Winter 2020 Anime: Official Info, Airdates & Trailers
Keep warm this winter season with the latest anime info at MANGA.TOKYO!
This article contains major spoilers for Neon Genesis Evangelion and The End of Evangelion
You CAN run away!
Even if you’ve never seen the 1995 psychological anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, you probably know this phrase: ‘Get in the damn robot, Shinji!’ (different expletives may apply) The show’s main character, Shinji Ikari, is known for being whiny and ineffectual. He constantly shies away from piloting the EVA Unit 01 robot to save the world from monstrous angels, which is a feat that only he can perform. And while this seems like obnoxious character writing on the surface, Shinji’s thoughts and actions actually reflect real-world symptoms of depression.
Hideaki Anno had been suffering from depression for four years before creating Evangelion. By his own admission, the series represents his struggle with mental illness. I’m obviously not a doctor (although meeting a psychiatrist who loves anime would be rad), but I can understand Anno’s point of view because I’ve also had major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder for years. One of the most isolating parts of these illnesses is that other people can’t understand your actions because your brain isn’t following real-life logic. It creates a twisted fiction version of reality that you react to instead of what’s actually going on.
The same is true for Shinji. The implication from the ‘Get in the robot, Shinji’ meme is that he’s holding up the mission (and the plot) because he’s a coward and if he would just do his job already, then he would be fine. However, this ignores how depressed people actually think. According to the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, ‘such individuals often misinterpret neutral or trivial day-to-day events as evidence of personal defects and have an exaggerated sense of responsibility for untoward events.’
In Shinji’s case, he irrationally fears that everyone hates him and constantly seeks approval since he has no sense of self-worth. For myself, I always described this feeling as being like if a tiny person who hated everything about you moved into your head and found a way to blame you for every single thing that happened in your life.
He’s aware of these issues, but his only method of stopping them is repeating to himself that he ‘mustn’t run away’ (‘nigecha dame da’) over and over. It’s a mantra that he can’t follow because he lacks the mental tools and support to do so, meaning that all he’s doing is beating himself up even further. When you add in the fact that his father, Gendo Ikari, actually does treat him like a disposable tool, it’s a small miracle that Shinji accomplishes anything at all.
Part of what makes Neon Genesis Evangelion so cool is that just about every character has a backstory that explains their behavior and how they see the world. All of them are suffering in one way or another, and Shinji isn’t the only one who’s trapped inside his own head. Unfortunately, he gets the brunt of frustration from other characters and fans because his coping methods clash horribly with the fight against the angels.
Asuka may act like a brat to prove that she’s worthy of attention, but she’s a fantastic pilot. Misato may turn to sex to forget her troubles, but she still gets the job done. And sometimes, Shinji can turn his brain off and pilot the EVA like he’s supposed to do. (By the way, this is one strategy depressed people use to seem okay in public situations – they temporarily ignore their thoughts so that they can function at a base level.) Getting praise from his father or Misato also keeps him going, since he only gets hateful bile from his own mind. On occasion, though, his heightened sense of guilt comes up against a particularly traumatic experience and he completely shuts down. Shinji’s defense mechanism is to abandon the situation so that nothing else can possibly go wrong.
Oddly enough, the villains of the series plan to do something very similar to the whole human race – turn everyone into bright orange primordial soup so that fear and pain will disappear from the world. Making the main character’s thoughts and the villains’ ultimate agenda essentially the same thing is, I believe, Anno’s way of showing that Shinji can’t see any solutions other than the worst one possible. This rings so true for depression that it’s spooky. Instead of the impossible tasks of ‘getting over it’ or ‘cheering up’, the only thing that seems doable is curling into a ball and ignoring everything.
So how does this all turn out for Shinji? Does he ever triumph over his depression and save the world? Well, it depends on which ending you go with. Due to rumored budget cuts and Anno’s own indecisiveness over how the series should be concluded, the final two episodes of the original anime were rushed and are generally considered to be a subpar resolution to the story. Shinji’s English voice actor even recorded an improvised rant about how unsatisfying it was. The movie End of Evangelion was released shortly afterwards to provide an alternate ending that resolves most plot points, but creates all new questions of its own.
Even though the original ending leaves a lot to be desired in terms of the plot, it actually has a good resolution for Shinji. He’s spent his whole life believing that nobody could truly care for him because of how horrible he thinks he is. Kaworu was the only one who showed him unconditional love and acceptance, but now he’s dead and Shinji has lost all sense of self. He only ever defined himself by what other people thought about him, so losing the person who thought so highly of him was traumatic. However, his remaining friends tell him that if he truly hated himself, then he wouldn’t have been able to love other people. Just being himself is enough. He doesn’t have to be what other people think he is to be worthy of love. This revelation transports him to a place where everyone in his life congratulates him on finally overcoming his mental struggle. And that’s the end. Congratulations.
End of Evangelion takes this very direct character development and puts it in the context of the world coming to an end. Shinji is the only one who could’ve stopped the villains from turning everyone into primordial soup (referred to by fans as ‘turning into Tang’, which is a retro orange drink that apparently tastes like garbage), but he gives up and lets it happen because nobody was there to support him when he most needed it. In this version, Shinji overcomes his depression by realizing that a world without consequences, the world that he kept wishing he could run away to, is unfulfilling: ‘I still don’t know where my happiness lies. I still think about why I’m here, and whether or not it was good to come back. But that’s just stating the obvious over and over. I am myself.’ Unfortunately, he’s alone in the destroyed world with only a dying Asuka for company. It’s implied that other people may return to their original forms, but that could be far in the future.
You don’t have to like Shinji. You don’t even have to forgive everything he does. But if you want to know what’s going on inside a depressed person’s mind, trying to understand Shinji Ikari isn’t a bad start. He may be fictional, but his struggles represent a surprising amount of reality. Luckily for everyone in the real world, though, we only have to deal with mental troubles instead of giant monsters trying to kill us.
Keep warm this winter season with the latest anime info at MANGA.TOKYO!
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