Neon Genesis Evangelion

I’ll confess – I have absolutely no idea how to start talking about EVA. I guess I’ll explain it the same way I’ve explained it to everyone my whole life – that it is like the Bible to me. (It even has Genesis in its title! and Angels! and crosses!)

How did I come to watch it? At another friend’s house on Laserdisc. This was 1997 and so yeah, people still used Laserdiscs. Zhi Xing was a fellow anime fan that I had met in school and quite a nice (if socially awkward) guy. He was really into mecha anime and I had gone to his house to watch some stuff (Akira comes to mind) before. This was quite different though. Much, MUCH different.

The first time I watched Evangelion I didn’t even understand what they were saying. That didn’t matter. It was amazing all the same. The animation, the characters, the music…it was a cinematic tour de force that captured my mind and soul and haven’t let go a full eighteen years later.

It’s not just an anime. To me it is THE anime.

I’d better put on the brakes here and tell you what EVA is really all about (though you can Wiki it for an admittedly less biased view) In a word…everything. But that’s to me of course.

In a nutshell it’s a post-apocalyptic science fiction series in which a bunch of depressed teenagers with mental problems get together to pilot giant robots to save the world from strange creatures called Angels. But that’s like saying the Lord of the Rings is about small people gallivanting about in New Zealand.

Underneath its seemingly simple exterior is an exploration of life, identity, the human mind, the human soul and everything else besides. It is the single most psychological and philosophical work I have ever experienced or will probably ever do. Oh, that’s not to say you can’t watch it for the pretty girls, the giant mecha and the awesome soundtrack. You can. But you’re not going to get a lot out of it if you do.
So I watched the series. To say I was enthralled would be an understatement. I was absolutely, positively enraptured. No other fictional work (screw that, NOTHING) else in my life has come close to that experience. I cannot put it into words other than say it was close to Rapture.

I talked about it with anyone who would listen. I read everything I could on it. I ate, slept, drank, thought, read and dreamt Evangelion. I can’t quite recall perfectly but I think there were two whole days in which I did nothing but think about it. That’s teenage for you.

Anyone who has watched Evangelion before and is reading this section will be able to see the parallels between my life and it very easily at this point – the lack of connection with parental figures, search for identity, severe mental illness, self-esteem and approbation, and inquiry into the nature of the human mind and psyche. It was everything that I had been searching for that I didn’t know I had been.

The depth and complexity of the anime astounded me. The direction is among the best I have ever seen in any cinematic work, animated or otherwise – the camera angles and shifts in perspective both avant-garde and filled with dramatic tension. The imagery, rich in symbolism and meaning. The story was amazing as well, and the themes significant, but in the end they were more of a backdrop to explore the interplay of spirit and mind that makes up the main thrust of the series.

And the characters – depressed and lonely Shinji Ikari, in many ways my alter ego at that time, desperate for parental affection and love. Sohryuu Asuka Langley, fiery and beautiful, her pride and arrogance merely a shield against devastating childhood wounds. The eternally mysterious Rei Ayanami. All wounded children at heart, bleeding from emotional and mental pain. You can imagine what kind of impact watching it had when I was younger.

Eventually in my search for everything EVA – music, art, posters, you name it – I found the Evangelion Mailing List. My memories and experience of Evangelion cannot be separated from it. I used to wonder what it was that I loved and saved me more – Evangelion, or the people who came into my life because of it. I don’t think I can draw a distinct conclusion. There were so many of them that made a difference to me during those years, but here I’ll write about the most important ones.

There was Anthony Birks. Ah, Anthony-kun. I remember him well. A high school student two years older than me, he was sharp, witty, irreverent and intelligent. I looked up to him a lot. He had drawn his own comic at the age of sixteen, which was to me at that time was the Most Amazing Thing Ever.

