Evangelion: An Introduction to Escapism
In today’s society, the youth has many problems, whether it’s the threat of mental health and suicide or the looming threat of finding employment with the shambles of our economy and the rise of AI on the horizon. While these threats are certainly important, they are partially the cause of and catalyst for an even bigger issue: escapism. Before I continue further, I would like to first define escapism.
According to the 1933 Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, escapism is defined as “one who seeks distraction from reality or daily routine.” Now this doesn’t mean that any person who escapes reality for a while by smoking marijuana, taking a psychedelic or even watching a movie is an escapist. An escapist avoids dealing with reality at all costs and at all times. It’s when these things are done so much that one cannot face reality and must escape.
We see varying levels of escapism in today’s youth from people who base their lives around media to people who use drugs as a crutch and it’s difficult to face the problems of reality, so why shouldn’t you escape? Well, enter Hideaki Anno’s masterpiece “Neon Genesis Evangelion” and it’s conclusion film “The End of Evangelion”.
Evangelion: Shinji Ikari
Evangelion is about a lot of things: human sexuality, Freudian psychology, and depression, but most importantly, the series and film are about escapism. Before continuing further with this article, I would highly recommend watching the 26 episodes of the series and then the film, because in order to get my message across, I will be giving out some major spoilers, so I would advise anyone who hasn’t watched it to leave, watch the show, and come back. This is your final warning.
So Evangelion centers around our main character, Shinji Ikari, a fourteen year old loner who has been tasked with piloting Eva Unit 01. While it may seem like the angels that invade the earth are the main threat, you come to realize that the real struggle is Shinji’s relationship with other people and how those around him perceive him.
Through some further analysis you can find that Shinji is constantly dealing with an underdeveloped oral character due to his extreme helplessness and reliance on others. He escapes to his music and most importantly, other people. He frequently tries but ultimately fails to understand and connect with others because he doesn’t care about himself. This inability to connect with people and find happiness is what ultimately drives the force of Third Impact.
Evangelion: Third Impact
What exactly is Third Impact? Third Impact, or more accurately the Human Instrumentality Project, is a sequence where all human souls are merged into one consciousness, breaking down the barriers that once caused us suffering and pain.
While a lot of shows would use this as a point of positivity, Evangelion peels back the dark but poignant truth of self-identity. While yes, other humans cause us pain, they are also the core meaning of life. As William James said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated,” almost as if he wrote about Shinji over a century before he existed.
Simply put, people are the meaning of life, however, loving others isn’t all there is. In the movie, Shinji is faced with multiple presentations of people in his life and their meaning towards him. Most importantly he is shown face to face with Asuka, a person who hates him, but during this bleak point in Shinji’s life, the person he turns to. Shinji pleads to Asuka that he needs her and that she is important, but these visions aren’t a happy paradise. They are showing him the truth.
Asuka rejects his pleas showing that he doesn’t need her, he just needs anyone that is willing to care about him and his pathetic life. He escapes into the grasps of others. How is he supposed to love others and take in the embrace of humanity if he can’t even embrace himself? This is when Shinji snaps and decides to let the world merge together and let everyone die for his own selfish reasons. He quite literally ends the world because he can’t find any happiness within himself.
Evangelion shows the dark truth of escapism because once you are dependent on escape, it will be all that you have and your decisions will be made on the ideals of your escapism. Eventually, Shinji is shown the havoc that he has wreaked upon the earth and decides that people are important and that he needs to become a better person.
Evangelion doesn’t just say that escapism is bad because there are more important things in life. Escapism is bad because you can lose so much. Once you lose your connection with reality you lose connections with others, and others are a relevant link to your own identity. As shown in the series, people’s thoughts and perceptions of yourself are part of your unique identity and once that is destroyed, you are destroyed in the process.