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by Nick Creamer,

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion: The End of Evangelion
With the Angels defeated and SEELE's patience at its end, the time of judgment has finally arrived. After surviving attacks from scores of creatures beyond human reckoning, NERV finds itself overwhelmed in a savage assault by all-too-familiar human enemies, as mankind consumes itself in its desire to connect and evolve. Meanwhile, the pilots who've so long served as humanity's final protectors have retreated inwards, too consumed by shame and regret to even notice the chaos around them. Regardless of their wishes, the Human Instrumentality Project is about to begin - whether it will be the end of all things or a new beginning, only one boy can say.

After twenty-four episodes spent building up to the cusp of a roaring apocalyptic crescendo, the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series ended on an unexpected tonal whisper. The promised devastation of the Human Instrumentality Project is relayed entirely through title cards; the narrative fates of key characters like Misato and Ritsuko is relegated to single shots of unexplained violence. Instead of blooming into a world-shaking external drama, Evangelion's last two episodes turned inwards, mirroring their protagonist's own fears as they sought to explore Shinji's personal instrumentality. Through heavily recycled footage, visually divergent thought experiments, and direct psychological interrogation, Evangelion's final two episodes focused almost solely on its most insular and fundamental emotional conflicts: its protagonists' wayward efforts to come to love themselves.

Though Neon Genesis Evangelion was always most fundamentally about the questions raised in its last two episodes, its sprawling narrative promised far more resolution and catharsis than that strange and beautiful ending offered. What of the show's grand NERV conspiracy, and what of the Evas themselves? Did the Angels succeed in their mission, or was Gendo successful in harnessing the rebirth of humanity for his own plans? Fan response was swift and at times violent, with director Hideaki Anno reportedly receiving threatening letters in response to Eva's unusual conclusion. And so, after the intermediary film Death & Rebirth combined a show recap with the first half of a new conclusion, 1997 saw the theatrical release of End of Evangelion, an alternate ending that offered all the high drama and apocalyptic devastation fans had clamored for, in a brutally scouring narrative seemingly designed to ask them whether they really wanted this at all.

End of Evangelion picks up just after the events of Eva's twenty-fourth episode, with Asuka comatose in a NERV hospital, Shinji paralyzed with regret after the death of Kaworu, and NERV headquarters on the brink of invasion by their increasingly impatient benefactors. Our reintroduction to Shinji paints his dejected, shameful state in the most savage and unflinching of terms. Lost and self-loathing, desperate for orders from a higher power, he shakes the unconscious Asuka until her gown slips, revealing her bare breasts. Then, as the camera pans guiltily over hospital apparatus, we hear Shinji's shuddering, escalating breath as he masturbates to his sickly friend, ending on a shot of his white-stained hands and one more prayer of self-hatred.

Though Evangelion's original ending might not have been conclusive, this opening scene seems to emphasize that it was at least kind. It framed Shinji's self-hatred and despair in largely intellectual terms, tempering the lived reality of depression through sympathetic thought experiments. End of Evangelion's opening salvo rips off that veil, wallowing in the immediate, lived ugliness of Shinji's experience, as if Shinji himself is attempting to convince the audience he is unworthy of love. “You say things will get better, that I could maybe be happy one day - but this is me. This is who I am. Can you truly call me a creature deserving of love?”

The ferocity of that opening scene carries through into the film's early drama, along with a fresh willingness to make explicit all of the show's most fiercely guarded secrets. End of Evangelion's dialogue is terse and desperate, its character art angular and shadowed, its animation anxious and frenetic. As the show's remaining players move into their final positions, an attack on the MAGI network is heralded with blaring klaxons and angry red EMERGENCY lights. But NERV's final opponent is no angel, or at least, not an angel in the form they've learned to fight. NERV's final stand pits them against the rest of humanity altogether, as their private dreams of the apocalypse are challenged by the collective might of humankind.

