Themes of Neon Genesis Evangelion

The themes of Neon Genesis Evangelion (新世紀エヴァンゲリオン Shin Seiki Evangerion) have been the subject of continued casual and academic debate since the Japanese media franchise was created by Gainax. In Japan, a national debate about the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion resulted in widespread coverage of the show's endings and its retellings, contributing to the interest in academic analysis of the show. Most of the franchise features an apocalyptic mecha action story, which revolves around the efforts by the paramilitary organization NERV to fight hostile beings called Angels, using giant humanoids called Evangelions that are piloted by select teenagers. The psychological, religious and philosophical analysis the work represents the majority of the discussion. Evangelion's influence in postmodern apocalyptic narratives on the "sekaikei" genre has been great, but it remains the most successful example.[1]


For more details on this topic, see Psychoanalysis.

Evangelion has long been taken as a deeply personal expression of Hideaki Anno's personal struggles[2] and his long battle with depression.[3] From the start, Evangelion invokes many psychological themes. Phrases used in episodes, their titles, and the names of the background music frequently derive from Sigmund Freud's works,[4] in addition to perhaps some Lacanian influences in general.[5] Examples include "Thanatos", "Oral stage", "Separation Anxiety", and "Mother Is the First Other" (the mother as the first object of a child's love is the basis of the Oedipus complex). The scenery and buildings in Tokyo-3 often seem laden with psychological import, even in the first episode.[6]

Many of the characters have deep psychological traumas in relation to their parents. Shinji's introversion and social anxiety stem from the death of his mother at an early age and his abandonment by his father. Asuka was the target of her mother's insanity, and discovered her mother's body after she hanged herself; her tough, bullying personality is a means of distracting herself from her pain, and she has made piloting Unit 02 her only source of pride and satisfaction. Misato's father neglected her when she was a child; after he was killed in the Second Impact, she stopped talking for a couple of years. In episode 25, Misato states that she was both attracted to and afraid of Ryoji Kaji because he reminded her of her father. Ritsuko saw her mother having an affair with Gendo Ikari; after her mother's suicide she felt both attraction and hate towards Gendo. Indeed, the last two episodes are "stripped of the high-tech gadgetry and the colorful visuals that characterize the earlier episodes in the series, these last two episodes take place largely in muted tones… a form of interrogation proceeds to be carried out as he [Shinji] asks himself—or is asked by an unseen voice—probing psychological questions."[7] The questions elicit unexpected answers, particularly the ones dealing with Shinji's motivation for piloting the Eva—he feels worthless and afraid of others (especially his father) if he is not piloting the Eva.[8] Asuka and Rei are also depicted in deep introspection and consideration of their psyches. Asuka comes to the realization that her entire being is caught up in being a competent Eva pilot and that without it, she has no personal identity: "I'm the junk… I'm worthless. Nobody needs a pilot who can't control her own Eva."[9] Rei, who throughout the series has displayed minimal emotion, reveals that she does have one impulse; it is Thanatos, an inclination to death: "I am Happy. Because I want to die, I want to despair, I want to return to nothing."[9] In episode 25 Shinji and Asuka both show that they in fact suffered similar pasts and found different ways of dealing with it. This is further established in Shinji when he claims he has no life without Eva and this is disproven by the world shown in episode 26 followed by the infamous "Congratulations" scene.[10]


The most prominent symbolism takes its inspiration from Christian sources and frequently uses iconography and themes from Christianity, Islam, Gnosticism,[11] and Kabbalism, in the series's examination of religious ideas and themes. Anno suggested a grand theme with the work including the nature of evolution, the existence of God and its impact on humanity.[12]

Assistant director Kazuya Tsurumaki said that they originally used Christian themes and symbolism only to give the project a unique edge against other giant robot shows, that there is no Christian meaning to the series[13] and that it was not meant to be controversial (although it was[14]). Anno has said that Eva is susceptible to multiple interpretations.[15] Hiroki Sato, head of Gainax's PR department, has made similar statements,[16] as has Toshio Okada.[17]

