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Christianity in Neon Genesis Evangelion

Posted by godaironin on August 5, 2012 at 9:35 PM

Are there actual undertones of Christianity within Evangelion? When this question comes up, most EVA otaku cite the long-ago interview with Assistant Director Tsurumaki, wherein he says the Christianity in EVA was done solely for aesthetic reasons. In a country where the official religions are both Buddhism and Shintoism, Christian motifs and symbolism had the effect of seeming exotic to the Japanese, especially when you start getting to the Book of Revelations and all of the end of the world stuff (and even coming from a believer, there is some weird stuff in there...)

 

It goes a little beyond cross-shaped explosions and Angels however. There are a few parts within EVA that go beyond aesthetics and introduce Christan-themed elements into the storyline and even the characters.

 

Spoiler warning if you haven't seen the show you probably want to wait to read this...

 

APOCALYPSE: The concept of a final apocalypse is foreign to the Japanese, but EVA centers the entire plot around it. There is a singular event that starts it, and then Earth's population is whittled away by disasters and wars until a unified government takes hold. Angels then come bearing down on humanity, but they're cryptic in nature, their actual motivations are not clear to us. Finally there is a final judgement and Earth is at first destroyed and then renewed.

 

There's more to it than that summary and Anno's interpretation of Revelations is definitely not the same as Tim LaHaye, but suffice to say the biblical apocalypse is very integrated into Evangelion's backstory and plot line.

 

SPIRITUAL NATURE: Japanese religious believe largely holds that flesh and spirit are one and the same, both die and are reborn together. In Christianity, there is a distinct separation of the spirit and the flesh. When your body dies your spirit goes on, to Heaven or to some other place. EVA takes that and adds the SciFi twist that souls can be held and then even re-planted into a new body.  This affects the EVA as well as characters like Rei and Yui.

 

SALVATION FROM SACRIFICE: This is another big principle from Christianity that pops again and again in EVA. There are several characters who sacrifice themselves to achieve salvation or redemption for others. This happens to Misato's father, Misato herself, Kaji, Kaowru, and most of all Rei.

 

SIN NATURE OF MANKIND. While the extent of this is debatable between Christian sects, nearly everyone agrees that man is fallen and in need of redemption. Every character in EVA save two (and I'll get to them in a sec) are portrayed as fallen.  Characterization is considered Evangelion's strongest points and its that the main characters are flawed (and that those flaws are so deeply displayed) that make them so understandable to us the viewers. We see ourselves in them, and we do that because we see how their flaws are also our flaws.

 

There are two exceptions to this: Rei and Kaworu. Both of them are born not of man but are artificially created, their very souls taken from Angels. As a result neither of them carry a sin nature. Both are portrayed as naive to human things, but also they don't bear the personality flaws you see in the other characters (Asuka's constant haranguing of Rei as "Miss Perfect" is partial recognition of this). Because of this both Rei and Kaworu can sense the "spiritual" world around them in a way that the humans cannot, as neither is fallen from Heaven. This experience is imperfect as they are still cast in human molds, but once freed from the body they achieve transcendence and become both Human and God as one, which is manifested in Rei's case as the "Giant of Light" (aka Giant Naked Rei) in End of Evangelion.

 

You can go deeper into both the series and the movies and pick up the parts that are related to Christianity within the dialogue or plot. Probably at some point I'll work on a more in-depth article about this, but suffice for now the Christianity within EVA is not just skin deep

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