Part 4 of our Neon Genesis Evangelion watchalong with Vrai, Dee, and special guests Isaac Akers and Lizzie Visitante! Everything collapses and nobody is happy. The characters in the show ain’t doing so hot, either.
(And don’t worry—we’ll discuss The End of Evangelion next time.)
Content Warning: Discussions of suicide and depression.
Date Recorded: Saturday 14th September 2019
Hosts: Vrai, Dee
Guests: Lizzie, Isaac
0:03:02 The big conspiracy
0:08:58 Ritsuko’s no good very bad plot twist
0:18:42 Asuka sidelined
0:33:07 Zero sum Rei
0:37:59 Grace of the Kaworu
0:50:42 The first ending of Evangelion
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. You can find the stuff I do all over the internet by going to my Twitter @WriterVrai, or you can find the other podcast I cohost @trashpod. And joining me for this second-to-last Evangelion watchalong are, once again, Dee, Lizzie, and Isaac.
ISAAC: And I’m, as before, still Isaac here. Everything else is the same as in the last few episodes: former associate features editor at Crunchyroll, semi-retired anime blogger. I’m not giving my Twitter this time, because that way you can’t hunt me down for my bad Eva opinions.
DEE: [Chuckles] That was smart. I should’ve done that.
LIZZIE: Hey, my name is Lizzie. You might know me as ThatNerdyBoliviane. You can find all my stuff on my website, thatnerdyboliviane.com. You can follow me on Twitter @LizzieVisitante and support me if you can, or you can hate me after this episode. Whatever.
VRAI: This is all very good news.
DEE: We’re off to a great start.
LIZZIE: [crosstalk] Perfect.
VRAI: [Chuckles] Now, before we go any further, we watched episodes 21 to 26, so that’s through the TV ending.
Fun note: the Netflix version only includes the director’s cuts of episodes 21 through 24, so the versions you saw are actually ones that were tweaked later with a couple of scenes added in. Like the scene of Asuka and Kaji on the hill, for example, or the scene of Misato spying on Kaworu; a lot of the scene in Antarctica at the very beginning of 21. Anything that looked a little bit better animated and more put together was probably stuff that was added in later, basically.
So, you in fact actually got a slightly altered experience than somebody watching the original TV edit. Don’t you feel special?
LIZZIE: Not really.
DEE: I think that means I’ve seen both versions now, if ADV’s original VHSs didn’t have that stuff on them.
VRAI: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe they put out the director’s cuts after the fact and the original was the TV cuts of those episodes.
DEE: That would probably make sense, because some of those scenes… I mean, it’s been years, but some of those scenes did feel new, so that would be why. Cool.
VRAI: All right. Now in addition to that, we finally have gotten through the entirety of the plot, more or less, and because Eva decided to be as obtuse as possible for fun and profit, I thought it might be helpful for everyone in the room and at home if I did a little bit of story time.
I actually spent a long time thinking about this for an article I did on IGN, which I’ll go ahead and throw into the show notes. But in basic, here is the background of what’s going on with the conspiracy plot in Evangelion.
So, once upon a time, there was this maybe alien civilization called the First Ancestral Race, and they created a being called Adam. And then they all died out, and they left Adam behind in Antarctica, which the Katsuragi expedition dug up and started experimenting on.
From Adam they created Eva, and in attempting to get those things together in a first contact, that creates the explosion known as Second Impact. But it’s covered up and called a meteor, and nobody knows. Then they set up NERV on the bones of this older conspiracy project. They bury everybody who was involved the first time around. It’s all very mysterious.
In the process of making the second round of Evangelions, including Unit 00, Unit 01, and Unit 02, you may have noticed that all of the potential candidates for Eva pilots don’t have mothers. Well, there’s a fun reason for that! It’s because the Evangelion project was actually headed up by Yui Ikari, not Gendo, although Gendo was always kind of a shithead.
So, on the day they started performing trials on Evangelion Unit 01, Yui disappeared and her body was never recovered, because her soul was merged in with the robot. Asuka’s mother was merged with Unit 02, but it didn’t entirely take, so her body didn’t die. She was just left in a fractured, dissociating form until eventually she took her own life. And that’s why there’s all the womb imagery and everybody sees their mom inside of the Eva.
Meanwhile, the plan behind all this fucking around with Evas and Adam is because the secret group SEELE is a death cult. They think that humanity has failed. Humanity is actually descended not from Adam and the First Ancestral Race but the thing that caused First Impact, another thing that crashed to Earth called Lilith. And that’s where all humanity came from.
And so, SEELE’s belief is that humanity done fucked up, we usurped this planet from its rightful owners, and the only thing to be done is to liquidize humanity down into nothing, into a singular consciousness, and basically hit the reset button. To that end, they’re using the Evas to try and draw down the Angels, inducing its rapid evolution, and then eventually leading to Instrumentality, which is the process that goops everybody all down together.
But, on the other side of things, Yui and Gendo had a secret plan, which was behind the creation of the Evas. Yui’s plan was basically that because she’s in Unit 01, humanity would basically go into the Eva as a kind of arc, and everybody would hang out there and get the benefits from Instrumentality and have a big group therapy session, which is what you see in episodes 25 and 26, and we’d all become better people and better as a species, but we’d still retain our individuality and be able to emerge afterwards out of the soup and have a second chance. And that is the basic conspiracy plot of Evangelion.
How do you feel?
LIZZIE: Hate it.
LIZZIE: That’s it. [Chuckles] That’s where the ending theme song starts.
ISAAC: More or less, I guess I’d tracked that. I don’t think I’d pulled in quite all of the details, but more or less I think I understood that while watching, so, good for the show, I guess. That’s good.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Well, that’s good. Because I didn’t the first time I watched it.