The "Angels" are a reference to the angels of God from the Old Testament.[18] In 1993, the Evangelion proposal presented the angels, including names and appearances.[Note 1] The most important angels are Adam and Lilith. The first Angel is named Adam, just as the biblical Adam is the first man created by God.[20] The second Angel is named Lilith, a reference to the Jewish folklore in which Lilith is the first wife of Adam.[20] Lilith is shown crucified and impaled with a spear named the "Lance of Longinus", the same lance used to pierce the side of Jesus Christ during his crucifixion, according to the Gospel of Nicodemus.[20] Eve or Eva comes from Adam's rib; similarly, the Evangelions come from the Angel first identified as Adam.[21] The goal of the Angels are to return to Adam and create the Third Impact which would destroy mankind, Kaworu Nagisa recognizes humanity as beings of Lilith and identifies them as Lilum.[22] Several times throughout the series, the defeat of an Angel results in a Christian cross shaped explosion.[18]

The Magi supercomputers of NERV are named Melchior, Balthasar and Caspar after the names traditionally given for the Magi who were mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew as having visited Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.[23] The Marduk Institute is a front organization for Nerv, tasked with finding the teenagers suitable for piloting Evangelion units. Marduk was the name of the chief Babylonian deity and patron god of the city of Babylon.[18] The Tree of Sephiroth (Tree of Life) is mentioned, as well as shown in the opening title sequence and in Gendo's office, with Hebrew inscriptions on it (the terms written there are mostly Kabbalic). It also appears in The End of Evangelion during Seele's version of Instrumentality.[24][25] SEELE's logo is a reference to the Old Testament's description of Yahweh, possessing seven eyes.

Academic analysis

Broderick writes, "Anno's project is a postmodernist retelling of the Genesis myth, as his series title implies—Neon Genesis Evangelion. It is a new myth of origin, complete with its own deluge, Armageddon, apocalypse and transcendence."[26] Other analysts bring additional views that include a combination of religious and psychological themes, where Kraemer's views diverge from Broderick's, but affirm several themes including Shinji as a messiah figure.[26][27]


Themes of individuality, consciousness, freedom, choice, and responsibility are heavily relied upon throughout the entire series, particularly through the philosophies of Søren Kierkegaard. Episode 16's title is a reference to Kierkegaard's book, "The Sickness Unto Death". "The sickness unto death" refers to "despair," and in the introduction of this work, Kierkegaard says that, "Even death itself is not 'the sickness unto death.' Not to mention any of the suffering on Earth known as destitution, illness, misery, privations, misfortune, pain, anguish, grief, or regret."[28] The Human Instrumentality Project may be inspired by the philosophy developed by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.[29] The title of Episode 4, "The Hedgehog's Dilemma", is a reference to the Hedgehog's dilemma, Arthur Schopenhauer's analogy about the challenges of human intimacy.[30]

Other views

Orbaugh notes that "the young protagonists incarnate monstrosity/hybridity in several ways simultaneously", highlighting their cyborgization with the Evangelions and the "Angel" DNA which allows their synchronization, with additional hybridity for the mixed race Asuka and the cloned Rei.[31][Note 2] Shinji's integration with the Evangelion presents a unique concept of "inter-corporation", where Shinji and the Evangelion penetrate and fill each other, which is further expressed by the analogous sexual intercourse taking place, with the male Shinji taking a female role.[31][Note 3] Combined with the resulting and literal Oedipal complex, the act raises questions about gender and sexual identity.[31][Note 4] In another discussion, Orbaugh highlights that the inter-corporation of a female allows for the weapons to defeat the Angels and that the male terror of being radically feminized, inter-penetrated and inter-corporated, shows the need to embrace the "abject femininity—permeability/penetrability—that is repressed in techno-patriarchal society."[32][Note 5] Yoshiyuki Sadamoto has described the feminine character design for Shinji, describing how he is essentially a masculine version of Nadia from Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water.[33]


