for similar reasons. Both felt preachy, pretentious and convoluted for no good reason. While I began to appreciate what the two did later, they certainly are not the masterpieces their respcetive fans claim they are.
Troop on, Mr. Klepk.

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There’s a couple of things I was surprised to hear overlooked in this episode (tho considering the extenuating circumstances, understandable), top among them the look on Gendo’s face as Naoko kisses him. It’s not just disinterest, he’s a hundred percent over it. That shot actually made me burst out laughing.

There’s a really quick line as the salvage attempt goes awry that shinji goes pattern blue - just line an angel. I suppose confirming that Shinji is still contaminated after the Sea of Dirac incident, unless it’s indicating some other bridge between angels and humans (with broken egos). Also consider that the water flame shinji contacts in the cockpit is always shown as blue, the red version being some other entity. And then they also say Shinji goes pattern green after that, and I don’t think we’ve heard that before? (Actually I think this is just in the version I’ve been watching, which is the old ADV Perfect Collection)

When we see the bandage wrapped Eva, I always think it looks like when you see a building when it has insulation but no siding yet. That definite look of industrial under construction / repair. Whether it’s bandages, restraints, or synthetic skin graft beyond that doesn’t really matter I imagine.

In regard to Naoko's end

Glad to see the method of her death addressed. Even if it’s just a technicality, the throwing yourself from a balcony onto your own super computer is way more dramatic suicide, but more than that it’s matching level of impulsive for what she just did to Rei compared to a relatively more calculated method of turning a gun on oneself. Plus I will say that the details of specifically landing on the mother-module magi is a great detail I missed. Great spot!

and whether or not it's earned

I don’t know if Naoko’s break is totally justified, but I think it deserves more credit than it gets given. Rei isn’t overlaid with her older self, it’s cuts of Yui. Naoko already saw the connection between them, so she’s not just connecting those words to Rei and Gendo, she’s hearing them from Yui. Naoko already mentions bearing guilt for wishing Yui dead so she could have Gendo for herself, so not only is she learning the truth of what Genodo thinks of her, but the fact bearing the guilt and leaning into her own ill will didn’t actually pay off is getting rubbed in her face by the ghost of the one she wished ill upon. So the full combo of 1. Gendo is ready to be rid of her 2. She doesn’t get to have Gendo even after leaning into what she felt guilty over 3. she’s learning all of this third hand from a ghost who sounds almost like they’re reveling in her misfortune. That last bit is unreal enough that I can buy her sense of reality snapping in a manic panic and going off on Rei and then herself like that. Plus (and I know it’s just giving the creators license to not put in the effort, but) this is all technically Fuyutsuki’s recounting, which could understandably be abridged or flawed.

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Technical difficulties conspired to constrain this pod to just episodes 20-21. Thus, I am frustrated that I can’t talk about the differences between anime Kaworu and manga Kaworu that make the latter and his relationship with Shinji so much more real and earned. I will hold my tongue until next week.

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