LIZZIE: I feel like the plot is needlessly complicated for no apparent reason. I kind of get where it was going, but I feel like: why? Yeah, humanity is a mess, but that’s a lot to go out of your way to do all of that just so we can have a second chance and have a shared consciousness and somehow, we’ll come out as better people once we all have a big, giant therapy session, which is… Well, okay, I see that, but I’m also like: that’s a lot to want the entire world to go through on a shared conscious basis.
VRAI: I mean, Eva is both metaphorically doused in the bleak understanding of a bottomed-out depression and also the apocalypse mindset of ‘90s anime, which was obsessed with 1999. So, there was very much a sense of “We have no other options and we’re rapidly approaching the brink” that informs how the series came to be what it is.
But I don’t want to get into talking about the ending just yet. There’s a lot. There’s a lot in these last couple episodes. But because each one is about a different set of characters, I think this time around, it’s going to make the most sense if we take it episode by episode.
So, let’s start with episode 21, a.k.a. “Yui Is Critically Underappreciated. How Dare You Not All Appreciate That She Is Actually the Secret Mastermind. I’m Including You, Writers.” When you were watching this for the first time, how did you feel to finally have this huge backdump of information about Shinji’s parents and about Fuyutsuki and Ritsuko and her mother and Misato? There’s a lot of stuff here.
LIZZIE: For me, it was more like “Finally, we’re getting the background to what is the show all about,” because up until now, they’ve just been hinting what the plot is, who the hell is NERV and SEELE—what a funny name. So, it was nice getting to know everyone, seeing that Yui was really the mastermind to all of this. But also, Professor Fuyutsuki, his relationship with her was a little creepy. I was like, “Okay, I think you like her, but you’re, like, her grandpa, so calm down.”
There are smart women in this show, but in this stretch, I just really hate how all of them are treated. You know? With Ritsuko’s mom, she was okay with sleeping with Gendo, but then he calls her an old hag behind her back. It just goes into this whole thing about how “Oh shit, women cannot have positions of power, because women be crazy and emotional in the end.” Like, okay…
VRAI: There is no single plot twist I hate more in this series than the revelation that Ritsuko is sleeping with Gendo.
VRAI: It makes me mad every time.
LIZZIE: That was so disgusting. I was like, “What happened to her?” and then…
VRAI: [deadpan] You know how women be when they have complicated relationships with their mom, so they try to fuck the dude she was sleeping with? That happens all the time. That’s psychology.
DEE: I think Eva is trying to do a thing with Ritsuko and her mom. They contrast each other in terms of… Misato is obviously very capable and smart and certainly able to think rationally and logically, but she’s more driven by compassion and curiosity and wanting to help other people. And their relationships with Shinji and how they treat him when he’s in the Eva are very indicative of that. Whereas Ritsuko’s very—or at least she acts—very aloof and cold and always talks about “What’s the most logical benefit for this exact moment? Let’s put human emotion aside.”
And I think Eva is trying to do a thing about how everybody has human emotions and connections with one another, and if you try to deny those, it goes a lot worse for you than if you attempt to grapple with them. Because nobody in this show is okay, but Ritsuko is much less okay than Misato in a lot of ways. And so, I think it’s trying to do a thing with that.
The problem is Eva also can’t seem to conceive of a relationship outside of familial ones (and even then) that isn’t somehow tied into sex and romance, and so it ends up looking like “Look at these crazy ladies all tied up in their romantic entanglements with these boys!” and undercuts whatever it maybe was trying to do there, especially in the last couple episodes, where the characters have to confront their feelings towards each other and towards their long-dead relatives and their living relatives and everybody else.
It is pushing the characters to do that, because in the end they will be better off for it. But again, it bums me out that the show doesn’t seem to know how to talk about being driven by emotion without it inevitably turning to sex and romance, with the one, single exception of Shinji and Misato’s relationship, which is a shining light in the show at times.
VRAI: Yeah. And I think it extra bums me out with Ritsuko because I feel like the beats of her character revelation… I really like the scene where she destroys the dummy plugs. All that imagery is so upsetting. And I feel like that could come to this moment of despair and fuck-you and all of that at Gendo without the wrinkle of “I hate her because he’s creepily into her because he made her as a clone of his dead wife!” Oh my God! I feel like her anger there reads without that kind of gross gendered implication.
DEE: Yeah, she could absolutely… And the fact that he turned her over to… Is it “Say-lay” or “Seal”? No one knows?
VRAI: Well, the dub has six different interpretations. I have always heard “Say-lay.”
DEE: Okay. When he basically turns her over to them for questioning even though they wanted Rei, he gives them Ritsuko instead. The two of them have been working together for a very long time. They do not have to have been sleeping together for that to feel like a terrible betrayal and for her to have her fuck-you moment. So, again, the series struggles to allow characters to have complicated, intimate relationships with people that don’t also involve them boning.
ISAAC: Yeah. And so much of this show, there’s this inheritance theme and what you bring through to yourself from your parents. That’s a major thing that happens with so many of these characters. And having Ritsuko repeat what her mom did in a lot of ways, it feels like the least interesting and compelling version of that theme.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s one of many things that bummed me about the fact that Rebuild is ostensibly a remake, but Ritsuko and all of the bridge characters essentially became nonentities when there’s so much you could explore there. Ah, well.
LIZZIE: The only decent thing I have to say about it is, for a brief moment in this episode, I did like the interaction that Ritsuko had with her mom.
