Shinji and I – Diary of an Anime Lived: Neon Genesis Evangelion

NOTE: This is a very heavy and personal discussion. Please comment with maturity. Part of the Diary of an Anime Lived series.

When I was fourteen years old, I was “so fucked up.” That’s probably why Neon Genesis Evangelion was the first anime to effect me on a personal level.

Flash back to early June 2006. I will turn fifteen in about 2 months. I haven’t watched much anime in the past couple of years, having gone through a video game phase for a year, and now being in the middle of a major music phase. I have seen eight episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion on my cousin, Funeral’s, DVDs years ago, and have always wanted to watch what I know is supposed to be the most legendary (if hard to understand) anime of all time. For the first time in my life, I go to a girl’s house (to study) and she owns the platinum box set – she lets me borrow it.

My brother and I are quite excited about the opportunity to finally watch the show. I set aside a day, and we marathon the entire thing all at once with only a short lunch break in the middle. (This would later mean that I can not remember most of the early part of the show, and stop listing it on my favorites list until further notice.) We watched it dubbed, and Asuka was such a total bitch. (A year and a half later I hate dubs and learn that Asuka is not a bitch.) I do not blink during the last two episodes once. I cry afterward. Neon Genesis Evangelion is by long and far my favorite anime of all time.

But that’s just the setting, the surface. Inside, this was the most confusing, confounding part of my life. My life had started to head downhill ever since a year before, when I was starting high school. I had always been a huge internet person, but I’d taken it to the extreme in the past year. From September 05 to February 06, we had lived in downtown Richmond Virginia – a really bad area with a crime and death rate through the roof, and a graduation rate that was a third the number of freshman at school. We should never have lived there – as always, my family was bouncing between extremes of upper-middle-class and complete poverty depending on the spiritual and relationship patterns of my parents. Things are just… out of whack.

A lot of weird shit has happened, as it tends to when you are fourteen. I was hormonal – I had thought I was gay for a while, and eventually settled on the idea that I was bisexual (I later figured out this was utter bullshit.) While we lived in Richmond, I never had a friend. I was the only white kid at my school, and I had always been shy and introverted anyway from a childhood of bullying. I turned to the internet. And to desire.

I often tell people ‘I think I really might have been insane for about a year of my life.’ I did a lot of personal experimentation, and I started deciding that everything was wrong with me. I started researching psychology and spirituality using my dad’s books like The Celestine Prophesy, and I started deciding that there was a deeper meaning to the world. And yet, I was in a ton of netships. I fell in love with a girl I knew online – fell in love HARD. I am almost convinced now that she was one-hundred percent fake. Everything about her story was bullshit. She kept me in the friendzone no matter how many times i told her I loved her, and her drama was off the fucking chain. In the time I knew her, she supposedly got raped and impregnated. It was the stupidest fucking story ever. And then she moved to Japan. Total bullshit. I ate it up. That ‘relationship’ had been coming to an end around this time.

It’s no stretch to say that the entire time between summer 2005 and summer 2007 I was manically depressed. It would only ever get worse before it got better, and no one knew about it. The only people who knew anything were my unwilling internet audience – and even online, I was always a laughing stock. I had no one. It wasn’t that I truly loved that girl. I would have fallen in love with any woman who talked to me nicely. She was just the one who talked the most.

I was ‘so fucked up,’ in that way that every fourteen year old is, even if I may have taken it to the next level, with the new ways I discovered you could masturbate, conversions I had with myself, and torturous thoughts of the spiritual politics of suicide. And right there, at the height of the spirituality; the mental conflict; the depression: right then, I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Shinji Ikari was the first person to convince me that I wasn’t alone. I would have thought that if I couldn’t even find someone on the internet that understood me, than no one existed, but here he was, in anime form. A fucked up kid. He’s a coward. He always runs away, and regresses. The first time I truly realized that I was the same as Shinji Ikari was in the episode “The Hedgehog’s Dilemma.” It was explained that he always wanted to be close to people – he wanted so bad to have friends – but he didn’t know how to deal with it. In his confusion, he pushed everyone away, and they couldn’t understand why. That was me.