I guess he was like the big brother I never had. He critiqued my stories and his insight and good humor were always invaluable. He was never one to mince words and would tell me outright when he thought I was being stupid or unreasonable. We once wrote an erotic story about EVA together – or rather, we were in the middle of one before My Mum interrupted me just when we were getting to the good part (the chocolate sauce!)

We had lots of conversations on ICQ and he introduced me to some of his other friends on IRC as well. The last I heard from him he had gone off to college to become a gay rights activist. That was Anthony-kun for you. Brilliant, passionate, kind and unconventional. One couldn’t ask for more in a friend.

Dave Ulhan, also known as Dave-kun. He and Anthony were best friends and I was very happy to be included as the third one in their trio. In some ways he was more on my wavelength (we both enjoyed JRPGs which Anthony did not) and paper-and-pencil RPGs. In fact we co-authored the EVA pen-and-paper RPG together (never published but pretty damn good all the same) and I can remember being ecstatic about it. Finally, I was designing a game with someone!

We talked less than I did with Anthony but he was a dear friend all the same. In that sense I guess I thought I had found C and C again, just back in America this time.

Gares Olliver, a psychology major at Rutgers. He was the first person to formalize diagnose me with depression when everyone else was running around like chickens with their head chopped off. I think had he not done that I might not have gone to see a therapist at all? I can’t be sure but I owe him a debt all the same.

Like most of the people on the EVA ML, he was incredibly intelligent, subjecting the series to deep textual analysis which ranged anywhere from film to religion. He seemed troubled as well (he once told me that only music really made him happy) and probably had his fair share of issues.

I found his life more than a little eccentric. He would sit his whole family down on the couch and force them to watch EVA, and force his sister (who was taking Japanese) to translate whatever text he wanted translated. In my family all I got was my Mum telling me to stop watching pornographic Japanese cartoons (which EVA was most certainly not) and get back to studying.

He loved Asuka Sohryuu Langely. I mean, really really loved her, almost as if she were a real person. I have met very few people since with such love for fictional characters (besides me of course) The way he would talk about her! I don’t know what he saw in that auburn-haired beauty but she certainly struck a chord deep in him.

Peter Yang. A Tokyo-based banker who worked with Barings. The Internet is all over the place now but back in the day it was just BBSes, and before even that was Usenet. Back then Usenet only had ten newsgroups, one of which was rec.arts.manga. And before a newsgroup was started you had to petition for it to be made.

He was one of the first people to do so…so when you think about it, he was one of the people who made the Internet. I don’t think I was the only one on the ML to react with awe when we all realized that.

He knew so much about so many things! Japanese, banking, classical German literature, philosophy, Greek history…the list seemed endless. To my younger self he seemed like some sage on a hilltop with the wisdom of the ages. I think I wanted to visit him in Tokyo at one point but the trip fell through.

He told me that when I reached thirty I would know more than he did. I probably did. At that time thirty seemed so, so, far away and here I am at thirty-three. Thanks Peter, for all your posts and knowledge. I guess he was one of the first few male role models I had who didn’t come from a video game.

Edmund, an Asian American who also loved Arislan as well and who was probably the very first person that opened up to me about his own problems with his father. I was so touched that I told him about MY problems (as best as I was able to at that time) I later showed that email to my father who showed it to my mother which predictably had no impact. I feel compelled to mention him here because he was probably the very first person in the entire world I confided in. Thanks man. I’ll owe you one forever.

Sam, another depressed and brilliant teenager (we seemed to gravitate towards this Evangelion thing…I wonder why?) in the States who I shared quite a spirited correspondence with. He was a crackhead, and really into chaos magic, conspiracy theories and alternative…everything. I think he tried to get me to participate in a chaos magic ritual once which would have involved me putting my saliva on my pillow while he drew a circle with his own in the States – I politely turned him down. To a sheltered youth in Singapore (who was rapidly becoming less sheltered) he sometimes seemed like he came from another planet.

