So today is (or, yesterday was) the day when the first episode of Evangelion takes place. You know, fictionally. Ish. What follows is 26 episodes of, at the time, unprecedented mind-bending. Rather than the robot punching anime people at the time might have expected, it was a deep dive into human psychology and one depressed young boy’s coming of age. Heather Anne Campbell wrote a great piece on it, and this blog entry is me knowingly and without shame following her example with my own Evangelion memories post.
While yes this is the 20 year anniversary of a fictional date, it’s also the 17th anniversary (within a week) of me walking into the comic book store with my grandparents’ graduation money, grabbing an entire row of 7 anime VHS tapes, and walking them to the counter. I bought dub, so my splurge was a hundred dollars cheaper than Heather’s, but it was a big deal nonetheless. Three or four weeks earlier, I had a spare 20 spot and was wandering through Suncoast when Evangelion caught my eye. I’d heard about it and knew it was “important” so I thought, why not check it out? Two days and 3 more impulse trips to the mall I realized I’d have to stop at tape 4 as I couldn’t responsibly keep spending money on this series. But I wanted to. So bad.
(for those doing the math, Tape 13 had not yet been released as they were waiting for anime expo. Fortunately my friend had a less scrupulous friend who worked at the UCI (shoutout) library where they’d received it early. So I’d completed the series in a short matter of days later)
Eva was nothing short of a revelation for me. I was an avid movie watcher, game player, comic reader, and so on. I was well versed in all the heroic archetypes and aspired to most. But this… this was an anime about me. A screwed up little kid who had no place in the world. Not that I was all that screwed up – but I think there’s a degree of Shinji in all of us. That’s why so many people hate him. Shinji would certainly balk at watching 26 episodes of Shinji.
I was starting to come out of my shell a bit in my Senior year of high school. Still horribly shy, self-doubting, inexperienced and a little pathetic. But more outgoing and friendly than I’d ever been. I was finding more media to consider “my own”. 1984, Nausicaa, and others. I’d even gotten a job at Target where I felt completely lost and underwater. They often told me to smile more, and I was paranoid that I wasn’t doing enough work, or doing the wrong work, and the security guys were watching me and taking notes about my ineptitude.
Then came Evangelion. It’s not that the show has any aspirational messages. Shinji doesn’t really grow all that much, and things don’t really “get better” for him. While Misato slowly coaxes out his ability to feel happiness, the bad parts of life keep mutating and getting insurmountable to the point they completely overshadow any good that might have ever existed. It’s a neverending circus of pain and suffering, perceived betrayal, and monsterous revelations. But what Shinji learns–what we all learn–is that he’s not the first or the last person to feel this way, to experience life. He accepts those are just the rules. In fact, when offered the chance to become the literal first and last, he rejects it. We need others, with all the baggage that entails.
What resonated with me was the heart behind Eva–Hideaki Anno. That man has been through some things. He’s struggled. He’s felt pain. It’s all there on the imperfect canvas for us all to see. He poured out his soul on broadcast television and what did he get for it? Death threats. Did he hide? Did he run away? No, he spent several hours of cinema flipping fanboys the bird. He WAS them. How dare they reject him. If someone else could feel the things I felt at 18. If an adult on the other side of the planet could put that into words (pictures, emotions)… I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t crazy. I was a human being. I was flawed just like everyone else.
The characters in Eva are screwed up. Every one of them. Even the likeable ones (they’re all the likeable ones). Shinji is pathetic and heroic. Asuka is bold and insecure. Misato and Kaji are disgusting but beautiful. The characters in Eva–especially the adults, the “role models”–are disturbingly flawed. Flawed to the core. And they’re AMAZING and I LOVED them. Kaji is like the smoothest guy on the planet, and Gendou is a fountain of cool disguised as history’s worst dad.
Really, Eva was like a window to the world. A world I’d peeked at through books, film, and television. One I thought I could watch but not wade into. A world I’d been inside the whole time without realizing it. It’s a big warm hug from a celestial giant spewing blood through a punctured artery that says “Welcome. Congratulations” It confirmed my growing suspicion that the people around me had no idea what they were doing–especially the adults. Successful people were only pretending to know what they were doing. The only cure for imposter syndrome is to fake it until you make it. So I followed their lead.
Before Evangelion, I felt depressed and beaten down by the teasing of my peers. Defined by them. 3 months of missed school to pneumonia the previous year had me feeling like an outsider. I had hopes and dreams that felt impossibly far away. The only high school milestone I participated in was Prom, and that felt like an obligation to my future self.
Evangelion is just a television show–it didn’t alter my DNA or make my problems disappear. But after watching it, and waking up a bit, I appreciated my friendships more. I went to grad night. I talked to people I’d been afraid to talk to before. If I was interested in a girl I talked to her instead of awkwardly hiding in video games. I started my own game development company. I interviewed for jobs I wanted. I worked on a stream of dream projects and traveled to Japan, Germany, and other countries not prominently featured in Evangelion. I cast Spike Spencer–the English voice of Shinji–in video games. I have a Gendou beard.
It was only the second moment in my Triforce of Creative Inspiration (Nausicaa, MGS), but it was an intensely big deal to feel that much less alone in the world.
So if you’ve seen Eva and didn’t care for it, and wonder why older fans talk about it like it’s a huge deal, it’s because to us it IS a huge deal. To ape Heather Campbell’s blog one last time, after 17 years Evangelion has become my story–our story.
To all the children, Congratulations!