Loner. Loser. Failure. Shinji would fall in love with any and every woman who so much as looked at him the right way. Even if they were cold to him, treated him like a kid, or were an outright bitch towards him, he still chased after them in his head and heart, but never with his body or words. Shinji Ikari was hopeless. So hopeless, and so confused, and so desperate, that he fell in love with a man.

Shinji wasn’t bisexual. Shinji was desperate, and Kaworu was the first person who never once pushed him away. He melded with Shinji perfectly, just as I had with a friend on the internet who had once told me he loved me. I stopped talking to him after a week. I couldn’t handle it – it was way, way more than I could mentally deal with. Shinji murdered Kaworu. Like me, his confusion led him more than any real desire, and he ended up breaking things off before he ever knew where he had really gone.

And then there was the ending. My, my. The ending was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. Funny thing, too, since prior to Eva I had always disliked trippy things. I think it was my obsession with Tool and The Mars Volta at the time that had opened me up to trippy things, and then Eva really burst the door open for my slow road to total art-fagginess. Visually, it was the most awesome thing I’d ever seen. But that wasn’t the real meat.

It wasn’t enough that I was Shinji was me. The ending confirmed all of the spiritual beliefs that I had come to nurture. I had begun to believe that people all had a spiritual connection. In Evangelion, it was revealed that all people were one entity subjecting itself to existence. That you could control existence with your mind, and shape it to your will. This is what I had wanted to hear. It all made sense now. It was a revelation.

Neon Genesis Evangelion didn’t change my life, like some of the other shows I will talk about did. It didn’t even really get me back into anime – that responsibility would be taken up by The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya about six months later, which would pretty much have a similar effect on me to Evangelion, but manage to introduce me to the anime community. NGE didn’t end my depression. That would happen in March of 2007 when I moved into a new house that I loved, started watching anime seriously, and made my first good friends in a long time, namely Zerodyme.

What Neon Genesis Evangelion did was affirm my existence. It told me that it was okay, if not expected, for me to be pathetic. It told me that someone understood me, and that my way of life could properly be explained through simple psychology and philosophy. It taught me that I could find salvation through spirituality, and that my spiritual beliefs really did make sense (and, sure enough, spirituality would come to greatly aid me much later on.) It gave me something that I could point to and say – ‘this is the kind of thing that I am into.’ A piece of art that truly defined my life, my interest, and my beliefs. A true blue ‘favorite anime.’ The sheer impact it had on me and my memory of that impact would keep it in my top five until long after I’d forgotten any of the details about the show.

I picked this show to do first for a number of reasons. Firstly, because this was the first anime that I truly felt on a personal level. however, it is also because this story encompasses my post-child life up until my otakudom began. Prior to being fourteen and ‘so fucked up’, I had never lead a complicated life – I was just a kid who liked bloody Japanese cartoons and video games. It was this period that started building the structure for who I am today, and this section of my life was perfectly reflected in Neon Genesis Evangelion, right up until the start of my otakudom provided a new turning point.

I hope you enjoyed this story. Bits and pieces and details of it have been told to no shortage of people over the years, but I was always careful to never give any one person the whole story (ask Owen, he got one chunk, and I think Lolikitsune did, too!) There may not be heavy details involved, but I think this post is the most comprehensive thing I’ve ever written about this part of my life.

26 thoughts on “Shinji and I – Diary of an Anime Lived: Neon Genesis Evangelion

  1. Wow, that’s cool. After watching NGE I must admit I identified with Shinji, Asuka and Rei, all three of them. Almost as if I were a Shinji dreaming of being a Rei while my Asuka kept trying to break out. I think this conflict might still not be resolved…

  2. I can’t say that I have a similar experience with NGE, only the otaku with deep pockets were able to watch it during the 90s when I was in college. I was able to watch it only in 2003 and was already 26 LOL.

