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Neon Genesis Evangelion – Episode 19

We begin shortly after the last episode’s grotesque conclusion, with Shinji still in the pilot seat. Not because he’s been forced to, not because he can’t escape, but instead because he refuses to leave. Having witnessed what his father is capable of, having been made complicit in this violence upon his friend Toji, Shinji has at last reached his moral limit. A grim irony there; if Shinji had a more compassionate father, one who actually wanted to see his son succeed, this would likely be a moment of pride. His anxious son, who has so often simply gone with the flow and accepted the directions of others, is at last making a stand for something he believes in. But Gendo does not want his son to be a young man of firm convictions and unerring moral character; he wants Shinji to be a tool, and Shinji is now proving himself a defective one

All it took was the utter collapse of Shinji’s faith in his superiors for him to realize how much power he truly has. Speaking in a monotone more alarming than any impassioned outburst could be, he grimly notes that Unit 01 still has 185 seconds of power, and that he could destroy half of their precious geofront in that time. All children eventually develop an understanding of the limitations of their guardians, experience something that proves to them their parents are just as fallible, just as fragile as they feel themselves to be. That awakening can feel as hopeless and jarring as the descent from Eden, but it is at least normally under circumstances less trying and morbid than Shinji’s. Having learned his guardians will happily make him a murderer if necessary, he has chosen to reject this world, and retreat to the 185 seconds of safety offered by this mechanical womb.

The bridge crew attempt to reason with Shinji, telling him frankly that if Commander Ikari had not intervened, all of them could have potentially been killed. So is it Shinji’s responsibility to serve as executioner then, killing whoever Gendo has chosen to assign as an enemy, killing to make up for the mistakes of these callous adults? Shinji demands Gendo respond to him, that Gendo engage with him like a fellow adult – after all, in the wake of this, there’s no sense in defaulting to the wisdom of so-called “mature minds.” But Gendo refuses to relinquish his high ground, or to engage Shinji as a fellow independent. Whether due to callousness or cowardice, Gendo will not acknowledge Shinji’s agency or maturity – and so he tells the crew to increase the LCL density and knock Shinji out, saying “we have no time to waste on a childish tantrum.”

But by what authority can Gendo claim Shinji is being like a child? It certainly doesn’t seem childish to find it horrible what Gendo forced him to do. The following shots of blood-drenched devastation emphasize the scale of Unit 01’s massacre, compositions of such profound violence that they seem only airable because that bloodletting was inflicted on a machine, yet simultaneously calling into question just how machine-like these golems truly are. They bleed and scream and carry out their vicious intent, attacking the angels with a ferocity that feels like it could only emerge from genuine, deeply felt malice. Even if Toji survived and Shinji only destroyed Unit 03, does that make him any less of a murderer?

Staring at the ruined, clearly organic mess that is the remains of Unit 03, Misato reflects that this might really be the end for Shinji as a pilot – a sentiment shared by Asuka, who stands sentinel outside his hospital room, unwilling as ever to share her true feelings. And then Rei reveals something odd about herself: her curiosity about dreaming, implying she might not dream at all. Yet she is curious about dreaming, intrigued by these small symbols of humanity – an interest that seems to have surely extended from Shinji’s own compassion, his introduction of gentle human concerns into her life. Though Gendo claims Shinji is a child who knows nothing, Shinji’s understanding of human nature seems to have clearly eclipsed Gendo’s own, allowing him to make a genuine bond with the ever-distant and ambiguously human Rei.

Waking next to Shinji and then drifting off again, Toji is given a rare opportunity to appreciate this bond. Turning to the side, he witnesses Shinji and Rei sitting on a train that seems enveloped in LCL, speaking on the horrors they just experienced. Shinji retreated to this train when he first fled the Eva unit, and it was also the vehicle for his psychological interrogation three episodes back; whether as a real place or a subconscious invention, this cabin has become the vehicle for self-interrogation, and perhaps now even human connection. A liminal space, a room defined by inconstancy – though we might question our motives and attempt to define our stable selves here, the train is always moving somewhere different from where it was before. Was it their mutual submersion in LCL that allowed this earnest communication, or are they simply imagining their own thoughts in the most comforting forms, Shinji now conversing with the one person who hasn’t either betrayed or been betrayed by him?

