Greetings my children, angels, and motherless lovelies. With the re-release of the historic Neon Genesis Evangelion on Netflix on June 21st, 2019 – and my desire to make this blogging thing…a thing – I am going to be doing a thematic reading, review, and analysis of the famous — infamous — Neon Genesis Evangelion. Today, the Oceanic Feeling and Mommy issues (oh my).
This reading will contain spoilers for the entire series because I’m making a thematic argument for its contents. Unless you are one of those people who spoils themselves beforehand to enjoy content better, I recommend not reading this analysis.
Further, I am not a hardcore fan of this series, and this reading will by no means be a definitive statement on the story…sort of. Hideaki Anno created the series with enough ellipses and enigmas to rival James Joyce. That said, upon re-watch, I have found one simple thematic thru-line that makes the series broadly comprehensible; and we will be discussing the series through that lens.
If you like this review, rewatch, and analysis, feel free to read my other Anime/TV/Manga reviews, analyses and what have you here.
One final note: this whole – blogging regularly thing – is still very new to me, and this structure is subject to change. Like, a lot. Don’t get married to it, is all I’m saying.
Cruel Angel’s Shitpost 1.1: Twin Peaks
Episode 1: Summary
In the year 2015, Tokyo-3 is under attack. Shinji Ikari, a lonely 14 year old boy, has come to Tokyo at the request of his estranged father Gendo. Gendo has not specified the reason for the request, and Shinji is conflicted. He waits for his contact – Misato Katsuragi – at the train station, but due to the state of emergency is unable to reach her. He decides to head to a shelter. A moment later, he sees the image of a young girl in a student’s outfit who disappears before the military engagement begins. Misato arrives just as Sachiel advances towards Tokyo. She and Shinji navigate between the military’s attacks and Sachiel’s enormous feet.
His arrival in Tokyo coincides with the arrival of an “Angel”, an enormous Kaiju immune to regular military ordnance. The military tries everything against the Angel – Sachiel – to dispatch it, while Gendo confirms the return of the Angels after 15 years. Gendo claims that only his experimental unit “EVA” will be able to take care of the Angel due to it having an AT Field, which makes it immune to normal weapons. After N2 Mines (nuclear weapons) fail to kill Sachiel, they defer to Gendo and give him leave to use his experimental unit EVA, to take care of the job.
Misato and Shinji drive through the battleground as this occurs, watching first hand as Sachiel lumbers towards Tokyo, easily batting away missiles, tanks, and weaponry. They are within firing distance of the N2 Mine, and Misato protects Shinji as their car is blown back. After Misato steals some batteries and flirts with Shinji a tiny bit, they arrive at NERV headquarters, where Shinji is given Top-Secret information about the agency and Shinji realizes his father works there, though he doesn’t know why.
Misato, a bit of a ditz, manages to get both her and Shinji lost in the complex, to which Gendo’s second in command, Ritsuko Akagi locates Misato and Shinji, and takes them to the EVA Unit 01. While traveling, Shinji learns that, during Angel Attacks, Tokyo is situated underground in a “Geofront”.
When Shinji sees the Eva Unit 01, he is shocked to learn that it is a giant robot, and asks why he was brought here. Gendo arrives to tell him he will be piloting Unit 01, and fighting Sachiel. Overwhelmed and angry at being abandoned, Gendo and Shinji get into a shouting match, with Shinji refusing to pilot the Eva Unit 01. Ritsuko pushes him to pilot it, as he is the only one who may do so; and Misato pleads with him to get in the Robot. He is adamant in his refusal, though, much to the frustration and annoyance of everyone involved.
When he refuses, Gendo orders Rei Ayanami – heavily wounded and unable to stand – to pilot the Unit, much to Shinji’s shock and dismay. Shinji, seeing the cost, agrees to pilot the Eva and gets in the damn robot.
Upon entering the robot through the umbilical plug, the chamber fills up with a yellow ooze “LCL” which he is able to breathe in. Upon being filled with LCL, the console opens to him and, much to the surprise of the people at NERV, he is perfectly synced up with Unit 01. It is at this point that Eva is deployed, and the episode closes before the confrontation with Sachiel.
Angel of the Week 1.0: Sachiel
As has been pretty well established in interviews, none of the creative team used Christian Imagery to intentionally evoke Christian Themes or Concepts.
