As a series grows, so too does the ferocity of its fan-base. When Neon Genesis Evangelion (EVA)—one of the most popular anime on the planet—reached its conclusion, it was expected to come with a bang. Instead, for the fan-base of the time, it was a whimper: an experimental hour of intimate conversation, changing animation styles, unanswered questions and ambiguous messages. The backlash it faced saw the studio, the creators and their families receive vitriolic letters and even death threats until their demands were met. Enter: The End of Evangelion, a companion film acting simultaneously as an alternative ending and companion piece to the original series. The End of Evangelion ties up loose ends unexplained in the divisive series finale, as well as posing new questions.
The film, in conjunction with the final two episodes of the series, follows the meek and misunderstood Shinji Ikari as he is forced to battle the Angels—dangerous supernatural entities—in his enormous mech (pilotable robot) EVA-01. During its 26 episode run, however, the series gradually moved away from grand battles in favour of intricate character portraits. We watch as Shinji unravels under the immense strain of this undertaking, as well as his own inner turmoil in finding his reason for living in the world.
If Neon Genesis Evangelion is the Twin Peaks of anime, then The End of Evangelion is its Fire Walk With Me. Both are highly anticipated films to a beloved series their fans hoped would answer the questions they were left with. Instead, through their auteuristic approaches, both films were met with a divisive response, with some praising their ambition and others still wondering what it all meant. Fortunately, both are looked back on favourably these days and considered essential to their respective stories.
The beautiful thing about The End of Evangelion is the complete control its creators have. Much like Lynch and Twin Peaks: The Return, director Hideaki Anno is not only making this for the fans, but as a way of fulfilling an artistic vision without studio constraints. The animation is smooth and isn’t afraid to experiment in its approach to completing the story. Terrifying scenes set to quirky J-Pop tracks, major characters killed off in unexpected twists and a final scene that leaves the very fate of the world in an ambiguous state are all examples.
More so than anything, the film serves as its creator’s scathing critique of fandom in revolt. Intercut in various sequences are the threatening letters and death threats sent to the studio, the creators and even their families as the Evangelion fans made their opinions known.
As someone who adores Twin Peaks, I’m no stranger to an ambiguous ending. When I finished the original series and its 2017 revival, I felt an immense sense of catharsis. Not because everything was sewn up neatly—far from it. But because David Lynch had taken an approach that would let me interpret what I had just spent hours enthralled with. The same can be said for my relationship with The End of Evangelion. I binged EVA during lockdown and found myself drained in the best possible way. I had grown to love the characters, their stories, and was looking forward to seeing what would become of them by the end. Even though I enjoyed the series’ ending, I still shared those same questions the fans had: wondering what became of certain characters and particular plot aspects that had been left incomplete.
The End of Evangelion and the original series are available to stream now on Netflix.
Words by Jack Roberts
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