“He betrayed me. I was finally able to have a comfortable conversation with my father, but he won’t try to understand my feelings at all!” And yet, even in his description of this betrayal, Shinji reveals just how much he still hoped for his father’s understanding and approval. That conversation at his mother’s grave, a bare handful of words without a hint of warmth among them, was enough to sustain in Shinji a hope for greater mutual communication. In scenes like this, it becomes clear that Evangelion is not simply an exploration of a young and troubled mind – it is not Shinji who is the aberrant one here, but Gendo, who returned his son’s courageous attempts at personal connection with an indifferent “we have no time to waste on this.”

“Did you try to understand your father’s feelings?” “I tried.” “And that’s how you run away from unpleasantness.” “What’s wrong with running away from unpleasantness?” The truth is, Gendo is at least as broken of a person as Shinji, with likely less hope of eventually moving beyond it. In fact, he’s constructed an entire world-spanning organization in the hope of not having to move beyond it, of retreating to and living forever within his happy memories, his own LCL womb. Gendo’s hapless pursuit of love is little different than Shinji’s desperation for a mother’s touch, but Shinji is at least trying to communicate with others, at least making an effort, even if his own anxious mind won’t let him appreciate it.

We don’t all have Gendo for a father, but many of us, certainly myself at least, can deeply relate to this sensation of not being understood, of having what is most fundamental to ourselves be treated as aberrant or irrelevant by another. Of voicing our soul’s cry and being told some variation of “we have no time to waste on a childish tantrum.” As we grow in maturity, such words do not become any less hurtful, but we gain the agency to either respond or remove ourselves from the company of the speaker. But if that speaker is a parent, the ache will always remain, the longing to be valued and understood by the people who offered our first experience of home. We learn to be hermit shells, carrying the homes that are our hopes and fears on our back wherever we go, but still longing to rest within the arms of mutual understanding. We are very lucky if we find a way for that longing to be sated.

Perspective shots return us to Toji’s bedside for an intimate moment, as Hikari arrives to check in on him. In spite of everything, this splash of normalcy remains – Hikari is still here, still interested in Suzuhara, still embarrassed to have that interest be recognized. Her presence feels like a quiet, enduring hope of the production as a whole – that despite all of the terrors of the world and the difficulties of human connection, we will still attempt to make comfortable homes together, still reach out and warm our cheeks with the flush of self-conscious infatuation. There are still good things in this world, still good people, if we can only hold onto them.

This mundane joy is harshly contrasted against the lasting reality of this situation by their next exchange. Toji’s regretful “sorry I didn’t get to eat the lunch you made,” an acknowledgment of the youthful bond they share, leading into a wide shot emphasizing how Toji had his leg amputated. The drama of school lunches remains, Toji’s time on the basketball court has ended; war steals irreplaceable things, and we must cling to what remains all the harder for it. And thus Toji gives Hikari one simple, heartbreaking request: “could you please tell my sister there’s nothing wrong with me?” Let us cling to the fleeting normalcy of childhood, at least for a little while.

A dynamic composition greets us as we cut to Shinji in Pilot Jail, with the shadow of chain links crossing his face, his own face echoed in the shadows of his room, and the looming specter of this official standing in the doorway. In this era of assumed CG backgrounds, we have not just lost the beauty of traditionally painted background art. We have also lost the general art of layouts, of compositions designed to create a specific emotional effect through the interplay of the various elements on-screen. Gorgeous compositions like this, where Shinji’s regrets visually hang over the sparse features of his cell room, are increasingly rare in animation, and the medium is far weaker for it. Animation is fundamentally a visual medium, and though modern shows are still frequently blessed with beautiful cuts of bravura animation, it is rarer to find them elevated through thoughtful, cohesive layouts and background design.

Set before Gendo, Shinji is at last treated like an “adult,” but only in such a way as to further the distance between himself and his son. Rather than directly engaging with Shinji’s choices as his father, he drones on about the insubordinate nature of his actions, as if this is simply some anonymous criminal set before his court. The situation would be comical if it weren’t so sad; Shinji standing there bound in three sets of handcuffs as if he’s some sort of maniacal killer, being judged by the man who forced him to butcher his friend. Shinji states he is done piloting the Eva unit, and this time there is no passion in his voice. He has learned everything there is to know about himself and his father here, and come to understand Gendo will always disappoint him. “You’re running away again?” Gendo asks to his retreating back – a parting shot that may well sting Shinji, but rings hollow to us in the audience, who can understand it is Gendo who is truly being a coward here.