There are a lot of giant robot shows in Japan, and we did want our story to have a religious theme to help distinguish us. Because Christianity is an uncommon religion in Japan we thought it would be mysterious. None of the staff who worked on Eva are Christians. There is no actual Christian meaning to the show, we just thought the visual symbols of Christianity look cool. If we had known the show would get distributed in the US and Europe we might have rethought that choice.Kazuya Tsurumaki
And Anno’s input on the title’s use of “Evangelion”
It is a Christian word meaning Fukuin or Gospel and it’s supposed to bring blessings. Actually, it’s a Greek word. I used it because it sounds complicatedHideaki Anno, discussing the origin of the title
So there isn’t any intentional Christian symbolism being used in Evangelion.
HOWEVER, they’ve never met me – or their obsessed fandom – and Sachiel is an interesting choice for the first angel.
In Christian Angelology – actually a thing, apparently – and other biblical scholarship, Sachiel (Sa-k-ee-el (not “satchel”)) is also known as Zadkiel, or Tzadkiel. Zadkiel, in biblical literature, is an Archangel of the Cherubim, and is considered the “Angel of Mercy”. He sits at the vanguard of the Angels and Standard Bearers with Jophiel, when Angels head into battle.
But, more compellingly, Zadkiel – according to some sources – is the angel that prevented Abraham from sacrificing Isaac in the old testament. We’ll dig deeper into that in the next episode, but for now, let’s talk about the central conflict of the entire series:
Mommy Issues. Holy Shit. Mommy Issues
Ok, yeah. I know that Eva has a reputation for being dense, complicated, and open to interpretation, but, uhm, No. Not really. It’s all about motherly love. Like. It’s about moms and the lack thereof. And this isn’t just in the literal motherlessness of Shinji, it is in every aspect of the show, including the religious imagery.
Freud would have a motherfucking field day.
The fractal of this series is as such: all creatures are lonely. It is impossible to establish a genuine, unconditional connection with another person in a way that will cure loneliness. The only way to genuinely cure this loneliness, and to become truly connected, is to return to the womb, and regain the “oceanic feeling” of pure oneness, that you had when you were a fetus in your mother’s womb. As a result, every character must find their mother, so they can return to that state.
And I’m not framing it in religious terms because the series doesn’t use its religious imagery to convey the idea of this oneness. Instead, it uses imagery of motherhood, and pregnancy to convey its point.
Oh god, I sound like a fucking Freudian. Eww.
This is the core of the series. This desire to become one with the mother, and attain to the Oceanic feeling, drives a considerable portion of the conflict and is largely the domain of the villains. And while this is more explicit in “The End of Evangelion”, you can trace the roots of it all the way to episode one.
But first, let’s break down the Oceanic feeling, cause it’s like, really important.
The Oceanic Feeling & Freud
The Oceanic Feeling, is a term coined by Romain Rolland in a letter to Freud, regarding The Future of an Illusion. The idea, as expressed by Rolland refers to the religious instinct in mysticism, quote:
But I would have liked to see you doing an analysis of spontaneous religious sentiment or, more exactly, of religious feeling, which is…the simple and direct fact of the feeling of the ‘eternal’ (which can very well not be eternal, but simply without perceptible limits, and like oceanic, as it were)Romain Rolland in a letter to freud
Romain’s conception of the Oceanic Feeling is the feeling of religious oneness. Where our Ego dies, and we become one with the universe.
Freud was not totally on board with this idea, in Rolland’s conception, and in Civilization and Its Discontents, he explores the idea of the Oceanic Feeling as a primitive ego-feeling. To get a bit less technical (and Freudian) he simply means this: while we are in the womb, to the moment we stop breastfeeding, we are perfect, and completely cared for. We receive unconditional love, an endless supply of food, and all our needs are met automatically.
However, this stops the moment we are born. The cold air of an operating room and a sense of definite existence as we become firmly in our bodies tears us from this connection, our umbilical cord is cut, and we are suddenly bereft of total emotional, physical and spiritual care. We become singular. But we are still cared for. Our mother tends to our every need, feeds us, clothes us and takes care of us. When we stop breastfeeding, according to Freud, this feeling ends.
The pursuit of oneness, that oceanic feeling, however, is a pervasive constant for the rest of our lives. And for Freud, the religious impulse is a manifestation of our desire to become fetuses once more and attain to that feeling of pure oneness and unconditional love.
But he also notes, that this ties into our concept of the death instinct and that we should be wary of pursuing the oceanic feeling, as it is a drive towards death.
You may have noticed where I’m going with this.
The entire conflict and aesthetic of Neon Genesis Evangelion – janky-ass religious imagery included – is virtually explicit in this messaging about the pursuit of a return to the womb, oneness, and a state of unconditional love. And while there are many readings one can glean, for me, this idea of Motherhood is central to understanding the core conflict of the text.