At some point, she was narrating the story, and she was writing her letters and stuff. I know they had a complicated relationship—whew, yeah—but I did appreciate that they had a relationship and that her mom had regrets, that because of her work she wasn’t able to really be there all the time for Ritsuko. I like that we have those quiet moments of her just contemplating about that.
So, it bummed me out that that was the last time they had a conversation together before she died on the deck. It just sucks that it had to play out that way, but that was the only shining light in episode 21 for a brief minute before everything else went to hell.
ISAAC: I think the other thing that just doesn’t work for me about everybody being in love with Gendo is Gendo sucks. [Chuckles] So, I’m profoundly unconvinced that— Okay, I can sorta see it with Ritsuko’s mom, you got a little… okay, maybe she wants to do crazy end-of-the-world stuff, too, so you can sort of see how her and Gendo might have hit it off. But Yui or Ritsuko, you’re like, “But he’s so bad!” Why did they like him in the first place? That part just doesn’t work.
DEE: [crosstalk] That’s one of my notes, is just “Why do people like Gendo?” [Chuckles]
LIZZIE: Yeah, and even Fuyutsuki asked Yui that question, like “Why him? I thought he was an ass from the moment I met him.” And she’s like, “Oh, there’s a hidden charm to him?” I’m like: where? [Chuckles] Where?
Even he acknowledges, “Yeah, I’m unpleasant. I’m so used to people not liking me that I just can’t handle people liking me, so I like people hating me.” I’m like, “Hm. Okay. So, this explains everything about your relationship with your own son.”
VRAI: It’s extra amusing in that there a lot of fans and, indeed, other tellings of the story—because this franchise has 80 million spinoffs—that do try to recast Gendo as, “oh, he was this very different person before he lost his wife, and that turned him into this bitter, angry, manipulative person—” No! No, he’s still a creep in this episode.
ISAAC: He was just a charming guy who gets into bar fights before he lost his wife. That little scamp!
LIZZIE: As you know. [Chuckles]
VRAI: I love the little touch that Yui is conveniently not there before the day of the explosion, and then somebody back home just conveniently makes it so that Gendo is called away right before shit goes really bad. I love Yui, and the show just does not know what to do with her character. It feels like you’re supposed to trace back through and see how important she really was, but the foreshadowing just isn’t there.
DEE: Yeah. Honestly, the last six-episode stretch we talked about last week that’s frustrating to watch at times, I think there are places in there where they were marking time and they maybe should have been doing more with these other characters. Because we get to the end and they dump a lot on us, and then they kind of forget about them again. We’ll get to that point eventually.
VRAI: Boy howdy. Yeah, speaking of, so, after we get Flashback-A-Go-Go, episode 22 is, I think, the moment that, Isaac, you, and Lizzie were waiting for, which is the big Asuka episode.
ISAAC: Oh, yes, I was very happy with everything that happened in this episode.
VRAI: Uh-huh. I see.
LIZZIE: I had to sit with this— I was trying to just marathon it through just to say I finished it quickly, but this one hit me on a personal level, so after it was done, I had to walk away from this series for a bit, because I was like, “Shit, so much of young Asuka is such a reminder of how I was as a teen.” I did not want the show to call me out like this. [Chuckles] How dare you, Eva?
And she was just so relatable, and it was just so heartbreaking. Even though it was a really toxic way of having to cope with her depression and her family situation, at least that was her agency, protecting her emotions and her thoughts. And for that to be violated in such a really visual way was awful.
VRAI: This sure is the television show that coined the phrase “mind rape.”
ISAAC: [Groans] Aw man, I have so many unhappy feelings about all— Just to start off, the biggest problem I have is that Asuka’s basically been forgotten for many episodes, to some degree, coming up to this. And so, when the show shifts back to her, especially after we’ve had this big flashback thing and I’m pretty sure it’s implied that Kaji dies—Ryoji dies—at the end of episode 21, which we sort of just skipped over—
DEE: Oh yeah. Kaji’s dead.
ISAAC: Yeah, that happened.
VRAI: Yeah, he sure did get shot by his girlfriend.
ISAAC: Yep, yep. So, then we come back to Asuka, and we’re trying to get into her headspace again, so there’s that disconnect there. And then… [Sighs] Yeah. I guess I’m likewise not pleased that we had—because this happens in episode 23, too—we get two characters for sure, maybe a third, who there’s some sort of rape imagery that goes along with that. Obviously, Asuka’s very clear about it. Then with Rei in the next episode, you’ve got those tendril things crawling up her body.
DEE: And they talk about it in terms of penetration. Yeah, you’re right.
ISAAC: Yeah. And then Ritsuko, I sort of got the sense… Maybe I read this wrong, but I almost got the sense, whether it’s literally physical or otherwise, that Ritsuko gets violated or raped somehow by SEELE when Gendo sends her over, just based on the fact she was naked there and then comes back and some of the expressions she makes. But yeah, I guess… [Sighs] Someone else talk. I feel like I’ve talked a lot here, and I’ll come back with more thoughts.
LIZZIE: Asuka’s thought process when we get into her mind is just so… My heart breaks for her because I really understand where she’s coming from in terms of her reacting to her environment, because of what happened to her mom and just her home life being so chaotic.
It takes a lot for a young child to tell themselves, “I’m not gonna cry anymore. I’m gonna work hard. I’m gonna be independent, so I’m not gonna have to rely on anybody. But at the same time, I want people to praise me, because I’m doing such a good job and I’m needed.” And for her to make that decision at such a young age, whew, that’s a lot, and that’s a lot to deal with.
And I know in this episode she was on her period, as well—I think they stated it—where she’s staring at the mirror. She’s just talking about [how she’s] just frustrated being a girl and how she doesn’t even want kids, why is this happening to her? I was like, whew, so much internalized misogyny there.