The air is dry, and the sun beats down mercilessly from above. Shinji lies within his bed, staring up at this ceiling which had actually become familiar to him, had come to represent something he could maybe call home. Bickering with Asuka, sighing at Misato’s lifestyle, sharing meals with Toji and Kensuke and Uncle Kaji – mundane and incidental moments, the building blocks of peaceful cohabitation, perhaps the soil in which contentment or even happiness might one day grow. Through Misato’s absence and Gendo’s callousness, this home is now swiftly becoming a stranger again, all the efforts he put into connecting with others now a retreating figment of the past. If we cannot hold on to these connections, what are all those days and months we spent reaching out ultimately worth?

One by one, the last vestiges of Shinji’s assumed home collapse into ruin. The next blow comes from Kensuke, calling to ask why Shinji is fleeing from his duties. Kensuke is still a true child, still sees the idea of being an Eva pilot as something laudable and exciting. For him, the pressures of adulthood are an exciting mountain he is eager to climb – something he feels unfairly restricted from reaching, a grand adventure of independence that his friends are already exploring. It was once Kensuke who revived Shinji’s sense of normalcy, of being a child and understood as a child by others, back when Shinji first ran away. Now, Kensuke has nothing for Shinji but accusations of being left behind – and even that is soon denied to Shinji, as NERV’s monitors cut the call short. This will be the last time Shinji and Kensuke ever speak.

At the train station, even Misato finds it difficult to comfort her young ward. She says simply, “if you keep cutting your ties like this, you’ll have a difficult life ahead of you.” Misato cares enough about Shinji to actually feel hurt by his departure – just like him, she was attempting to make a home of her disheveled apartment, to find something resembling a family among the young pilots and uncertain overseers of this strange city. Shinji’s failure is in large part her own; with Shinji now leaving the first time she failed to protect him as operational overseer, it is clear she didn’t reach him as effectively as she’d hoped, clear she hasn’t made him as strong as she wanted to.

Shinji is not interested in validating Misato’s regrets. He asks only why Toji was chosen as the fourth child, to which she tells him something she’s not authorized to know herself, much less impart to a fleeing security risk. As it turns out, all of the children of Shinji’s class were potential pilots; all of them playing house on the eve of apocalypse, all of them potential fuel for NERV’s terrible machine. Having said this, Misato then reveals an even more precious secret: that she knew she was projecting her hopes and fears onto him, and that it was unfair to burden him with such feelings.

In her defense, she can only say that she and NERV had no choice but to do so. Shinji responds that this is selfish, and Misato readily agrees. In spite of it all, the two know each other quite well at this point; accepting her portion of the blame, Misato states she’ll leave his password and room as-is. Even if he chooses not to return, he indeed has a home here. And though Shinji declares confidently that “I won’t pilot an Eva again,” Misato cannot help but feel pride even in that – for here is young Shinji speaking with confidence for the first time, taking his future into his own hands. Their parting lends weight to the episode’s title of “Introjection,” the process of unconsciously adapting the attitudes of others: just as Misato has begun to echo Shinji’s fatalistic distrust, so has Shinji come to assert himself by learning from Misato’s example. To Gendo, who only saw Shinji as a tool, his defiance is a symptom of cowardice. To Misato, the only true parent he’s ever had, the idea of Shinji taking control of his destiny is a comforting one – even if that destiny leads him away from her. One of the most difficult yet essential roles of a parent: learning how to say goodbye.

So it would go, if not for the next angel attack.

“Armor layers one through eighteen have been breached!” There is nothing fantastical or unique about this particular angel. Floating over the mountain ranges that are Tokyo-03’s first line of protection, it obliterates NERV’s defenders without apparent effort, a glimmering of the eye provoking a grand explosion of the cross. This angel is not curious or exotic or distinct – it is simply power and destruction, a pure force of obliteration, determined to reach NERV’s core no matter the cost. As Shinji fails as an Eva pilot, so does NERV fail as an organization; the buffering constancy of episodic angels across Eva’s first act has passed, and this world now feels more fragile, more vulnerable than ever. Can our pilots even fight the angels anymore?