  1. The Neon Genesis Evangelion Proposal documents use an alternate Japanese translation of Apostolo. The term shito (使徒) is used, the Japanese term for Biblical apostles, alongside Apostolo (アポストロ) which became "Angel". The names of the Apostolo are the names of angels and not the apostles, as seen in the media.[19]
  2. "The EVA suits can only be piloted by fourteen-year-old adolescents because pilots must contain in their genetic make-up a trace of the DNA of the first “angel” to attack the Earth, fifteen years earlier, which exploded in the Antarctic and scattered in microscopic bits all over the world. Only children conceived or in the womb at the time of this occurrence can take on the cyborg subjectivity that allows them to defeat the subsequent “angels.”"[31] While never explicitly given in the anime series, Ritsuko's allusion to the age of the pilots and coupled with timing of the Second Impact to arrive at this conclusion. However, circumstances surrounding Rei are more complex.
  3. "...the very phalliclooking [sic] entry plug containing Shinji is inserted into a waiting orifice in the suit — analogous to the body's incorporation of the penis in sexual intercourse. But immediately thereafter the entry plug fills with liquid, and despite Shinji's terrified attempts to hold his breath, he eventually has no choice but to fill his lungs with the (oxygen-bearing) liquid. This is a process I call inter-corporation — the mutual incorporation of the other; both the mechanical suit and the biotic Shinji have penetrated into and filled the other." and " This scene, therefore, presents an interesting challenge to the modernist definitions of the sexed body, which rely on beliefs about the relative permeability of male and female bodies. ... The instant synchronization that Shinji achieves with the EVA-suit reflects his analogous permeability to the information that must be shared between the suit and him if a new and functional cyborg amalgam is to result from their intercorporation. In this sense, Shinji is coded female, despite his male body.[31]
  4. "... in entering and being entered by the EVA suit Shinji is actually intercorporating with his mother (at his father's insistence), we have a beautifully and shockingly literalized evocation of the typical adolescent boy's Oedipal rivalry with the father over possession of the mother's body. This Frankensteinian dismemberment and re-suturing of the Oedipal family romance simultaneously puts into question the gender and sexual identities of Evangelion's protagonists."[31]
  5. This statement is based upon the original "gynesis" idea of Alice Jardine, as referenced and interpreted by Kotani Mari to describe Shinji's feminization. Mari describes Shinji's epiphany as, "The more strongly he desires a miraculous breakthrough, the more deconstructive his own sexuality becomes." Highlighting the meanings of the battle in episode 19.[32]


