shinji, asuka, misato, & rei in Neon Genesis Evangelion

The ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ Ending, Explained

Will you give into instrumentality?
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I’m going to make my feelings clear off the top here. Do you hate baffling endings to a TV series and endless suffering for the protagonist? Then you’ll for sure hate Neon Genesis Evangelion. Welcome to the club.

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The final two episodes were hailed as controversial. So controversial that they led to a follow-up film: The End of Evangelion (1997), which serves as a parallel ending to the series. Neon Genesis Evangelion isn’t an anime you should watch if you’re looking for simple entertainment, it’s a lot.

That said, if you’re reading this then you’ve obviously watched the show. So, let’s talk about that ending– what it means, why many were disappointed, and how the series was heavily impacted by the creator, Hideaki Anno’s mental health. 

What Happens

Shinji (Casey Mongillo)’s suffering is so continuous—which, while hard to watch at times, is very much reflective of what mental health looks like for many of us. And things are rough leading up to the end, he’s forced to kill Kaworu (Clifford Chapin), with whom he had a very special connection with (Netflix made some poor translation choices by removing the romantic tones of their relationship). And it doesn’t get any better for him in the final two episodes. As the Human Instrumentality Project begins, Shinji, Rei (Ryan Bartley), Misato (Carrie Keranen), and Asuka (Stephanie McKeon) struggle with their reasons to exist. Shinji tries to imagine a world where he isn’t an Evangelion pilot. But what causes him to reject instrumentality is him wanting to be an individual. Rather than fade into nothingness, essentially. After he breaks free from the shell he formed around him, he sees friends and family congratulating him. With his final words being: Thank you all. 

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Why Many Fans Were Upset

The ending wasn’t dramatic and exciting. And for fans who had invested time into the series, that was a letdown. Basically, the whole plot setup was tossed aside for an ambiguously happy ending. There were many reasons the show ended as it did; financial issues, Hideaki Anno not knowing precisely how he wanted to end the series, and his own issues with mental health.

But even though it may not have been what we hoped for, struggle with mental health is the only reason this series even exists. Mental illness and recovery can be a continuous struggle, and that’s a huge part of why Evangelion ends the way it does. Pain, struggle, uncertainty, self-hatred—these exist in life, and in waves. With good moments and revelations cutting through the hard times.

But if you were upset with the way the show ended, The End of Evangelion can serve as a companion to the final 2 episodes (or a replacement to the ending of the show). With a very different, and darker, conclusion, the movie may be your ideal experience if this ending wasn’t satisfying enough. 

(featured image: Gainax)

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Vanessa Maki
Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.