Rei attempts to sortie in Unit 01, but the unit refuses to operate. In fact, Gendo specifically states that “it’s rejecting me,” positioning himself as the opponent of Unit 01. The veil is dropping by the second now; what were once deep and forbidden mysteries are now gestured towards in incidental conversations, as the distance between NERV’s external affectation and true purpose shortens – a process mirroring the vanishing distance between Shinji’s external and internal self. Grimacing with a bitterness that reflects her growing humanity, Rei idly offers another revelation: “Even if I die, I can be replaced.”

Asuka faces down the angel with an absurd barrage of artillery weapons, ever the proud defender of NERV, still determined to prove her worth. And yet for all her determination, it accomplishes nothing. The angels have moved beyond the Evas’ capacity for controlled destruction, evolved into the realm where only bestial rage or blind luck might halt their advance. Though Asuka screams and pleads to not lose again, to not be proven useless on the field her ego was forged, the alien angel offers no answer. Unfolding its angular limbs, it severs first Unit 02’s arms, and then its head. Conviction doesn’t matter in the face of such creatures; there was never any glory or certainty of purpose hidden in these fights, only the necessity of violence to prevent further violence. Asuka fights to her last breath, but is still effortlessly defeated.

And yet, though neither her fierce pride nor relentless training can protect her, Asuka nonetheless makes a crucial difference in this battle. As Shinji crouches in a fetal position within one of Tokyo-03’s fallout shelters, it is Asuka’s voice that returns to his mind, calling him stupid for paying keen attention to the city’s evacuation procedures. After all, what do evacuation procedures mean to an Eva pilot? It’s an insult, but also a promise: an affirmation of Shinji’s place and purpose, an acknowledgment that he can stand proudly beside her. Though Shinji previously had nothing, even the temperamental Asuka was willing to acknowledge his place in Unit 01, and in Misato’s unruly apartment. Then a thunderous explosion, and the head of Unit 02 rolls to a stop just before him. The peer who acknowledged him has been beheaded, left to die alone because Shinji was too scared to fight.

Guilt weighs heavily on his shoulders as he emerges from the bunker, the citizens around him panicking in their rush to reach some shelter less compromised. Our helpless drive for survival laid bare; after all, if Unit 02’s head being casually flung in their direction shatters the shelter walls, what defense could they possibly provide against an angel attack? Only one man seems to understand the gravity of the situation: the seemingly unperturbed Kaji, who stands tending to his watermelons just adjacent to the ruined bunker. If this angel isn’t stopped, the world is already over – so why not spend your last moments doing something you love, something that gives your life meaning?

Kaji has also been stripped of his combat duties, though not willingly. With his secondary activities having come to light, he’s been relieved of all command – and given NERV’s general approach to maintaining secrecy, it’s doubtful he’d even be walking free if not for the ongoing angel attack. He lived according to his values and thus has no regrets, but if he is to die, he’d prefer it to be here, at this watermelon patch that provided such comfort and clarity. We are often unable to choose the ways we spend our days; strung between financial necessity and personal obligation, it is all too easy to end up sleepwalking along an assigned path, never challenging our conditions so long as they don’t challenge us either. In a lifetime defined by goals that will now never be reached, Kaji can still hold two things sacred: that he loved Misato Katsuragi, and that he found joy in tending to these watermelons. And though he cannot join Misato for the apocalypse, he can at least keep the watermelons healthy through the end.

Having casually acknowledged that an angel’s victory would mean the end of humanity, Kaji and Shinji look up to see Unit 00 emerging, and Rei charging forward with an N2 bomb clutched to her chest. Rei, who previously lived only as Gendo commanded, has broken protocol and put her own life in jeopardy. Rei, whose early reasons to fight seemed so sad and insubstantial, now charges forward with a fierce conviction in her eyes, a determination that speaks to how much she values this world. The girl who once seemed as mercurial as the moon now bares her soul in combat, desperate to defend the small scrap of community she has found.