So, I just related to her so much in that episode, because I was in that place when I was a teen, just being frustrated that no matter how hard you work, it won’t be acknowledged the same way as your dude counterparts. And at a young age, if you don’t want to be seen as weak or fragile or whatever shitty association is attached to being a girl or a woman, you have to try to toughen up, and that means you have to perform hypermasculinity.
So, oof, it was just a lot. And even though all of that is toxic and how she chose to act out her barrier to protect herself from the world—for that only thing that she had in her control to be violated and raped, essentially, was just awful.
And then, of course, in the next episode, when she’s just so depressed, she’s not eating anymore, she’s just in a tub, naked somewhere in the city… She’s just so defeated. And it’s like, ah! I just hate that this show took away her agency in everything.
DEE: Yes. That’s what I was gonna say. Well, I think what bothers me the most about it is… Okay, obviously Asuka needs a hug very badly.
VRAI: Please hug Asuka.
DEE: Yeah. And they talk, like “You really can’t just live alone. There are times when you’re going to need help, and it’s okay to admit that.” And so, obviously, Asuka does need to work to a point where she’s willing to be more open and vulnerable to others.
I was talking earlier about how characters who aren’t as honest with themselves about the way they’re feeling, things tend to go a lot worse for them, and I think we can see that with Asuka, as she’s very much about denying those quote-unquote “weaker” feelings inside of her. Heavy air quotes on “weaker,” because I don’t actually think that. But at the same time, there is something admirable about how determined she is to not just go with the flow, and to try to be her own person and try to take care of herself.
And not only does the show break her down—because the show breaks everybody down—but it never builds her back up again. It just forgets about her, and it’s really infuriating by the end to see them take this character—who, again, is a mess, but is in many ways… I think there are admirable things about Asuka, and it rips those things away from her and then never gives her anything in return.
She never gets that hug! I’m just saying, Asuka never gets the hug she needs. I don’t know why Misato won’t hug Asuka.
LIZZIE: Yeah, and it’s frustrating to see that she’s not even surrounded by people where she can allow herself to be vulnerable. And it takes a lot to admit that you need that help. And by opening yourself up to whoever, there’s a chance there that that person probably won’t take care of your emotions the way you need to be taken care of, and that will make it even worse. And of course, everyone in this show is a mess, so I don’t blame her for [not] wanting to open up to anyone.
So, it’s tough, and then you lead to where she’s at now, a complete breakdown, and that’s tough, especially if you don’t have that support there to really build you back up again. No one, aside from SEELE or NERV or whoever—they didn’t look for her until like seven days later. Like, okay?
DEE: And nobody really goes to check on her. Sorry, go ahead.
LIZZIE: No, I was going to say, even Shinji… I mean, I liked him for a bit in this stretch, but he doesn’t even try to find her or anything like that. Misato. Nobody. I was like, oh, gosh, damn all of you.
DEE: It’s the adults I have the hardest time with, because Shinji’s going through his own crises and he’s 14, and I don’t really expect him to be as willing to reach out as… I mean it would be really good if he did, but I’m not super surprised he doesn’t.
The way Misato interacts with Shinji versus Asuka is really strange to me. I don’t know if it’s some part of Misato who sees herself in Asuka and figures “Oh, she’ll be fine, she’ll work it out,” but Misato really doesn’t ever try to form a bond with Asuka in the way that she does with Shinji.
And Shinji kind of rejects her. That scene where she tries to just hold his hand after they think Rei’s dead and Shinji just says, “Leave me alone,” is really hard to watch.
But we never see that with Asuka, and I don’t know if it’s a narrative flaw or if it’s intended for the character. I’m not quite sure what to do with that decision.
VRAI: I think it’s just a thing that the narrative wasn’t interested in, which is a shame, but I also think, from a Watsonian perspective, if you will, Asuka has this problem where—you see it with that phone scene, which I absolutely love, in that I mean it hurts me—that she’s very good at facile, surface-level socialization in a way that Shinji isn’t.
So Misato is able to recognize that Shinji is withdrawn and have an immediate response: “I know how fix this.” Whereas with Asuka, she has that one really sad moment where she just is honest to Shinji without thinking about how she’s talking to her mom, but it’s not really real stuff, and she doesn’t actually hate her mother, and she actually begins to open up for this second and then catches herself and shuts that down.
DEE: Yeah, and then gets angry that Shinji tricked her into opening up. [Chuckles]
VRAI: No, these children!
DEE: And I think that’s a good point, that Asuka does do a pretty good job of pretending to be okay most of the time, and she gets angry if you try to dig at that.
Misato also has her own stuff going on. Again, she’s an adult; I wish she would’ve made a better effort of reaching out. But I could see her going, “Oh, Asuka will be fine. She’s just kind of angry. She’s 14, whatever.”
VRAI: And the other thing I love in this stretch, in that I mean that it hurts me, is the scene with Hikari. This poor child. When your friend comes over after an assault and has horrible PTSD and probably is suicidal… And you don’t know what to do. You just let her hang out in your room.
DEE: Yeah. I thought Hikari’s response there was very real and sweet in its own way; not the help Asuka very clearly needs at that point, but I think it was the best Hikari, as one friend who’s not involved in this, could do.
I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she’s basically like, “I can’t tell you what to do, but I think you’ve been doing a good job.” And that’s about the only time anyone said that to Asuka, and then that’s when Asuka breaks down and has an emotionally vulnerable moment in front of somebody because she starts crying. It’s a really nice scene, and it’s sad that, I guess, Hikari’s family moves away like everybody else after the explosion.
