Death and Dying 10.15.18 Kierkegaard through the Lens of Neon Genesis Evangelion “The more conscious, the more intense the despair”. This is in the first point addressed in our reading of Søren Kierkegaard’s Forms of Sickness, i.e. Despair, in which Kierkegaard enumerates the cruel condition that is life through a series of despairs. Kierkegaard is coming not from a place of nihilism, but a recursive existence alternating between despair and non-despair, quickly looping back from one to the other in a blurry torrent of uncertainty. This uncertainty and despair is from the synthesis of the idea of the infinite soul and the body— that is, the timely and untimely, the fact that the body is subject to fade whereas the soul exists purely as self. The notion of change and uncertainty is enough in its own breed anxiety and despair, knowing there is vacuum to be thrust into threatens the idea of finitude. The tension of life itself is why insist to keep living, which itself is a conundrum, choosing to live and continue living creates more internal and external despair through the act itself, which we hope to alleviate. This is what Kierkegaard attempts to dig his claws into, the absurdity of life and its inherent despair/avoidance of death. Kierkegaard’s work in itself is not necessarily difficult to understand or get through— literally yes, he writes about a recursive serpent that doubles back on itself and bites its own tail a couple of times— but ultimately, it boils down to the fact that consciousness will always beget despair, and as sentient being we exist inherently consciously of our surroundings and out choices. We are beings ravaged by entropic despair. When Kierkegaard wrote Forms of Sickness, it was ridiculous. A ‘Christian’ himself, Kierkegaard came across as a lunatic. Especially considering, that, according to the former, faith incites despair, as faith requires conscious-actualization and the belief in oneself, which itself breeds despair. Unknowingly, Kierkegaard had planted the seeds that would grow into some of what might not have become the most popular, but the most human media of the late 20th century: Neon Genesis Evangelion. Suggested by the title, the series draws heavily on the Kierkegaard’s thoughts on despair and its omnipresence. Neon Genesis Evangelion was a perfect storm: during a period of cookie cutter mecha-anime (I swear, it’s good), Evangelion surfaced unique. It was strange, gloomy, and unique. The mechs were spindly, just inhuman enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, and the enemy was entirely unpredictable. On the outside, Evangelion is exactly what was popular at the time; giant robots, piloted by our hero, saving mankind from certain destruction. Peel back the ultra-thin candy coating, however, and you’re met with the unsettling reality of the show. Enter Shinji Ikari, our protagonist. We know nothing about him, other than in minutes of the first episode he’s whisked away from certain death by hand of one of the Angels, the massive creatures trying to annihilate the human race, to an underground presumably military complex by direct orders of his father— apparent commander of the facility, but even more evident deadbeat. Shinji is faced with the decision to pilot one of the mechas, giant human piloted robot referred to as Evangelion, or let an infirm girl the same age act as pilot. He refuses at first, but eventually accepts and fights the Angel in Evangelion Unit 01, which we later find out that only he can pilot (as is with the other Evangelion units and their respective pilots). The series follows Shinji barely scraping by defending humanity’s last stronghold against assured defeat— and with that, his slowly fracturing mental state. Abandonment issues aside, Shinji is shown as an awkward, self deprecating kid, eager for assurance and and any sort of affection or recognition. By piloting the Evangelion, he feel as though he can make his father recognize him for the first time ever. As the show goes on, however, Shinji becomes much more introspective, showing montages of roughly drawn sketches exploring the formal and essential aspects of self and what it is to be— and we realize that Shinji’s existence is directly influenced by the despairs of Kierkegaard Shinji Ikari’s key character model is that he acts on no autonomous whim— he only acts at the benefit of another— i.e., will only do something if someone will think better of him for it, or like him for his action. Shinji is self-destructive, and believes himself to be incapable of any and everything, and puts his worth into the hands of others. By this, he is able to escape blame and accountability for his actions and inactions, removing any agency held by himself at any point previously. In this manner, Shinji is a reflection of despair through weakness, and not willing to be one’s self. This despair is evident in so that he believes himself worthless, not adapting or coming to terms with one’s self but instead defying the existence of one, and wishing himself into non existence. Shinji Ikari simply believes his self is the presentative nature of the body, as opposed to the infinite self which exists according to the sum of his life. In the finale movie, The End of Evangelion (an addendum to the last two episodes of the series after predominant confusion and displeasure with the finale), Shinji is forced to face his despair down its very maw, and experiences true selflessness at the price of total collective-conscious and erasure of every self on the earth, reverting to Kierkegaard’s theory of a pure being unaware of despair through null consciousness. In this existence, Shinji is confronted with the realization of absence, being everywhere and nowhere, and the consistency and banality of a life unaware. After facing the utter loss of self, Shinji consciously breaks free of the collective being, actualizing and realizing himself as a conscious body and soul. More or less, Shinji Ikari embodies the despair of not willing to be one’s self through weakness, and the consciousness of a Soul pushing back against that despair. There’s no emphasis on what comes after Shinji emerges self-actualized, but in accordance to Kierkegaard the path is well known. Hideaki Anno (animator and writer) decides to simply show the overcoming of despair, and its possibility, and that despair is catalyst to not only begotten despair, but heightened consciousness. Contrary to Shinji, his foil, Asuka, finds despair in willing to be one’s self through defiance. Asuka readily constructs a self in which she knows she’s not but wants to be— in this, Asuka is the anti-Shinji, readily being her ‘self’ which she sees fit, and sees defending it a reason to fight as it is. She too, in the finale, overcomes her despair and emerges from the consciousness void, uttering an ambiguous “disgusting” as the final line of the movie. This is her signal that she’s realized her despair in existence and is embarrassed—mortified, at who she had convinced herself she was in self. So why does this work? Why choose a niche anime about depressed teens piloting half mechanical half biological super weapons to talk about high theory Danish literature from the 1800s? Because it’s representational. Evangelion is sometimes billed as being based on the story of Genesis, influenced by plenty of philosophers, and riffing off of other similar stylized anime of the time, and, well, sure. Art is influenced often by other art and there’s no harm in that assessment. But the series stands as a metaphor for one’s struggle with despair and ultimate emergence from despair. Shinji Ikari exploits the flaws in human nature, and Evangelion serves to show that through despair, through belief in the soul and the infinite self, we choose life, and we choose being. Disregarding the eventual despair that follows awareness, we act upon our rite to exist and to be, deciding our fate as far as we can, only to be met with the next despair understood to be approaching. Because we live, we can change. Alternative follow up paper: how Kierkegaard invented an entire genre of philosophical anime, and its cultural impact still resonating today.