It’s kind of weird when I put it like that, and even weirder when I try to explain it, but I do mean it literally: anime saved my life, and it did so more than once. The first time it happened, I was a “child prodigy” forced to sit through endless math exercises during endless afternoons, and the only moment of respite I had was the half-hour I somehow managed to get to watch Cardcaptor Sakura (which I was lucky to get the non-butchered version of) on my teacher’s TV. There are many, many things I could say about that series and CLAMP in general. Today, however, I want to focus on the other instance of anime saving my life.
A Cruel Angel’s Thesis
I was fourteen years old when I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion for the first time. I was also in a bad place in all the ways that mattered (I mean, I was a teenager, so how could it have been different?). I remember coming home from jail—I mean, school, and watching whatever I found on TV that was interesting. One day, that “whatever” happened to be the last 3 episodes of Evangelion. I witnessed a realistic depiction of a depressed teenage character losing the love of his life and his very own ego/self as the rest of humanity dissolved into a sea of orange soda. Classical music played while a confusing but cathartic epiphany washed over me.
In that moment, I knew I needed to watch the whole thing.
Before and After The End
Here’s the thing, though: while I appreciated the series on several levels (its references to different fields of psychology and how it didn’t shy away from breaking certain character stereotypes, for example), I always felt that the finale is what gives meaning to everything that comes before. Even if it starts out as “the coolest Monster Of The Week show ever”, Evangelion is one of those series where you can’t isolate one episode from another. It’s also not a series you can enjoy despite the ending (unless you’re only looking at the giant robots). Everything builds up to the finale in a way I haven’t seen done in many other shows.
And what does the finale convey? In my opinion, the following points:
- There’s no room for growing as a person without your ego
- Your ego will hurt other people and their egos will hurt you in return
- Growing as a person is necessary for healing your emotional wounds
Basically, if you want to minimize the pain that comes as a combo with being alive, you need to interact with others and grow on an emotional level. You need to do the thing that scares you the most: becoming vulnerable to getting hurt by others. After all, if you don’t understand how people function, how are you going to mantain a healthy distance from them while simultaneously avoiding loneliness?
In any case, after almost 25 years (!) of its original run, Evangelion still has a lot to say about human relationships. I’d say it has a lot to say about so-called “otaku culture” too, but that’s a story for another post. The point still stands, however, that sometimes you don’t have to offer all the answers to be comforting. Sometimes, the simple act of empathizing with your audience in an “I’ve been there” manner makes all the difference.