ISAAC: Oh yeah. Well, yeah, she’s very clearly suicidal. I guess that’s why the bathwater’s red.
VRAI: Yeah, there’s the shot of her clothes folded neatly next to the tub, and the water’s sort of red, and her face looks pinched and drawn, and it’s… yeah.
ISAAC: Yeah. So, the fact that the show never comes back and tries to build her up again… Maybe I’m being too harsh, but in some ways, it does feel like it is a violation of the core theme that it ends up on at the end. Because it ends up saying to Shinji, “You need other people to understand yourself and to get along and through this world,” and it never comes back to Asuka to offer the same thing for her. It just basically abandons her.
And I know she gets some interrogation time in episode 25, but at least for me what was there was not satisfying or near enough to actually bring about the sort of catharsis that I felt that her arc required. So, overall, I’m pretty down on the way the show treats Asuka in the end.
DEE: Yeah, I think it’s extremely shitty of the last two episodes to set us up in episode 25 where we’re going to be bouncing between Shinji, Misato, and Asuka, and [it] tears them all down to this base level of interrogation where they’re all a little bit broken, and then episode 26 starts and is like, “We don’t have time to deal with everybody else, so let’s just focus on this kid.”
I’m like, “That’s shitty narrative.” I’m sorry, but it is. It’s shitty storytelling. If you’re going to have these other arcs, then you need to do something with them. You can’t just drop them because you’re not interested anymore in the girls.
LIZZIE: Yeah, it’s just frustrating.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Hold on! [Chuckles]
LIZZIE: I’m just saying it’s frustrating.
VRAI: No, it is, and I want to let you guys rant about it, but I just don’t want to skip over… I don’t think we have to talk too much about Rei. I think the frustrations with her thing are kind of folded in with Asuka, but it’s not as frustrating, because they’ve just reset her, so it’s not even really Rei by the end, and so it’s not as big a deal when we don’t get her in the finale. But I really don’t want to skip over episode 24, y’all!
DEE: No, no, no, no, no, that’s fair.
LIZZIE: But just to touch on Rei for a little bit, it’s extremely effed up how easily replaceable Rei is, no matter what. If one Rei dies, then her body and consciousness is moved to the next, and I’m like, “Wow, that is how expendable she is.” And that imagery of seeing her body parts in that soup, I was like, “Wow, that is a lot of violence to inflict on her—dolls that look like her.”
VRAI: Mm-hm. No, go ahead.
LIZZIE: That’s it, that’s all I wanted to say.
VRAI: [Chuckles] Yeah, and the assault imagery, like you mentioned earlier, Isaac, is real upsetting and only really applies to the female characters.
ISAAC: Mm! Yeah.
DEE: Yeah, I don’t know what to do with that, but I don’t like it.
ISAAC: [crosstalk] It’s the thinking emoji face.
LIZZIE: The whole thing just frustrates me, because I think of some of the shitty things I grew up hearing about how little girls are much more mature than little boys. And I remember I questioned my mom about this one day. “It’s because, oh, from a young age you have to realize that you’re gonna go through a lot more harsher things than a boy will. So therefore, you have responsibilities.” And meanwhile there’s not that emphasis placed on little boys.
I just think about that whole dynamic. The moment you break, then that means “Tough luck,” and I’m like, “Ugh, fuck, I hate that whole thing.”
VRAI: This is, by the way, extra, triple exhausting and angrifying to think about when you think about the legendary 20-year argument of “But who is the more boneable waifu, though? Rei or Asuka?”
DEE: [crosstalk] Ugh.
LIZZIE: Nobody. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Neither of them. They’re children who need therapy!
DEE: All of them do!
Yeah, I always have a hard time with Rei because her character is in a lot of ways quite a bit younger than everybody else, and she’s trying to move in sort of the same direction that Asuka is.
I think the doll imagery in their episodes is very well done and potent and creates a connection between these two people who do not like each other very much, because I think they see a little bit of each other’s struggles. They’re just framed very differently, where Asuka is more aware of “I want to be my own person and think my own thoughts,” and Rei is more in this space of “Who exactly is ‘me’?”
It’s a much more complicated internal argument for her, whereas Asuka’s, I think, is a little bit more external, as far as her actions and behavior with the world at large. Did that make any sense at all?
VRAI: No, yeah.
ISAAC: [crosstalk] Yes.
LIZZIE: [crosstalk] You made perfect sense, yeah.
DEE: Okay. Because halfway through, I went, “This is nothing.” [Chuckles]
VRAI: That’s Eva!
ISAAC: [crosstalk] Yeah, because Rei, when she’s being assaulted by the Angel, she almost has a… Well, really even the fact that she self-destructs is a moment of claiming her own distinct personhood and identity. And then, like you say, it ends up being a moot point because she goes back to the beginning. She’s just an entirely new person again, and it’s like, okay, well, so, all the work she just did psychologically there is now thrown out the window.
So, I personally have a tough time with Rei in general just because these quiet, non-emotive characters… I just struggle with them. And yeah, so, to feel like “We got her beyond that… Just kidding!” is… Well, the episode was a wash.
DEE: She gets broken down, too, like everybody else, but at least with everybody else… I guess with her I could fanfic my way into it working later on down the line that she’s okay, but she is functionally a different person, right? She did not maintain a lot, if any, of her memories. It’s not clear what she remembers from her previous existence.
LIZZIE: I do appreciate that she felt angry this time around, specifically at Gendo, because before, she didn’t have much of an emotion. But at least she was self-aware of what’s happening and that she’s replaceable. Maybe I’m just chewing on nothing, but I appreciate it: seeing that anger when she was holding his glasses, about to break it. I was like, “Finally, something against this man.”
