For many around my age, Neon Genesis Evangelion was an important series. Not only was it addicting, but it was breathtaking in so many different ways. For me, it sealed my love of the medium. Yet, I wasn’t terribly excited for the Rebuild of Evangelion films. The first movie was good, but instead of enjoying it, I longed for the depth of the series and became too caught up with comparisons.
Evangelion 2.0, however, is a different story.
Departing significantly from the series, Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance not only brings us new characters and situations, it also changes the tone of the series somewhat. Despite Justin Sevakis’ comments to the contrary, I found the movie to be brighter and happier than the original. What struck me was that the characters were no longer almost entirely helpless, victims of circumstance and doomed for their destiny. Perhaps this shift was no surprise, since Hideaki Anno was dealing with depression during the course of creating the classic series. Instead, he sends a message that is most unexpected – he tells us that there is hope.
You Can (Not) Remain the Same
In the original show, the female Eva pilots, Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu (Shikinami in the new films), have depressing back stories – one of cloning and creepy fascination for Rei, and suicide and lack of love for Asuka. We know less of their backgrounds in Eva 2.0, though it appears that there aren’t as many dead Rei clones and perhaps Asuka doesn’t carry the scars of a bloody past.
Still, each is suffering – Rei doesn’t know her place in the world and Asuka feels all alone. But Anno doesn’t torture them (well, maybe Asuka a bit – but even then, all’s not completely bad – I won’t reveal the spoiler here if you haven’t seen the film) as he might have 15 years ago. To escape suffering, you can’t stay where you are. You need to change. And both young ladies do.
Rei’s transformation may be most shocking. While her demeanor remains relatively the same, she starts to openly show affection for her friends, even preparing a meal for them to bring Shinji and Commander Ikari together. She makes an effort to change things between the father and son, and as she does so, she changes herself into a more open, loving person.
Asuka, meanwhile, begins to understand that she can’t do everything by herself. She must learn to rely on others. She, too, changes, taking the unexpected step of piloting the Eva that Rei would have, so that Rei can continue with her dinner plans. Result of this action aside, Asuka has undergone a transformation on the inside. She’s suffering less and less as she makes a point of no longer being the same, selfish person.
Rei is changed by love. Asuka is changed by teamwork. Both are lifted out of hopeless situations, even if just a bit.
You Can (Not) Hide Your Light
One of the terrific scenes in the original series was when Shinji helped Kaji with his gardening (the watermelons are so “cute,” ha!). Kaji gives Shinji more advice in the film than he did in the show during this same scene. Kaji uses Misato as an example when he tells Shinji that he’s not the only person suffering. Misato’s past is as devastating as Shinji’s, but her response was to fight back and not to run away.
Shinji’s suffering is not something that should be contained. In a strange twist, he is encouraged to help others by using his suffering. But maybe that’s not really so strange.
Often we might wonder why we’re faced with so many difficulties. Why are circumstances apparently conspiring against us? One reason might be that we’re going through hard times now so that we’re prepared to help others through hard times later. But even if you don’t believe in fate or the existence of God, we can still certainly use our difficulties in the past to help others now.
I’m certainly experiencing this firsthand right now. Parenting a baby, and then another baby, were major challenges. But now that they’re a bit older, I can help others who are facing that similar challenge. In this past week, I’ve been approached for advice by three different people who are having problems with their infants or toddlers, and I’ve been able to use my experience to hopefully advise them well.
Shinji’s suffering doesn’t necessarily provide experience. But it does help him understand what others are going through. And that provides motivation to make things better by the might of his hands.
You Can (Not) Avoid Pain
Evangelion is full of pseudo-religious mumble jumble. But strangely enough, a conversation between Commander Ikari and Fuyutsuki reflected a very Christian idea. While they are flying over the moon, they begin to discuss sin.
The two talk about how the goal is to once again create an untainted, perfect world. The world became imperfect because of Original Sin and because of the human will. In other words, the suffering and pain of the world is because of humanity’s sinful actions.
And yet, Fuyutsuki claims he’d rather live in a world full of sinners than in a perfect world. Maybe that’s because bringing “perfection” back will end the world as they all know it.
None of us want to suffer. As Shinji can attest, it’s no fun. And yet, we can’t avoid pain. It’s part of the nature of this world. We are imperfect people that are prone to hurting each other again and again. But notice that the Shinji of old, who constantly ran away from pain, became more miserable by trying to avoid it. The hope is not in avoiding pain, but working through it and finding the joy on the other side. Suffering lets us value the highs more and specifically for Christians, it helps them better understand the hope they have in Christ and in eternity.
Suffering isn’t something that should be minimized. The pain one goes through is real to them, even if it seems trivial to others. But Evangelion shows us something – there is hope for those that don’t hide away.