The anger and impatience of End of Evangelion's perspective seems clear in Misato's behavior towards Shinji, as she drags the half-conscience teen towards battle and screams at him to make his own choices. But though End of Evangelion is far less gentle in its messaging than the original ending, its narrative still serves as a thrilling, almost indulgent celebration of all the dramatic payoffs that ending lacked. Dynamic cuts of Misato grimly loading her pistol lead into her firing it for the very first time, as she heroically defends Shinji from an invading army. Ritsuko is called out of isolation to fight off one more electronic invader, and then receives her thoroughly earned confrontation with Gendo himself. And Asuka, entombed in Unit 02 at the bottom of a lake, at least hears a voice answering her own pleas to live, a familiar tone woven into the seams of her great machine. With NERV under heavy assault and the Evangelion Mass Production Units circling overhead, Asuka hears her mother's voice, and is free.

Asuka's battle against the Mass Production Units is the only traditional mecha battle in this film, and also the most technically impressive and dramatically exhilarating spectacle in the entire series. Animated in large part by Mitsuo Iso, an industry legend who also animated large parts of Ghost in the Shell's iconic climax, her fight vividly conveys the terrible weight of these giant monsters, and the unstoppable force of their bodies in motion. Use of urban scenery for scale and a strong emphasis on object weight has given Evangelion's battles a clear sense of physical consequence from the beginning, and Asuka's fight stands as a stunning fulfilment of that focus, as her confidence blooms and expertise rings in a soaring validation of her hard-fought sense of self. And though her battle ends in failure, she falls with arms held high, selfhood maintained even as her body is broken.

With Asuka's Unit 02 stripped to bloody ribbons, Shinji at last emerges from NERV headquarters, and sees what has become of his only friend. And then he commences the end of the world.

End of Evangelion's second half is a delirious mixture of vague Christian symbology, iconic apocalyptic imagery, and a psychedelic retreading of the psychological argument presented in the show's original finale. As Megumi Ogata wears her vocal chords ragged, Shinji is presented with a terrifying procession of inexplicable images. Choosing to hand the arbitration of instrumentality over to the boy who was kind to her, Rei fuses with the titan Lilith and rises like the soul of the world, promising an end to pain and misunderstanding as all are fused into one continuous consciousness. Evangelion's psychological and fantastical pretensions thus reach their natural point of convergence, as Shinji's attempts to find hope and value in his own identity now carry the weight of all humanity's future.

His attempts to come to term with his own value crescendo on one painful moment, as he pleas for attention from an angry, disdainful Asuka. No words are held back anymore; Shinji is directly confronted with his most shameful secrets, and cringes like a punished animal, just as disgusted with himself, yet still desperate for love, connection, anything that proves he truly ought to exist. “As we grow closer, we inevitably promote pain” - the hedgehog's dilemma articulated at the show's start is now a bloody battle of egos, as Evangelion's most richly drawn characters lash out in untranslatable expressions of personal pain. The violence of that quest for connection reaches its apex as Shinji lunges forward, clasping Asuka's throat between his fists. Voices cease and a piano enters, an incongruous ballad unfolding into a regretful goodbye. As identities dissolve and the world is remade, the iconic 'Komm, süsser Tod' lends the end of everything a gentle, familiar cadence, a sense of rightness and purpose. It is a song and moment that stand among the most iconic in anime, and it is a song and moment that has been ringing in my head ever since.

As a young and unhappy teenager, Evangelion's story of apocalyptic isolation spoke to me more clearly, resonantly, and honestly than any work of art ever had before. That moment's grand portrayal of the terrible pain of wanting to reach out others felt like the most succinct possible encapsulation of my human experience. Long episodes of psychological interrogation all led up to that one crowning moment, that desperate stab at violent connection, as if to ask whether we might only truly connect by sharing and inflicting our personal pain, as if to wonder whether only our capacity for violence could prove we were ever here at all.

