Part 5: Understanding
Perhaps most important, at least to Anno, is the recognition of freedom of choice within the real identity. All three characters mentioned above feared what their real identities could turn out to be, but consequently all three failed to recognize that such an identity is not static. The true Miyazawa was definitely not the perfectly controlled personality of her constructed identity, but nor was it the total slob. As she develops in the series, not once do we see her wearing the red sweats she tried to hide, showing that that which she feared to be her real identity is in fact controllable by her. Shinji fears using his power because it will cause pain in others; in the end it is those powers which save humanity from its final destruction. It is these characters' recognition that accepting the real identity doesn't lead to a single, predetermined fate that allows them to accept this identity.
A final point to consider is how all this relates to us, the audience. Clearly Anno makes limited direct reference to his viewers, and one may wonder if he had his viewers in mind at all. S.J.H., however, in her study of self-perception in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, comes to the conclusion that what the characters learn about themselves the audience can learn about itself as well. This proves to be a highly valuable analysis in our case as well, for what more is Anno depicting than his characters' self-discoveries about identity? And through the appropriate analogy, Anno hopes that we may discover our own masks of constructed identity, find our reasons for creating them, and thus release ourselves from those masks.
One may wonder where, from his own life and culture, Anno came up with his motivation to write on such themes. Certainly there can be parallels drawn between Anno's own experiences and the concepts of identity which he presents. According to Professor Susan Napier, Anno had been going through a period of depression during his directing of Evangelion, and much of the anime reflects his sorting out of the conflicts within his personality, stemming from his work and the work of Gainax Studios, his parent organization, being considered the "ugly duckling" of animation in Japan. Toward the end of the concluding movie to the series, Anno reflects on his experience of art imitating life, in a short dialog which reads, "Where is my dream? It is the continuation of reality. Where is reality? It is at the end of your dream." According to Gold, this reflects Anno's views of his creating Evangelion in particular and animation in general, in that his creation, or his dream, is merely an extension of his own life, but his life must continue after his work is finished. Anno, in later interviews, explains this in terms of his writing of Evangelion:
You need to like this sort of thing [animation] a certain amount to be able to do it. And once you've given it up, you'll be OK....[When will you be okay?] The instant you wake up to reality again. When you realize that enjoyment alone won't see you through.As nice as it was for Anno to be able to escape reality through his animation, he realized that it was no substitute for reality. Evangelion had become the dream, it had become Anno's own constructed identity; but eventually reality had to win out over fantasy.
Anno's choice of themes is even more logical when one considers that themes of real and constructed identity can even be connected to recent Japanese history. Toward the close of the twentieth century Japan had achieved a monumental financial record, leading, as Professor Napier observed, even Western nations looked upon the land of the rising sun as the potential financial leader in coming years. But the reasons behind Japan's financial success could all be traced back to dramatic changes in Japanese society ranging back to the Meiji era, when Japan rushed to westernize its culture and government-in effect, Japan had constructed a new identity for itself. During the 1990s many people in Japan were realizing that this new identity was effectively killing off their nation's heritage and national identity-the constructed identity was overshadowing the real. Animators such as Miyazaki and Takahata looked back nostalgically at traditional Japan in their respective films Princess Mononoke and Only Yesterday. Anno merely would have been taking this loss of national identity to a higher, more personal level, the level of individual, psychological identity.
But Anno is not pessimistic. He does not fear that these constructed identities will unrelentingly and inevitably overcome the real. His portrayal of characters who can discover their own flaws reflects his belief in our abilities to discover our own flaws; his portrayal of characters who repair these flaws reflects his belief that we can repair them as well. If he believed that mankind could not overcome its problems of identity, then he would have no reason to explore these problems and resolve them in his works. On the contrary, Anno hopes that we may learn from his works, and gain a greater understanding of, if not resolve completely, this paradox of human identity.