Of the end of the end

Author: Joseph "Renegade" Fallon (Enthusiast)
Source: Submission
Dated: February 25, 2003

When Lilith died, her blood poured across the sky and the souls trapped within her fled away from salvation. The severed head of humanity’s primogenitor fell to the earth amidst the escaping souls and came to rest in the middle of the ocean. And upon a white beach with red LCL waves lapping at the shore, Shinji Ikari and Asuka Langley Sohryu lay, the first human beings to return to this world of pain.

The final scenes of End of Evangelion caused no small amount of controversy amidst the Eva community. They are scenes from which the viewer is asked to draw their own conclusions and inevitably this is where the ‘factions’ begin to appear. All theories that follow are supported by evidence or at least point out indications to the truth where possible. I have spent long hours reading Evangelion essays, theories, viewpoints and fanfiction on the net and watching the series and films in my spare time. I would humbly consider myself, if asked, to have a high understanding.

What’s actually happening in SEELE’s ritual?

Firstly, here is the author’s understanding of the somewhat surreal events that occur during Shinji’s initial ascension in Unit-01.

  1. It was SEELE’s ultimate goal to merge all humankind body and soul into a single, perfect being: "Through the sacrament of death, humanity, God and all living beings will be united and reborn as one."
  2. This would be achieved in a ritual involving: a) the initiation of Third Impact; b) the Lance of Longinus; and c) the Evangelions. Therefore the Evas only purpose was not to prevent Third Impact but rather beat the Angels, who would have started it before SEELE was ready.
  3. This setup actually appears to be some kind of backup plan for SEELE: "Without the Lance of Longinus, our only choice is to use Lilith’s true offspring." Seems they had not originally planned to use Unit-01 - they probably intended to use Adam, which was unfortunately fused into Gendo Ikari’s hand. However, things turned out better than expected for SEELE because the Lance was returned to them anyway and Unit-01 succeeded in its purpose.
  4. The JSSDF invasion was intended to capture the Evas and kill the Children who were, obviously, the only ones capable of piloting. SEELE would then be able to initiate their plans at their leisure.
  5. The JSSDF failed in their attempts to kill the pilots, and Shinji was eventually able to climb into Unit-01 causing it to ‘awaken’. Unit-01 was to be the ‘medium’ for Instrumentality, ie the crux of the whole ritual.
  6. This is where it becomes a little unclear. SEELE had authorised the JSSDF to eliminate pilots - and yet Shinji is a part of the ritual: "Through the destruction of the ego of Unit-01’s pilot…" Anyway, SEELE presumably did not know that Shinji, due to being inside Unit-01, would have ultimate control over the perfect world that they had envisioned. Regardless, Unit-01 successfully merged with Lilith (remember that the Evas are partially human).
  7. Because Shinji was present as part of the medium of Instrumentality, he is given a choice: remain in a perfect world and surrender his identity, which would ensure he would never feel pain any more, or retain his self and be cast back into the world.
  8. After much soul-searching with the help of his living and dead friends, he decides that running away has never made the pain stop and decides to return.
  9. Shinji meets his mother and says goodbye before returning to Earth and waking up beside Asuka.

Why does Shinji strangle Asuka?

So, here is Shinji and Asuka lying alone on a beach.  Shinji then proceeds to strangle an unresponsive Asuka.  This, too has caused much commotion and heartache.   So, why does Shinji do this?  According to one of the Eva card series, Shinji strangles the girl he obviously has feelings for to confirm that this world is one of pain.  When she doesn’t respond, he grows panicky.  Then she caresses his cheek, finally displaying her own feelings for him. Shinji realises that this is not a world of pain - at least, not fully.  He starts to cry. After all he has been through, Shinji has the right. And Asuka says, "How disgusting," just before the film ends.

What is the significance of "How disgusting." ?

(NB. Other versions apparently have variations on the final line: "I feel sick," and "This feeling sucks.")

From the author’s own humble point of view, it shows that Asuka is back to her old self, or at least on the way. Crying always disgusted her, whether it was her doing it or someone else. Shinji is the same - he is going back to being himself.  The final scene, then, is one of hope: Asuka is going back to normal, Shinji is going back to normal, and now they both know that the other has feelings for them.

What is the truth about Shinji and Asuka’s current circumstances?

Red LCL waves, Lilith’s severed head, a bandaged Asuka… what does all this mean? There are a couple of opinions, some of which are waning in popularity.

  1. Shinji actually accepted Instrumentality and this world is his ‘personal heaven’. This view was popular a few years ago but is nowhere near as popular today. Reasons for this view were generally given as:
  • Shinji and Asuka are alone, meaning that Shinji ‘created’ / ‘brought back’ the only person he thought he wanted.
  • Asuka is actually a ‘merged’ version of Asuka, Rei and Misato because she appears to have brown eyes (Misato), the bandages Rei was wearing when Shinji first met her (Rei) and Asuka’s form (Asuka).