VRAI: Yeah, it’s a weirdly hopeful ending in its own way. And then there’s no time to do anything with it.
There’s not even time to do anything with the fact of the parallels between her and Kaworu, who are both these clones made partially from human DNA and partially from Angel bits. And they both end up dying because they prioritize Shinji and the humanity he represents over themselves. No time to do anything with that! They kind of lock eyes for a second.
DEE: Kaworu has… one episode. [pained chuckle]
VRAI: He does! He has like 12 minutes of screen time. He’s so important and I love my son!
ISAAC: Before we really dive into him, can I just say that Akira Ishida, who is his voice actor in the Japanese version… I love him!
DEE: He’s so good.
ISAAC: And I love listening to him talk. I was not expecting him, and I was just in raptures for a little while.
VRAI: Yeah, this was kinda his big breakout role.
DEE: [Hums skeptically]
ISAAC: Well, if Eva has done nothing else right, at least it did that.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Well, a notable role for him.
DEE: Hang on. Hang on. I’m checking something. What year did Eva come out?
ISAAC: Oh my gosh.
LIZZIE: Really? Oh damn, that’s far back.
DEE: Yeah, okay. Slayers was about the same time, so… Yeah, all right.
VRAI: You’re right, it all happened concurrently, but that was a big year for him.
DEE: Yeah. ’96 was a big year for him, absolutely.
ISAAC: But yeah, that’s all I wanted to say about that.
DEE: [crosstalk] He’s so good.
ISAAC: I just… Ah! Mm!
DEE: No, I’m glad you gave him a shoutout. I sometimes forget he’s Kaworu, and then he came on and I recognized his voice right away. I was like, “Ishidaaa!” It was fun.
LIZZIE: Love it.
VRAI: But Lizzie, you mentioned off-mic that you had kind of heard about Kaworu existing, because literally everybody has. He’s kind of a big deal. And then he didn’t come around until two episodes to the end, which I feel like is a very common experience for new viewers. So, was it all you’d hoped for?
LIZZIE: To be honest, yeah. I really liked him, to the point that I wished he was in the series from the very beginning. He was such a well-written and kind of complicated character, and I love his interactions with Shinji and everyone around him, that it almost feels like such a waste that he was just in one episode.
VRAI: Eh, be careful what you wish for. The manga gave us Karl.
LIZZIE: Ah, okay. I won’t ask what that is. But I just love those two. It was just also nice seeing Shinji blushing like a bubbling child around him. I was like, “Aw, you have a crush on someone, and I’m here for it.”
ISAAC: I would blush too if Akira Ishida was talking to me.
VRAI: [crosstalk, through laughter] He’s worthy of his grace.
LIZZIE: He’s worthy. [Chuckles] Yes. He is worthy of his grace, apparently. But I love those two. I wanted more. But here we are. Episode 24.
VRAI: Okay, so, now I have to ask the dumb question that straight people have been arguing about pointlessly into the void forever. Did Kaworu really mean it when he said he loved Shinji?
LIZZIE: Honestly, I think so, yeah. I wish I didn’t have just one episode to base it on. But yeah, his interactions with him were very loving and genuine. I didn’t feel there was any manipulation there, unless I missed something. Yeah, I felt like his interactions with him were sincere, even down to the body language. I’m like, “Yeah, there’s something happening between the two of you,” and Shinji’s reacting, and I’m loving it.
ISAAC: Yeah, for me at least, from Shinji to Kaworu is crystal clear. I don’t think there’s any missing that. The thing that complicates things with Kaworu for me is the fact that he’s this otherworldly being and has this almost reverent sort of respect for Shinji in a way, if that makes sense.
Just some of the ways that he talks about him trigger these… Okay, when he says he loves Shinji—not that he’s worthy of his grace—to some extent, I’m like, well, is this a personal thing, or is this “I love you” because you recognize the inherent humanity in other people and “I really think that’s great as another being, and that’s why humanity deserves to live”?
LIZZIE: That’s a lot for Kaworu to get in that one interaction. [Chuckles]
ISAAC: Yeah, and again, like Lizzie, I just feel he needed more time and he should’ve been in there sooner, even in bit roles or seeing something in their relationship building up to this, because he’s just kinda there and he’s gone in a flash.
DEE: Mm-hm. I don’t think it matters, because Shinji believed it was real, and I think that’s what’s important to the story, because Kaworu’s only here for 20 minutes.
ISAAC: I can agree with that.
DEE: Kaworu as a character—again, fanfiction, probably you could do some pretty interesting things with him—but we get him for an episode. He says a lot of philosophical-type stuff and drops some plot nuggets, and then has these two or three really important interactions for Shinji.
So, to me, Kaworu, like a lot of the characters here at the end, is more of a vehicle for Shinji than an actual person in the context of the narrative itself. And so, whether or not he is saying these things as some kind of endgame manipulation of Shinji or whether he means them, I think it’s ultimately moot because Shinji clearly thinks he means them and they mean a lot to Shinji.
Has anybody timed how long we watch Shinji hold Kaworu in the Eva hand with the music playing in the background?
VRAI: [crosstalk] I believe it is 60 seconds.
DEE: It’s just a solid minute? Because it feels longer.
VRAI: Yeah, I think it is a solid minute.
LIZZIE: Yeah, it felt… Yeah, for a second I thought there was something wrong with my browser, but no.
LIZZIE: But no, it was just a solid minute, and I was like, “Wow, you’re really feeling the weight of what’s about to happen.” Also, the hallelujah music in the stretch really throws me off, but yeah.
DEE: It’s a little jarring.