As we get further on – especially during the End of Evangelion and the later episodes – this all becomes way more explicit, but I don’t think we’ve truly examined the extent to which motherhood and mothers are so central to the show’s structure, and story even when it was still considered a “conventional” mecha battle shonen.
Even in this first episode, there are, by my count, 5 mothers and mother surrogates.
Mothers 4.0+1.0: You (Don’t) Have 5 Mothers in this Episode
The 5 Mothers in Question:
- Misato Katsuragi
- Ritsuko Akagi
- Rei Ayanami
- EVA Unit 01
- Lilith (Unseen)
Even this early on, that Oedipus complex is strong. Shinji’s first interactions with anybody are with the aggressively sexualized Misato, who, despite being 29, still flirts with Shinji throughout the episode. Part of me finds Misato’s sexualization in this context hilariously over the top. But also, considering her role as Shinji’s caretaker in this episode, it’s super weird. That’s not even counting the fact that Shinji is fucking 14.
But throughout this episode, she takes on the caregiver role throughout. When the N2 mine blows up, she bodily throws herself onto Shinji to protect him from harm. She takes him to NERV of her own recognizance; and when everyone pressures Shinji to get in the robot, she considers his feelings on the matter, including towards his estranged father. She is maternal, and sexualized. Oedipal, in other words.
Then there is her Blonde Haired Rival Ritsuko. Although not acting maternal, she is forecasted as Misato’s rival with this nice, on the nose, visual metaphor.
But she is not only Misato’s rival in the various tropes surrounding Blond Haired/Brown Haired protagonists but in her Type A, clinical and detached personality. But, even more than that, her connection to Gendo; being one of his closest confidantes, and higher-ups in the NERV’s power structure sets her up as another mother figure to Shinji, albeit, one that is not quite as motherly.
Then there is Rei, who is just the Oedipus Complex personified. But we’ll get to that.
And then there is Eva Unit 01, which acts as both a foreshadowing of the larger-scale conflict and also as a surrogate Robot Mother. It is also a fractal of the Loneliness/Unconditional Love dichotomy on which the show operates. Not to be super on the nose, but Shinji is literally inserted into the robot via an “Umbilical Plug”, and then steeped in LCL, which is suggestive of Amniotic Fluid. But instead of a space of pure protection, safety, and care it is of the utmost danger, and harm.
And those are the 4 mothers for Shinji, and this motherhood dynamic will continue to play out over the course of the series. But I said 5, and that’s not a coincidence:
Sachiel Is Looking for His Mom
One of the weirdest things about Episode 1 is Sachiel’s behavior. It’s…not aggressive, in the conventional sense. In the entire confrontation, until they really explode him good with the N2 mines, and bring out his second face, he is acting purely in self-defense. Sachiel is walking towards Tokyo-3 and happens to be attacked by the army because he’s a horrifying monster. But really, he just wants his mommy.
If you look at Sachiel’s face during the confrontation – there is a shot in particular where he blinks gormlessly as missiles blow him to shit. There is a look of innocence on his monster face. He’s just a confused child who is lost in the supermarket with that look that says “Why are you yelling at me, I just want my mom”.
And, again, in case I wasn’t being clear, it’s the same conflict as the main characters. As we learn later of Lilith’s existence, and her being stowed away under the Geofront, the behavior of the Angels becomes less an act of attack/plot contrivance, and more a vehicle to explore the theme of return to the mother to attain to the oceanic feeling.
And even though it may seem reductive to just say “yeah, it’s about mommy issues”, I think it’s significant in reading Evangelion thematically. And while the production got de-railed by the Sarin Gas attack in Japan, which led to a completely different ending than anticipated; ultimately, the End of Evangelion, doubles down on this idea.
So in reading the entire series thematically, it behooves us to consider the central point around which the story pivots. Which, even when it’s full of religious symbolism goes all the way back to motherhood, and the desire to return to a state of pure unconditional love. And with the Angels also seeking this return, it’s hard to deny how central that premise is.
To be clear, I’m not saying there is nothing else there, there is plenty to dissect. But in starting from this fractal point: character is lonely and goes to find mother surrogate to return to oceanic feeling, we have a way to contextualize the series story in a thematically comprehensible way which, by extension, makes it easier to understand the story’s progression.
And now, some random other thoughts on the episode.
So that is Episode 1, and a thematic starting point for the rest of the series. I look forward, to breaking down other episodes, and getting more in depth, on other thematic elements that pervade the show. We’ll get to Gendo and Shinji next episode. Oh yes we will.
And with that out of the way