However, this view is not as widely popular these days because:

  • When a new line of Evangelion cards came out, they clearly showed that Asuka had blue eyes, meaning that it was simply the dim light in the scene that prompted the illusion of brown. After all, her normally bright red hair is a shade of chesnut in that scene, and neither Asuka, Misato nor Rei has brown hair. Admittedly the bandages are difficult to explain, but that was probably intentional - Asuka most likely imagined herself wearing them, as they matched the final wounds she received in her Eva before her death. Regardless, that is Asuka and only Asuka, plain and simple.
  • Us seeing Shinji and Asuka alone means very little. We see hardly anything of the surrounding area. For all we know, there could be thousands of people over the next hill.
  • To be perfectly frank, even Shinji would be able to envision a better personal heaven than that. Following his terrible experiences, would he really want to spend an assumed eternity in a burned out world with a false companion? Externally Shinji was weak but he also had an inner strength that was amazing, on occasion, as was constantly shown in the series. He always came back and did a good job. It is just not in his character to live falsely like this.
  1. The second view is that Shinji rejected Instrumentality but only he and Asuka returned, symbolising a new Adam and Eve for a new world. For some reason this view is still quite popular - probably because new fans have found old sites that hold this view and assume that it is canon.
  • The only thing that this view really has going for it in terms of credibility is the symbolism aspect. After all, Evangelion was heavy in Christian, Judaic and Islamic symbols - for example, the common crucifix-shaped explosions, or the Sephiroth, or you may have noticed that when Shinji is walking away after confronting his father, the silhouette of Gendo’s desk and the desk’s shadow combine to form the Star of David. Apart from the symbolism, there is really no evidence to support this view that this author is aware of.

This view is quite easy to reject on the following grounds:

  • The actual words spoken in End of Evangelion by Kaworu Nagisa, Rei Ayanami and Yui Ikari, just before Shinji meets the latter. All you have to do is listen to what they are saying:

Kaworu: But people must act of their own free will, or nothing will be changed at all.

Rei: Therefore you must regain your own lost self of your own volition, even if your words become lost in the words of others. Anyone can return to human form as long as they can imagine themselves in their own hearts.

All they are saying is that if you can imagine yourself as a ‘self’, as an individual, you will regain your lost form - just as Shinji and Asuka did. Another example, even more convincing:

Yui: All living creatures have the power to come back to life, and the will to go on living.

That is the bottom line. It is in the film penned by Anno, in the Japanese and English versions. As far as many fans, the author included, this is fact: maybe Shinji and Asuka are alone now… but if two fourteen year old children who have been to Hell and back can find the will to go on living, surely so will others.

  1. The third theory regarding the final scene is the one that is more commonly accepted today: Shinji and Asuka are the first to return (perhaps retaining the Adam and Eve symbolism) and humanity, too, will be reborn. Here are the reasons to show this reason is credible:
  • For one thing, as stated, we are told that this is what will happen by people who are at the very least reliable - after all, Rei was merged with Lilith, the vessel, and Yui with Unit-01, the medium.
  • This is a sort of ironic punishment for SEELE, who were presented as the ‘bad guys’ and were never actually ‘defeated’ in the typical sense of the word. All they wanted was humanity’s death and then rebirth into a higher form and yet all they achieved was humanity’s death and then rebirth back into the world. In a sense, they made all their worst fears come true - they gave humanity a second chance in a pain-filled world. The fact that they didn’t succeed means that they have been beaten.
  • This point is not considered ‘evidence’ but rather a ‘belief’. Today many fans agree that the overriding theme of Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of hope rather than despair. This ending sticks to that theme - things aren’t great now, but they will get better:

Yui: Anywhere can be heaven, as long as you have the will to live. After all, you are alive… and so you will always have the chance to be happy. As long as the Sun, the Moon and the Earth exist, everything will be all right.

  • As an aside, an interesting point to note is that the souls of Misato and Ritsuko (arguably Kaji) are present in Instrumentality. This could mean that they may well be reborn and brought back to life as well - after all, that is what happened to Asuka. All they have to do is accept their individuality.

There are, of course, some arguments against this viewpoint:

  • Some fans still believe that the greatest theme of Neon Genesis Evangelion is not one of hope, but rather despair. This is fair enough. It is not as if there is a big sign proclaiming the truth of the matter. Interpretation is a big part of many anime, and NGE is no exeption.
  • To be honest, while there is no concrete evidence that the first two theories are correct, the same is true for this one. This theory simply has more indications that it is correct. To the best of the author’s knowledge, Anno has not commented one way or the other on the issue, or at least his opinion, other than to say it is up to the viewer to decide.

In conclusion, the theory that is most likely closest to correct is this: Shinji has rejected Instrumentality utterly, giving all people (all the living and recent dead) a chance to return if they can imagine their own individuality. He and Asuka are the first ones to do this (Adam and Eve). They have admitted their feelings and at the same time are both returning to their normal selves. We are left with a sense of hope: everything will be all right.