    I didn’t identify with Shinji so much except for his troubles with his dad. I had an enmity with mine that started from 1990 to 2002 (I ran away twice, he disowned me once; that’s three times I left the house in total). By the time I had watched NGE I was already at peace with how much I loved my dad, if still quite a coward in how to show it (I had made total peace with him in 2004 and we’ve since been enjoying the cheesiest relationship a father and son could have).

    The thing was, during the time I hated my dad, I never saw him as someone cool or menacing. I saw him as a pathetic figure unlike how I saw Gendo. I’d have traded places with Shinji just to have a father I could want to try to impress. Anyway, you know how I feel about Gendo in general.

  3. ..Wow… Pretty damn amazing post. I just have to say Thanks for sharing it, definitely one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. It’s nice to hear that even Anime can be a bit of a pick-me-up, or a means of realization for people. That it’s viewed as more than just pretty pictures going across the screen. It’s always nice to hear that people can relate to something created by someone else, and interpret it in their own way.

    I haven’t personally connected with Anime on any deep level.
    I see my overly cynical side, my recluse nature, my desire for life to better itself on it’s own mentality in plenty of characters, as it seems to be some kind of a staple/common archetype in the media I digest, but it never really goes deeper than that, for me. Some storylines, or presentations will strike a more personal chord, but that is far more rare.

    Also, thanks for putting this to your readers. It will(and already has) generated some very interesting posts on various other spaces.

  4. I’m glad you all liked it, it was admittedly a little hard to write at parts because I knew that people close to me would read it, though luckily they are people who know most of this anyway. But it’s still harder to talk about than I thought it would be. I am looking forward to doing more of these!

  5. Eva didn’t influence me like you, however, I as you almost cried after the end. Well, I didn’t like the ending. But I admit that it was done well, it was perhaps beautiful, though the most beautiful scene in the series is for me still when Shinji holds Kaworu in his unit’s hand.

    Can I relate with Shinji? No. Or maybe a bit. I indeed fall in love with any girl who’s nice to me. But I have some pride, too.

    Well, enough of me. Great job on the post.

    • Somehow I missed this comment! I’m glad you like the scene with Kaworu held in the Eva’s jaws. A lot of people HATED that scene because it was so dragged out, but I loved it.

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  7. This is one of the better things that great art has the power to do: make you feel a part of a wider world, instead of apart from it, as the saying goes. I suppose that works because artists are outcasts usually and they tend to be able to speak to that part of you.

    It’s great that NGE was able to do that for you (although it came out when I was 16 I didn’t see it until about 20 so I don’t really have a relatable experience). Hindsight shows us that at 14 you ARE pretty much insane, but like any insane person you have a hard time realizing it at the time. Anyone who has a piece of art to help them with that is a little better off. For me it was probably Joy Division’s albums, which seems a little morbid, but it worked. The point is, you are (not) alone hehe.

    • Indeed. I really was insane, but it’s hard to convince yourself this, because you don’t want to feel like you’re one of those people who claims to be ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ when they aren’t really different from anyone else, but when I look at my behavior, I really was insane, it’s just that Hideaki Anno is also insane, and so are other people.

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  9. Nice post as usual. I also watched Eva when I was 14 and thought it was funny how I would do so at a time that it would fit me so well. I actually grabbed the original DVD box set and marathoned it. It blew me away near the end, I just remember the eva going berserk and the maturity of the story. I had not seen much anime at the time and then I watched the movies right after it….

    Well, I can also relate to your masturbation experimentation, psychological/spiritual research and generally feeling crazy. I would still argue on the side that you were not truly insane, but only temperately crazy. Some people never get as crazy as us, but that does not make any of us insane. We would not be posting online if we were that far gone.

    One more similarity is that there was this anime forum where I developed a fascination with one girl who was real. She blogged about herself and posted pictures and while I didn’t have any relation I thought there was something special about her. I can’t find any traces of her or the forum as it were, and details are painfully foggy.