  1. Tanaka, Motoko (March 2011). "Apocalypticism in Postwar Japanese Fiction" (PDF). Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  2. "Whereas Yamaga Hiroyuki last year said that Honneamise reflected his opinion of the world at the time he wrote and directed it, Anno Hideaki declared in last November's issue of Newtype that he's going only by his own value system in judging the series. That, combined with Anno's surprise remarks at the end of vol. 1 of "Eva" character designer Sadamoto Yoshiyuki's Evangelion manga (itself a similar, but "alternate" version of the anime story) that this project represents the end of four years that were for him no more than "simply not dying," indicate this anime TV series is personal and deeply felt to Anno." "Overriding it all, as the noted Japanese social writer, Sato Kenji, has remarked, is Anno Hideaki's overall honesty, his own whisper of the heart—"to live is to change"—from one of Japan's top animators, caught for four years in the personal hell of depression and helplessness as an artist. It helps to remind one that the people who make anime don't do it just for the often paltry living it provides, but to express what's inside them with these tools they know. To make something that means something to them is the reason Gainax makes everything. "Arrogant and selfish" is how Anno describes it." "Speaking Once as They Return: Gainax's Neon Genesis Evangelion"]; Carl Horn, AMPlus 1.2 1996
  3. "Hideaki Anno: emotional deconstructionist".
  4. "Aside from Old Testament quotes, there are numerous cases in Evangelion of far-reaching references to such Freudian concepts as the Libido and death wish…", "Going off on a tangent, the choice of theme songs, "Thanatos—If I can't be yours" and "Come Sweet Death" both illustrate the importance of the death wish to the movie." pg 147, 150 of Fujie 2004
  5. "In the final episode, Anno is clearly referencing Freud and perhaps Lacan as the unseen voice inside Shinji's head explains to him that he creates his personality first through disassociating with the mother and then through distinguishing himself from others." pg 234 of Napier 2002
  6. "Shinji and Misato's descent into the seemingly bottomless depths of Nerv headquarters can be read, as critic Endo Toru suggests, as a descent into the unconsciousness, metonymically reinforced by the profusion of downward escalators and elevators from which the protagonists emerge into a disorienting maze of long empty corridors and bizarre machinery (84). It is surely no coincidence that, in the first episode, Misato and Shinji enter Nerv only to become hopelessly lost, a situation that recurs symbolically and concretely throughout the series until the final episode explicitly displays Shinji as "lost" in his own subconscious." pg 428 of Napier 2002
  7. pg 426 of Napier 2002
  8. "At first he insists that he does so to "save mankind." But when that answer is met with the response "Liar", he shifts to a more complex self-analysis… he admits to piloting the Eva because of his own need for the liking and respect of others, and finally acknowledges that he feels "worthless" unless he is joined with the Eva." pg 426 of Napier 2002
  9. 1 2 As quoted in pg 426 of Napier 2002
  10. Kentaro ONIZUKA. "Neon Genesis Evangelion: Final Episode". Literal Translation Series. Retrieved 2008-09-01.
  11. "Although the scenes of combat are gripping and imaginative for the genre, what makes Evangelion truly groundbreaking are the psychic struggles in which the characters engage. These struggles are both wide-ranging and emotionally draining. They are also presented with surprising psychoanalytical sophistication as the characters try to come to grips with their own inner turmoil, their problematic relations with each other, and finally, their relation to more remote forms of Otherness—the gigantic machines that are the EVAs and with which they must synchronize, and the enigmatic Angels who present a riddle that is increasingly depicted in terms of what seems to be a Christian or perhaps Gnostic notion of apocalypse." pg 425 of Napier 2002
  12. "Anno says the new offering from Gainax will consider some of the ultimate questions posed by science fiction, and, indeed, philosophy, such as: What is the nature of evolution? What is humanity's relationship to his or her God? Does god, in fact, exist? What does it mean for the human race if that question can be answered definitively?" From "Gainax Returns to Anime with Shinseiki Evangelion", published in the February 1995 edition of Animerica, and as quoted in Neon Genesis Evangelion, volume 10.