It fails, of course. The N2 bomb pierces the angel’s AT field, but its underlying physical defenses hold strong. Unit 00 collapses on the torn earth of the Geofront as Kaji continues his reflections, acknowledging his own inability to do anything about this situation. Shinji has long been forced to pilot the Eva unit, long seen it as a sort of punishment for some unspoken crime, but does he necessarily have to feel that way? Could he climb into the cockpit of his own volition, and thereby transform his relationship with his father’s creation? “Think for yourself, and make your decision for yourself,” Kaji urges him, the advice that has led Kaji himself to facing the apocalypse with a wry smile and no regrets. Life is defined by hardship, but could we find meaning in the hardships we choose for ourselves? Could something so simple really make all the difference?

Shinji takes off.

Arriving at Unit 01’s dock, Shinji calls out to his father in an echo of Evangelion’s very first episode. Shinji standing before the goliath, Gendo unreachable in the chambers above, narrowing his eyes and questioning his motives. But now, everything has changed. Where Gendo once demanded fealty from his son, Shinji now declares his own intention to pilot the Eva. Where Shinji once shied away from his father’s gaze, Gendo now finds himself staring at a clear-eyed pilot of conviction. Was it Misato’s tenderness? Asuka’s affirmation? Kaji’s advice? Growing up is not quite so simple – we strive and stumble and rise again, wandering in unproductive circles, seeking eventual confidence and contentment in our knowledge of ourselves. One day, if we are lucky, the ephemeral influences that have sculpted us lead us to a happier place, to ground where we can stand unashamed of the path behind and unafraid of the path ahead.

Shinji’s uncertain hand clasps at last, a tight fist of certainty and resolve. “Why are you here?” Gendo asks him. The answer is simple: “I am the pilot of Evangelion Unit 01!”

Still bearing the scars of Unit 03’s violent activation, Misato stands damaged but unbowed as the angel breaches NERV’s control center, piercing the last shroud of normalcy defining Evangelion’s drama so far. The beast prepares to strike, and then is silenced, Shinji and Unit 01 crashing through the wall to defend his surrogate mother. Misato once stood as the wobbling bridge between these two worlds, serving as Shinji’s commander while also attempting to shield him as a member of her family. Now, that divide is gone; as Shinji calls her name, Misato responds without question, the two wordlessly divining a plan to drag the angel back to the surface. How grand it feels, to be aligned in trust, in purpose, in soul!

Then the power cuts.

Unit 01 shuts down, and the angel begins its grim work. First the outer casing, sliced free to reveal the Eva’s organic body. Then that too obliterated in fire, revealing the core at the Eva’s center, an orb too similar to the angels’ own engines for comfort. But no time for revelation, as the creature continues to batter Shinji’s vessel, our young boy screaming at the Eva to move. Now instilled with a fierce desire to protect his friends, he no longer possesses the means to do so; all the conviction in the world cannot rouse his chariot into action. He is saved only by one last echo of Evangelion’s first episode – Unit 01’s reawakening as a berserker, an event Ritsuko greets with the hushed “does that mean she’s awakened?”

Unit 01’s second awakening is a rightfully legendary sequence, a pure articulation of animation’s ability to convey scale, animalistic rage, and malevolent terror. Limbs are ripped from the angel and patched roughly onto the Eva, flesh bubbling with perverse conviction before recognizable arms emerge (a flourish of the incomparable Takeshi Honda, who’d prove equally essential to Eva’s Rebuilds). AT fields are slashed with ruthless efficiency, the angel crumbling so quickly its blood actually splatters against the translucent interior of its crumbling defenses. And accompanied by hungry, ululating cries, Unit 01 scampers forward, its posture somewhere between a spider and an ape, Mitsuo Iso providing one of the most horrifically evocative sequences of a career defined by such towering heights as the Mass Production Unit battle and Dennou Coil.

In Iso’s hands, animation’s unique power to invoke terror and awe seems beyond question. Lurching with the gait of a furtive, malevolent beast, Unit 01 assesses its quarry like a lion flush from the hunt, nudging its broken frame with animal curiosity, eyes sweeping the forest as if to dissuade rivals from approaching its kill. And then its great jaws descend, tearing guts and tendons from its ruin of a foe, green eyes and bright white incisors emphasizing the truth of its own organic nature. Roaring with feral abandon, the “armor” that was the Eva’s restraints buckles and collapses to its side. The box has been opened. The beast has awakened. Nothing will ever be the same.

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