He once told me that even though anime was more expensive than crack (this was 1997 remember) he preferred to spend his money on EVA because it gave him a better high than cocaine. I couldn’t argue with logic like that. We talked about a lot of things besides EVA and he introduced me to some of the weirdest stuff that I’ve ever read about in my life which I guess I shouldn’t write about here.

I did meet other Singaporeans through Evangelion, one of them being Ikari Yui. She also came from a very literary family and we grew quite close at one point, watching quite a lot of anime together and talking about what seemed to be anything and everything. I still have our old email correspondence, in which we discussed everything from relationships to literature to Evangelion and beyond. She went to Hong Kong on a holiday with her parents and wrote back to me while she was there – I still have the letter.

She was absolutely fascinated with the character of Ikari Yui, Shinji’s mother (hence her nickname) She was also equally fascinated with her relationship with Naoko Akagi. Looking back on it that should have been a dead giveaway as to her sexual inclinations, which I don’t think even she was aware of then. The two women don’t even speak to each other in the series!

I taught her what the term “69” meant. Yeah so among my other achievements I taught a lesbian about being lesbian before she became, well, lesbian. That’s one for the record books I’m sure.

She was my muse in many ways. We discussed fanfiction (she was no slouch of an author herself!) and she would read, edit and critique my work. I wrote a story about her namesake and she loved it and I was so, so, happy. Another bright spark in a world filled with darkness.
The story of Yui and I continue past Evangelion and into other things but it won’t be told in these pages. Suffice to say we met and parted and met and parted again in many ways.

To a young boy of tender years I couldn’t really believe I was talking to so many people around the world about something that I so loved. I was having these deep philosophical conversations with people more than half my age and we were dissecting and exploring my favorite fictional work ever together. Even though school sucked and home life sucked more and I sometimes thought about killing myself it was ok. EVA was there, and the EVA ML was there. That was enough for me at that time.

The discussions we had! We talked about everything from cloning (Dolly the Sheep had just been made, and that went into a discussion about the multiple Reis) to an analysis of EVA using the Nibelungneid. We talked about the filming techniques and the characters and their respective relationships and well…everything. If it was in EVA, it was fair game for discussion.

Gares and Peter had this HUGE fight and made twelve consecutive posts each and then both of apologized profusely to everyone on the list. At least they were gentlemen about it.

I had the finest training in rhetoric that anyone could ever ask for. We debated and theorized and analyzed and discussed for what seemed like forever. There was no point too minor to be elaborated upon, no chance word or phrase that could not be mined for a wealth of information. I remember Gares watching certain scenes frame by frame and I was like…wow. Talk about hardcore analysis.

They were my saviors during those three years. Without the series, without those that I met through it, I am firmly convinced that I would have died. I had nothing else in my life except depression and dysfunctional parents and a worried sister. Every day was agony except for when I could sit down and write and read and write and read…to be honest I was still in agony but at least posting made it better.

It allowed me to be connected to the world at least in some small way. I had almost completely shut down from almost all my friends in school (those that were still there) but through the ML there were people who understood (as best as they could at that time) who were there for me (at least virtually) and who most importantly actually understood what mental illness was and that I wasn’t crazy. Plus there was Evangelion to talk about!

I would head back from school (back when I was still going to school) and post and post and post and post. After I stopped going all I did was post. (and think about Evangelion, and write Evangelion fanfiction, and find Evangelion…you get the picture.)

Though I left the EVA ML with no fanfare after about three years of endless postings, EVA is still with me in my heart now. I don’t think it will ever leave. I will probably die thinking it is the greatest anime ever made – I mean, unless another one comes along and saves my life and soul, there’s not going to be much competition.

I can’t talk about Evangelion without also talking about fanfiction. Evangelion fanfiction was probably my first serious foray into writing.
I put all of myself into it. Probably too much, but like I said, I was a depressed, suicidal fifteen year old with little else in his life. As Meimei put it in later years, it was like “here, take my soul.” Each piece was like cutting out my flesh and heart and putting it on display to the world. I agonized and worried over each and every word and phrase and title. It was the Agony and Ecstasy, the birth pangs of creation and everything else besides.

