On March 27, it’ll be exactly twenty years since Evangelion concluded its original run with a finale that earned its creator death threats. Whether Hideaki Anno set the final episodes among a nebula of confusing and abstract imagery because of time and budget constraints, or because he’s an unmitigated genius, are still being debated. The truth seems somewhere between the two. But whatever the cause, it stands as an unforgettable conclusion.
The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, LOST – all these massive network shows have much talked-over finales, but none of them were like Evangelion’s. The final episode takes place more or less in Shinji Ikari’s psyche as a godlike figure forces him to decide whether humankind should continue to exist. Of course it’s going to be weird.
‘Weird’ in this case means Shinji talking to psychic projections of the other characters as a way of determining who he is and what’s important to him while quick cuts show that those characters are all dead. What’s more, they’ve apparently died violently! And instead of revealing how or why, the series ends with Shinji standing in some alternate dimension with all the characters standing around him, congratulating him on reconciling his angst.
So… did everyone actually die? Is Shinji dead? Was it all a dream? Is this heaven? The outcry was so vicious Anno and Gainax released a two-part movie, End of Evangelion, a year later to explicitly show what happens while Shinji is wrestling with himself. But even then – and after three new movies – Evangelion still requires countless rewatching to understand. And for the most part, people are at peace with that. It’s Evangelion’s greatest lesson: life can be confusing – even terrifying – but there’s joy in being alive to experience it.