  13. "There are a lot of giant robot shows in Japan, and we did want our story to have a religious theme to help distinguish us. Because Christianity is an uncommon religion in Japan we thought it would be mysterious. None of the staff who worked on Eva are Christians. There is no actual Christian meaning to the show, we just thought the visual symbols of Christianity look cool. If we had known the show would get distributed in the US and Europe we might have rethought that choice." ― Kazuya Tsurumaki FAQ; see also an interview with Tsurumaki which contains the same quote (Archive link)
  14. "There are a lot of biblical references in Blue Exorcist; after the controversy surrounding Neon Genesis Evangelion, were you at all hesitant to include these references?" Interview: Blue Exorcist mangaka Kazue Kato"
  15. "Evangelion is like a puzzle, you know. Any person can see it and give his/her own answer. In other words, we're offering viewers to think by themselves, so that each person can imagine his/her own world. We will never offer the answers, even in the theatrical version. As for any Evangelion viewers, they may expect us to provide the 'all-about Eva' manuals, but there is no such thing. Don't expect to get answers by someone. Don't expect to be catered to all the time. We all have to find our own answers." from Hideaki Anno's Anime Expo '96 interview, pp20–3 in the November 1996 Newtype, as translated by Miyako Graham in issue 43, pages 40–41 of Protoculture Addicts and as quoted by Lawrence Eng
  16. "But Hiroki Sato, 32, head of the public relations department of GAINAX, the company that produced the animation, says various devices included in Evangelion are only elements of the product and are not directly linked to its theme. 'Anno made a soul-searching journey in producing Evangelion by including his daily sufferings and thinking about them,' Sato says." Japan Economic Newswire, 8 May 1997, 'Cartoon 'Eva' captures sense of void among Japanese youth'
  17. "Mr. Anno ("Evangelion") apparently never read the Bible, despite the heavy Christian symbology of his work; he just (according to Mr. Okada) picked out a few interesting technical terms. Likewise, the anime creation staff might open a book on psychology and, rather than read it thoroughly, simply go through it picking out "great technical terms" to use in the anime!"
  18. 1 2 3 "Terminology". Evangelion Death & Rebirth, special edition pamphlet. Japan: Gainax/Eva Production Committee. 1997.
  19. Neon Genesis Evangelion Proposal. GAINAX. 1993.
  20. 1 2 3 "Glossary". The End of Evangelion pamphlet. Japan: Gainax/Eva Production Committee. 1997.
  21. In episode 23,Tear/Rei III, Ritsuko states that "These are dummies. And nothing but parts for Rei. Humans found a god, and thus, tried to obtain it. As a result, humanity was punished. That was 15 years ago. The god that they found vanished. However, they tried to revive the god themselves. It was Adam. A human was made from Adam to be close to the god. That is Eva." See also Fujie 2004: "Elsewhere, we learn, "That which was born of Adam is the Eva", effectively proving that Adam was the model for the Evangelions." (pg 48).
  22. Neon Genesis Evangelion Episode 24
  23. pg 60 of Fujie 2004
  24. Broderick, Mick. "Anime's Apocalypse: Neon Genesis Evangelion as Millenarian Mecha". Intersections 7, 2002. Retrieved December 29, 2009
  25. Sadamoto, Yoshiyuki (May 14, 2013). Neon Genesis Evangelion. 3 (9) (3-in-1 ed.). San Francisco: Viz Media. pp. 554–555. ISBN 978-1-4215-5362-7.
  26. 1 2 Broderick, Mick (March 2002). "Anime's Apocalypse: Neon Genesis Evangelion as Millennarian Mecha". Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
  27. Kraemer, Christine (22 November 2004). "Kraemer - 1 Self and (M)other: Apocalypse as Return to the Womb in Neon Genesis Evangelion". Presented for the Religion, Film, and Visual Culture Group - American Academy of Religion -Annual Meeting. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  28. Platinum Edition Booklets, ADV, 2004-2005.
  29. Tsuribe, Manabu. "Prison of Self-Consciousness: an Essay on Evangelion". Evamonkeys. Archived from the original on 2002-12-24.
  30. Rivero, Lisa (8 January 2012). "Social Media and the Hedgehog's Dilemma". Psychology Today. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  31. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Orbaugh, Sharalyn. The Genealogy of the cyborg in Japanese popular culture. In World weavers: globalization, science fiction, and the cybernetic revolution, ed. Wong Kin Yuen, G. Westfahl, and A. Kit-Sze Chan. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. 2005. Pages 55-72.
  32. 1 2 Orbaugh, Sharalyn (November 2002). "Sex and the Single Cyborg: Japanese Popular Culture Experiments in Subjectivity". Volume 88. Science Fiction Studies. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  33. "My Thoughts at the Moment, Evangelion Manga Volume 2". Viz Media. April 1996. Retrieved 2014-04-29.

Further reading

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