Those days and nights caught between the heaven of writing on one side and the crippling hell of depression on the other. Walking outside into the living room and staring at the clock and trying to talk vainly to my mother (who just watched TV in silence) then going back inside to bang out a few more words. Every phrase seemed hewn from my soul, every sentence stitched together from layers upon layers of pain.
I made other friends and connections through my writing. Heles, an Italian girl who told me after reading my work that I had a strong soul. I can well believe her now. Her own work “The trilogy of the goldfish” was as unique and powerful as they came. Another person wrote to tell me how his mother had just died and how he felt the same way as what I was writing about. People loved my work, hated it, just plain didn’t understand it. All part and parcel of being a writer.

I was amazed at each and every comment that I received. Here I was, not even an adult, and my writing was reaching and touching people around the world. The emails that I got could not stem the tides of despair fully, but they formed as strong a bulwark as they could.

The comments and feedback that I received from my writing were invaluable and I treasured each and every one of them. In particular Francis Sullivan’s, who ran the Seraphim of Scrapyard website for Battle Angel Alita fanfiction (Gunnm in the Japanese version) He gave me some of the best advice a young writer could ask for and I matured greatly from the edits he did of my work.

I even had sort of a fan club/mailing list at one point, composed of regulars from the ML as well as people who liked my work and who wanted to read more. That made me very happy indeed. I had always intended to write more, but everything that was happening around me stole my energy and I was unable to muster the strength to put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard.

A Singaporean girl who read my work even tracked me down via my email address to email and then later call me by phone. This was in Singapore in 1997-1998, so as you might imagine it was a very bold thing for a young schoolgirl to do! Only years later (when the haze of depression had lifted somewhat) did I realize that she was probably sort of romantically interested in me! I don’t even remember her name. Wherever she is now she is probably happily married and I wish her only the best.

I’ve had countless opportunities to muse about Evangelion in the eighteen years that have followed my initial watching. I’ve actually probably only watched it twice but I have literally spent thousands of hours thinking about it. I still can’t really believe it came out in 1995. To me Evangelion will forever have been aired yesterday, and then I’ll go and watch it on the TV outside.

It had a power than even today I am in awe of. Somehow back in those days – and in the years to come – it could break through all the depression and criticism and dysfunction that I would experience. It would be invaluable in therapy, and in almost all aspects of life itself. As I write this I can once more feel a blue wind knock on the door of my heart.

I could probably write an entire book about EVA but I’m restraining myself. It’s responsible for so many things in my life. I studied Japanese in part so that I could understand it better. I read the Bible because of it. I began the study of psychology because well…I was as messed up as everyone in the series. There was even an article in a Japanese magazine way back then (which Gares was desperate to have translated) which detailed correlations between the DSM-IV and each of the characters’ psychoses.

What is it that so spoke to me, that gave me the strength to survive and grow in the harshest of circumstances? I think Hideaki Anno (the creator of the series) himself says it the best. “Evangelion is my life and I have put everything I know into this work. This is my entire life. My life itself.” When you have that much of yourself invested into something, it contains a power that can change the world. It certainly changed mine.

Evangelion is not just the series itself. It is all the friends that I made, all the dreams that I had, it’s impact on the world (it’s one of the classics of anime for a reason!) and beyond. Its power spread beyond those hours I spent writing and reading and watching and into every aspect of my life and soul. It held me when there was no one else and I could not hold myself.

A long ago discussion with a friend about the nature of light and shadow comes to mind at this point. In later years I have come to think of EVA as a prism – refracting and focusing all the colors of light into a shining blaze of illumination. But whose light does it refract and focus? Mine. And everything else’s. There is nothing that does not reside within that I myself did not put there.

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