    Thanks for the personal post.

  10. Wow. I’d like to first congratulate you on this blog as a whole. Very entertaining. As for this post in particular: it was fantastic.
    I too was 14 when I first watched Evangelion. Finished it in two nights, 13 episodes a night. The show seemed to come to me when I needed it most(in fact, oddly enough, I credit the show as instumental in helping me accpet Jesus Christ again): it helped me indentify with someone who seemed to have the same problems as I. I’m sure I too was in a state of actual insanity at the time. The only difference is, I’m only 15 years old now. As to whether I’m still in a state of insanity, is up to debate.
    But yeah. I for some reason or another felt I needed to reply to this, and there it is. Make of it what you will.

    • Very interesting. Especially the part about it helping you accept Jesus Christ, which is not a reaction I’ve ever seen to Eva. I do hope you’ll climb out of whatever insanity consumes you.

  11. In the past when I was about 14 or 15 years old I hated anime as hell. I did not like those big eyes, those still scenes and etc. even though some friends always kept coming to my house to watch Dragonball Z after school. But gradually, glancing at the show from time to time I began to like anime.
    Then once a friend told me that there was an anime, which featured some nudity and good action scenes so I gave it a try. It was the first time I watched NGE. I really liked it, but I didn’t give a damn about last two episodes – why was that psychoanalysis put there? I did not understand it so those two episodes were a drawback of this anime for me. Despite the fact, I was left with impression.
    16 years old. Summer. I had a camp with my friends and it was the first time I tried some weed. After I smoked I had a deep panic attack (only now I know it was a panic attack) and I thought that it is the end of me – the death has come. Of course, people do not die from panic attacks, but that event left me something – I began to think that there was something wrong with my consciousness. I thought, that I lost something. Gradually I developed a depression.
    Funny enough, the pain I felt gave me very very many thoughts. I was constantly thinking about something inside. As I was thinking, I identified my friends as persons who actually do not understand a single bit of me, so I identified myself as alone.
    Then I watched NGE the second time. Don’t know how to say it, but it was absolutely different anime than I watched it the first time. I was inside the feelings of all characters, especially Shinji. I was overwhelmed to the deep corners of my soul and then there were those two last episodes. I don’t know, how it may sound but after those episodes I developed a new view to the life, people and the World. The phrase that I refer to if I get unhappy or obsessed with something is “You can always be happy, as long as you have a wish to make it happen”.
    After watching NGE second time, I dealt with my depression quite quickly and my personality has changed dramatically as I began to like literature, arts, psychology, philosophy. My friends and classmates did not recognize me at all.
    Up until now, 22 years old, I always had strength to face demanding situations and I always helped my friends overcome those situations as well. I would like to thank Hideaki Anno for this remarkable creation.

    By the way, this is the first public comment I posted on the Internet, even though I use computer from my childhood. Your article made me want to share my experience. Thank you!

    • Thank you as well! That’s an amazing story, and I’m glad you shared it with me! Stories like this always help to enhance the experience of the anime, so they are always welcome :D

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  13. Thank you for sharing your painful experience; I was moved and touched many times by your story and your honesty.
    With Shinji, I could relate myself on deep levels, with his emotional struggles and his loneliness. I cried at the final words of the show, “congratulations”, and surpriesed myself.
    NGE remains a very unique experience for me because of its hiddend deep violence on the viewer and the ability to heal with this very same characteristic.

  14. Thank you for sharing this and being so open.

    People’s experiences with this title, positive and negative, tend to be so subjective and personal, but rarely does anyone bother to really expound on or explore those reasons or feelings like you did here. I didn’t go through all the same experiences as you did, but so much of what you wrote felt very familiar to me. I discovered Evangelion at an important transitional point in my life as well, and I think it had a big affect on me as a result. So it’s affirming to see that someone else found meaning and a sense of redemption in it.