VRAI: [singing to the tune of “Ode to Joy”] Budget, budget, what’s a budget?
ISAAC: I will say that moment is where I really felt like the show had lost me. It had started slipping away with Asuka’s episode—and especially the fact that they never really came back to her in a meaningful way. I had started to just check out by the end there.
We’re getting a little into episode 25, but Shinji talks about why he killed Kaworu, and I’m sorry, I was not convinced. I was more convinced that Shinji’s feelings for Kaworu were powerful and operative in those 12 minutes than I was about any sort of thing like Shinji being willing to kill him. I understand why they say Shinji killed Kaworu, but emotionally it doesn’t work for me.
Yeah, these episodes were pretty rough for me, and basically I didn’t care. At the end of 24, when we hear the crunch sound, I was like, “Well, I guess I don’t care about this show anymore.” Which was sad, because I knew what I used to care about, which was the characters, but I didn’t feel like the show cared about them either.
DEE: I think in the moment and the sense of how difficult this is for Shinji and how quickly he made a connection with Kaworu, I think that’s all very well done. But based on what we know of Shinji up to that point, for him to make that decision is very strange.
It doesn’t seem to quite gel with his character, especially because… Like, Toji was actively threatening— [catching self] It wasn’t Toji; it was Toji’s Eva, because Toji was unconscious inside of it at that point. But that arc from last time, when the Eva gets taken over by the Angel and Shinji’s refusing to kill him even though people he knows are in clear and present danger. Ritsuko and Misato might be dead. They’re not sure because there’s this big explosion. And Shinji’s still unwilling to kill somebody.
And so, for him to make a different decision at this point, when all we’ve seen is Kaworu goes after the being in the basement—who I guess it turns out is actually Lilith, not Adam—but we don’t know what that’s going to do. Shinji’s not been told jack. So, I think it’s hard for me to understand the sense of the clear and present danger Shinji feels there.
Because I do think if Kaworu were actively threatening people Shinji cared about in that moment—if he was in central command—then I could see Shinji making that decision, but it’s really hard to follow in that moment because it’s so abstract exactly what’s going to happen if Kaworu touches this Lilith being. Does that make sense?
VRAI: No, it does. I think it’s an extension of what we talked about in the last episode, which was the metaphor getting away from the plot.
In this moment, Kaworu represents, for a depressed person, the desire to die versus the desire to keep living. And so, Shinji, for better or worse, makes that choice at the end, and he really grapples with death and being in love with death—if we want to be poetic and super fucking pretentious about it—and he ultimately decides to keep living, which spurs us into the two endings. And then Misato has that speech at the end where she’s trying to reassure him that he wanted to die and he put you in that position, and so this isn’t your fault.
But I think you’re right. I don’t think it necessarily follows with where he is at, although I think they’re trying to imply that it’s a one-or-the-other situation, which is essentially Gendo and SEELE’s conflict at that point—not that Shinji knows that—is that SEELE wants the Angels to get in contact with Adam, which they think is down in the basement, and that will wipe out humanity and Angels will become the dominant species, whereas Gendo wants Rei to fuse with Lilith, which will push humanity into its next evolution through Instrumentality.
DEE: [deadpan] Yeah, all of that is extremely clear and well-outlined.
VRAI: Yes, uh-huh! It’s also very easy to tell!
DEE: The metaphor: I think that is a fascinating read and a fascinating way to tell that story, but I think if you’re going to tell a story that’s metaphor-heavy… Stories that are metaphor-heavy also need to be able to operate coherently on a literal level as well, because you are working with characters who have their own feelings and agency—or should. Metaphorical storytelling that doesn’t make that connection at the ground level, I think that is a failure of those types of stories.
And the fact that there’s a few of us on this call, at least, who don’t really track why Shinji made that decision—now that you have explained the metaphor of Shinji is choosing to live, I think that’s really fascinating. That’s a great read on it. It irks me that there isn’t a reading of it in the context of Kaworu as a person, not as a metaphor.
VRAI: Yeah, no, I 100% agree, honestly. And I’m actually going to go ahead and make a judgment call that we are 51 minutes into this call; we aren’t going to have time to talk about the ending. We’re just gonna have to talk about both endings in one episode, because otherwise we’re gonna be here for two hours.
ISAAC: Yeah. [Chuckles]
LIZZIE: Yeah, that’s actually a smart idea, because I think the movie sort of retells episodes 25 and 26, as far as I’m aware.
VRAI: Yes and no. My personal read on it is in agreement with this really nice video Dan Olson did, which is the end of episode 24 essentially represents a fracturing point, and in keeping with that whole alternate universe thing you see in episode 26, the movie and the TV series are two equally possible ways that Shinji could have gone: one that’s reparative and one that’s destructive. But not everybody reads it that way, so we can have a nice, long talk about it.
ISAAC: Oh dear. And we saw the reparative version.
DEE: We did. This was the happy version.
ISAAC: [crosstalk] Oh no. [Chuckles] Oh boy.
LIZZIE: Just my quick thing on Shinji. In this stretch of episodes, the focus on him towards the end was so jarring, because for a good while he was just sidelined, watching everyone just fall apart around him. I think by the end of the series, forgetting how the writer chose to write him in those last two episodes, I still don’t get this intense hate towards his character.
DEE: Oh God, no, me neither.
LIZZIE: Yeah, for the most part, through the entirety of the show, there’s focus on him, but he’s not the sole character, so it’s not just his story. And he’s not all that bad. Oh, I’m gonna get the intense fans to come after me as I say that.
LIZZIE: He’s not all that bad of a kid.