And yet, that bleak thought was also the moment that taught me we can connect - for I had connected to this work and this moment, that spoke to me so clearly and seemed to understand me so completely, that truly acknowledged my human voice. Komm, süsser Tod's majestic entrance was when I first received an inkling of understanding as to what art would ultimately mean to me; the moment that set me on a path towards critiquing and celebrating art's ability to speak to us on a level more primal and human, less translated and more rawly true, than overt speech could ever accomplish. Shinji's trials are his own, but Evangelion's fascination with our inability to truly understand each other is a universal theme, and Eva itself stands as a message of solidarity for those who most crave human connection - a poignant answer to its own fundamental question.

As a story about emerging from the safety and assurance of childhood into the self-consciousness and fear of adulthood, it is no surprise that Anno's Evangelion would not end in a way that conventionally satisfied its audience. Eva wishes to challenge its audience, to force them to reconsider their complacency, their need for external validation. Because ultimately, Evangelion wishes for those who relate to Shinji to undergo the same process Shinji does - to acknowledge the pain of the world around you, and embrace it all the same. To go forward not fearlessly, but understanding that fear is a part of life, and that we must grow and challenge ourselves to truly live as humans. To accept that we all carry pain and will all cause pain, but that the messy, imperfect process of communication and growth is still undeniably worth it.

End of Evangelion's final scene stands as the fulfillment of that challenge, offering catharsis and ambiguity in equal measure. Asuka and Shinji awake on the shores of an LCL sea, the fate of all other humans left an unanswered question. Did most of humanity choose to remain in collective complacency, or did they once again embrace the pain of AT fields and the terror of imperfect understanding, accepting that selfhood is a burden worth bearing? We cannot know; all we see is Shinji turning to his copilot and grasping her neck once more, a challenge answered by a gentle hand on his cheek. Tears fall on Asuka's face, like a message of pain from one soul to another, and then Asuka's hand falls. “Disgusting” she mutters, and the journey ends.

It is left to the audience to decide what Shinji and Asuka's final actions mean, what feelings led them to that strange exchange of gestures. Our understanding of their motives is imperfect, just as our understanding of all others will always be an imperfect and partial communion. Though we must seek our own answers, I personally find great humanity in these choices. They feel like a poignant reply to Shinji's earlier challenge, as his desperate cry of “I will connect with others, even if I can only cause them pain” is answered with a gentle, caring touch.

You could argue that Asuka's final declaration of “disgusting” means that none of it meant anything, and none of these characters actually changed. But growing as a person does not demand abandoning your original sense of self. Asuka has always been the pilot too proud to overtly admit her feelings, who only reveals what she really means through inference, anger, and subtle conversational games. For Asuka, that soft caress feels like an incredible emotional concession - and the following “disgusting” merely a reaffirmation of her fundamental selfhood, the selfhood she's come to love, and which saved her from the nothingness of instrumentality's end.

But that is only what that sequence means to me. The beauty of End of Evangelion is that it can mean many things to many people, that it answers copious narrative questions while still leaving many open doors. End of Evangelion offers its audience the same choice it offers its heroes, and ultimately, that choice is a reflection of its clear faith in our fundamental human nature. “I believe in you,” says Evangelion, as it opens the door to a frightening, exhilarating adult world. “You should believe in you, too.”

Overall (dub) : A+
Overall (sub) : A+
Story : A+
Animation : A+
Art : A+
Music : A+

+ One of the most beautiful, inventive, and poignant works in anime; an apocalyptic melodrama
Netflix's adaptation is missing critical in-show signage, some script choices lack the punch of the ADV version

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Production Info:
Hideaki Anno
Kazuya Tsurumaki
Screenplay: Hideaki Anno
Hideaki Anno
Unit Director: Kazuya Tsurumaki
Hideaki Anno
M. Hess
Jan Paneka
Shirō Sagisu
Mike Wyzgowski
Character Design: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Art Director: Hiroshi Katō
Animation Director:
Hideaki Anno
Tadashi Hiramatsu
Shunji Suzuki
Mechanical design:
Hideaki Anno
Ikuto Yamashita
Sound Director: Hideyuki Tanaka
Cgi Director: Seichi Tanaka
Director of Photography: Hisao Shirai
Producer: Mitsuhisa Ishikawa
Licensed by: Manga Entertainment

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