    Also, I think most people who’ve gone through experiences like this would want to gloss over or omit some of the most embarrassing details when writing about it. But who doesn’t do embarrassing and lamentable shit when they’re 14? Hopefully this will inspire readers to be more open about the confusing, less-than-idyllic lives they lead as a young anime fans, or at least to stop feeling ashamed about it. It’s okay to admit to yourself that you were, or still might be, a fucked up person. Can you ever accept yourself for who you are if you don’t make peace with that first?

    Anyway, nice blog entry.

  15. Wowie Zowie. Just like the show, this was a lot to take in!

    I want to thank you for sharing such a personal piece with us!

    I can’t remember when I was first exposed to Evangelion, but I do know I had a friend in High School who was REALLY into it. I wanted to like it too, but my problem was I didn’t really “get” it, even after having seen the anime. It was just too “confusing” and “complex” for me to understand back then!

    Thankfully, my friend helped me wade through all the techno-babble and plot-related stuff, so I was able understand the series a whole lot more. Since I was understanding it better, I was enjoying it a lot more! I even got to read some of the manga!

    However, I think to truly understand Evangelion, one needs to understand Shinji Ikari. After all, it really is his story. Or perhaps it is a story for the depressed. People like you and me.

    In fact, the more I talk about the show with other people, the more I watch Shinji in new incarnations, and the more I look back on it, I finally realize only years later that Shinji Ikari was exactly like me when I was his age. 8th grade was when sh*t hit the fan for me, and it only got worse once I entered high school. I was in such a clouded haze of depression that I just couldn’t see how blatantly obvious it was that Shinji and I were a like! (Though parts of me relate to Misato as well; Rei too actually. Even Mari! But that’s for another time!)

    Anyway sorry for getting a little lengthy with the jibber-jabber. Eva may not have given me as much hope as it gave you, (Series like Hetalia and Gurren Lagann were the ones to help me find my smile again, as did my loved ones) but I think anyone suffering from Depression should watch it. That isn’t to say non-depressed people shouldn’t watch it, but I feel like this show is the only series I’ve seen that was able to accurately portray what depression is like. It also shows that…you are (not) alone!

    • ” Or perhaps it is a story for the depressed. People like you and me.” ugh I’m a dork! I wanna clarify that I’m not saying that you ARE depressed. But you WERE depressed!

      I may or may not be depressed. Even though I’m 24 now, I’m not entirely sure if I’ve recovered or not!

  16. I understand how you feel Digibro, I’ve gone through quite the similar experience from 13-17 years old. The part where you said that NGE showed you that we can shape and create our realities, I got that revelation from watching Sword Art Online. I’ve got to admit, from watching your SAO videos countless times, the show is narratively and structurally broken, but it doesn’t take away from what an individual can get out of the story. From 2012-now I’ve been educated a whole lot on the state of the human condition, what Islam really is as opposed to mainstream Islam, spirituality, the immense power of gaming as a medium, and many more. In SAO, Kirito implies that in the VR world he feels like the most powerful badass in all of existence but in the real world he feels powerless. This rang true to me being that I let life happen to me and not me happening to life. One of the things that SAO taught me was to acknowledge my limitations and seek to level up and take control of my life as a spiritual being living on this so-called physical plane. At the time me and family watched SAO, I myself didn’t understand much about MMOs, I nor my family didn’t watch SAO for that reason. In fact, a lot of things about SAO I completely disregarded besides the VR world and Kirito and Asuna’s relationship. All of us we’re going through transformations and learning more about ourselves and the world around us. I’m 19 now, and I believe that God is telling me that I have to step up my game now, I’ve learned a lot more over these past couple of years and now there’s no excuse.

  17. haha as if. shinji is not you, you are not shinji. hes bi and you can stop erasing that. actually kaworu was supposed to come even earlier, before everyone in his life was distant from him. he was going to fall in love with him anyway, hes not sloppy seconds out of desperation. ok pce

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