DEE: No, I have sympathy for Shinji through the story. What gripes I have with the ending aren’t about him as a character. It’s about narrative choices that were made, like the fact that they set up an ensemble cast and then decided none of these other people matter.
LIZZIE: Yeah, I think towards the end… I don’t know. I think people think way too deeply on this show than it needs to be. [Chuckles] It became pretentious towards the end for reasons. I mean, I get why, but also, I don’t care.
VRAI: There are two things that I wanted to bring up that I guess will be food for next time. One is the fact that there are a couple of different stories as to why episode 26 turned out the way it did. One is that Anno’s scripts got rejected, and so that left them with a considerably shortened production time. One is Anno couldn’t make up his damn mind as to what he wanted, so he didn’t have enough time. And one is a story also told by Okada—Toshio Okada, not Mari Okada—that the cels for episode 26, some of them were stolen, so that is why a lot of the linework sequences are there.
ISAAC: Oh, I like those.
LIZZIE: Okay, I like those a lot.
DEE: Yeah, I actually liked the stylistic choices they made. I know it obviously made things a little bit of a quicker production time, but I thought they worked really well for the way Shinji’s sense of self was falling apart and then re-solidified. I thought it was artistically done even if it was maybe accidentally artistically done.
VRAI: And his final words on this were in a Newtype interview… well, not his final, fuckin’… an interview that he did.
“Finally, in the course of making Eva, I got where I got for a number of reasons I could never really explain. But as far as the original stories of episodes 25 and 26, I managed to finish episode 25 as far as the script was concerned. Unfortunately, I had to abandon episode 26 while it was still at a very early planning stage.
“I’m reworking the episodes 25 and 26 that will be sold on the LaserDisc and video next year, but as far as episode 26 goes, that’ll be a complete revision so that it’ll be more ‘visual.’ I’ll do it again by deconstructing the original plan. Episodes 25 and 26 as broadcast on TV accurately reflect my mood at the time. I am very satisfied. I regret nothing.”
LIZZIE: And you know what? Valid.
ISAAC: [crosstalk] Cool.
DEE: Good for you, Anno.
LIZZIE: Valid. Honestly valid.
ISAAC: I’m 50% on board with him.
LIZZIE: All of that is super valid. I’m glad he was able to find some catharsis through these last two episodes. But like Dee said, narratively speaking, it didn’t hit the mark for me.
VRAI: Oh, it’s a hot mess, and I’m looking forward to discussing next time the issue of global recovery versus individual recovery and the fact that this show knows suffering in many perspectives, but it really only knows how Anno got out of it. So, if that doesn’t work for you, you’re kinda up shit creek with just some bad feels, because this ending can be triggering.
DEE: Eva gave me an existential crisis and then walked away! It just walked away!
LIZZIE: If episode 22 was any bit of a warning for me, then I’m already here, so let’s just do it.
VRAI: [Chuckles] All right—
ISAAC: Oh, wait.
ISAAC: Can I say just one last thing before we end?
VRAI: Please do.
ISAAC: On the “worthy of my grace” thing, that broke my brain a little bit because when I was younger, my parents used to play a lot of contemporary Christian music in the car and stuff, and that specific phrasing sounds like it was lifted straight out of a contemporary Christian music song. You would probably hear it said like “he is worthy of my praise” or something like that. And so as soon as that hit my subtitles, I was like, “Oh! This is not the reference point I was expecting to have here.”
DEE: [crosstalk] Kaworu is an Angel, so… I guess it works.
ISAAC: [crosstalk] Yeah, there you go. Oh, my gosh!
LIZZIE: The proof.
ISAAC: So, the Netflix producers got it right. Or the translators did.
VRAI: When the translator was explaining his… certainly it was a decision with regards to that line, he mentioned wanting to keep the ambiguity of it, but I think it was Anthony Oliveira @meakoopa—whose thread I might include if I can track it back up—pointed out that in the English language, “love” is a very ambiguous word.
Like you were saying before, Isaac, Shinji clearly sees it as love. He wants to see his own crush returned, but Kaworu is an Angel. Does he mean “I love you as a person”? Does he mean “I love the idea of you”? Does he mean “I love you” like…
DEE: Humanity in general?
DEE: And then it got sad again. Wasn’t that gonna be our tagline for this one?
ISAAC: So, I can sing something. [Singing] You are worthy of my praise!
VRAI: And then it got sad. And you know what’s even sadder, is there have been 8 billion Evangelion spinoffs, I’ve read about 80% of them, and Kaworu dies in all of ‘em!
LIZZIE: I hate it.
LIZZIE: Aw, fuck it then.
DEE: Somebody headcanon a good ending for Kaworu already, come on.
VRAI: Please! There are so many!
DEE: Official. I’m sure there’s fanfics, but an official fanfic.
ISAAC: Why can’t he run to school with toast in his mouth? It’s not fair.
VRAI: It’s unfair, is what it is.
LIZZIE: It is.
VRAI: All right, well, next time look forward to our double-barrel ending extravaganza where we’re going to look at episodes 25 and 26 of the TV series and re-do episodes 25 and 26, also known as The End of Evangelion. That will be fun, listeners, and you’re all going to continue to be nice and polite to our new watchers.
VRAI: Good job.
ISAAC: And agree with our opinions.
LIZZIE: [Chuckles] Yeah, there won’t be controversy whatsoever.
VRAI: I don’t know about that.
DEE: You don’t have to agree with our opinions. That’s okay.
VRAI: But in the meantime, if you liked this episode, you can find more of the podcast on Soundcloud by looking for Chatty AF, or you can go to our website, www.animefeminist.com, where we have, also, additional content in print.
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And remember, until next time: it’s okay to like yourself.