Guys, I really love Neon Genesis Evangelion. First it was the convoluted process of reading every bit of backstory to understand how exactly giant aliens brought humanity into existence. Then I said I loved it because of the theme of finding human connection and believing happiness is possible even at times where it really isn’t. That you could accept your life even if it wasn’t what you wanted. A high school freshman struggling to make friends could really use a story like that.
As the years passed and I re-watched it, I thought maybe it was the direction. The intermingling of so many character and plotlines when I usually preferred single-focused shows, and the exciting action and the brilliant design sense all around.
A giant robot devours a giant tentacle alien while its maintenance crew screams in horror. How is that not awesome? How is that not art?
But now I’m not sure I really understand what I love about it.
I organized a play festival recently, and the first play was about a girl named Anna who is constantly berated by the people around her for all the mistakes she makes. It’s a comedy; the characters are obnoxious and over-the-top, and the solution she finds is to charm them with dog memes and drugged pizza.
But when I first read the script, it disturbed me. Made me afraid to forget to wash a bowl of cereal, or not thank someone for getting me a drink. The point of the play was to have some loud fun, but it didn’t read that way at all. Then I realized it was the headphones.
Whenever Anna isn’t talking to anyone, she has her headphones in. This is build-up to the punchline of the play, where it turns out she’s listening to a tape called “Dealing With Stressful People”, and the tapes tells her to how to solve her problems.
But in Neon Genesis Evangelion, 14-year old mech pilot Shinji Ikari always had a SONY tape player with him. I remember less from watching the show than from reading theories about it. “It’s always at track 25, or 26, like the last two episodes. He’s just waiting for the series to end!” “Hey you notice how the tape player says track 27 in the movie?” “What song is he listening to?” It was an extra layer of mysticism to the show.
Then I watched a video about the show’s lesson about isolation. Face the world, this guy tells me. Don’t be like Shinji with his headphones always plugged in, trying to get away. One little remark, but it was one I never heard, a connection my 16-year old brain hadn’t made. I thought I was doing what the show told me to, I thought I was facing the world, and maybe I was. But I brought an iPod to school every day, and I still remember some days I would lie in the grass and listen to music, waiting for my parents to bring me home, wishing I had someone to hang out with. Maybe that’s okay, it’s not like I was listening to it around others, but what about when I did? I listen to music on my phone every day when I walk to class, and that’s normal right?
But it made me question it. And when I read that script, and saw that play, seeing that girl put in her headphones gave me the impression of someone who was losing the will to engage with society. Someone breaking the same way poor Shinji did.
The point is, one line of analysis referencing one recurring motif out of this 26-episode show changed the way I thought about my iPod forever. Put a piece of visual vocabulary into my brain that I didn’t even know was there. That show is hardcoded into my brain.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is my heartbeat.