Constructing the Self

An analysis of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Note: I am a law student with an undergraduate degree in computer science. I am not a psychology student. This essay is not a Ph.D. thesis. It was in no way connected to my primary fields of study. It was written as a final course paper for an elective. Please feel free to link to this essay, as several people have done before, but if you do, please credit me properly for it.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is an animated Japanese television series, which aired between 1995 and 1996. A work deep in philosophical meaning and complex thoughts on human psychology, Evangelion has provided a source of investigation and discussion for both anime fans and serious scholars. In the writing below, I attempt to provide an analytically-oriented viewpoint on the series, in order to understand the psychology behind the series as well as to find its place in the context of both its director and its nation of origin.

It also deals with another series by the same director, Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo, but based on the Google searches which lead to this page, no one seems really interested in that...

This paper was written during the spring semester of 2001, for a course on Japanese Animation taught by Professor Susan Napier. Read it. Learn it. Don't laugh.

View the entire paper on one page
I've recently reorganized this essay into several pages so that it isn't so long and imposing; the original one-page format is available at the above link. The section subtitles were not part of the original essay.

Constructing the Self

Views of Identity in Neon Genesis Evangelion and Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo

Charles Duan
Japanese Literature 135
May 1, 2001

Anno Hideaki is a paradoxical character. In 1994 he began directing an anime series which would prove to become a groundbreaking masterwork in the medium, the psychological and philosophical drama Neon Genesis Evangelion. Considered by many to be one of the greatest series ever created, Evangelion explores the darker sides of the human psyche and even draws into question fundamental ideas of existence. Yet within five years of this complex creation he changed gears completely, beginning work on an upbeat high-school shojo romantic comedy series, Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo (His and Her Circumstances, abbreviated Kare Kano). Differing in nearly every way from his previous animated work, Anno created a series about two perfect high school students, as opposed to the three mentally disturbed fourteen-year-olds from Evangelion, who live a simple normal life, not having to battle mind-invading monsters bent on destroying the world. One immediately wonders if there is even remotely any connection between the two, or if Anno simply had no idea what he was doing.

It is true that it is no easy task to resolve common themes between these two shows, which seem on so many levels to be completely different. Yet a deeper consideration of the themes proves much more revealing with regard to the common underlying philosophical structures beneath them. When we consider these themes, especially those concerning the nature of mankind and his relation to society, we can understand how Anno was able to create consistent meaning between two radically different series. And by considering these two series in the context of humanist psychology, with which Anno was probably familiar, we can illuminate these themes so that we may see them more clearly.

To begin, consider this simple premise: there exist two forms of identity of self, the "real" identity which is inherently present in the self, and the "constructed" identity which is made from "non-natural" human observations and interpretations of a person made by both that person and by others. This should not be too hard to understand; if I want to write poetry but everyone tells me that I am good at mathematics, then my real identity wants me to be a poet while my constructed identity dictates that I should be a mathematician. This idea of the real versus constructed identity is a simple corollary to Lacan's realms of the Real and the Symbolic. I will explain these two concepts in more detail later, but for now the crucial difference between the Real and the Symbolic can be summarized, according to Lacan, in the concept of Lack: whereas there is no lack in the realm of the Real (i.e. everything you want is present), the Symbolic is characterized by lack, since symbols are only necessary when there is a lack of the actual (for example, if I use the word "apple" it is because I lack a physical apple to present).[1] And these concepts of Real and Symbolic can translate into the ideas of identity as Real and Constructed: the real identity is created from the real person, where there is no lack of understanding of the self; the constructed identity is built up out of symbolic representations of that person.

Anno takes this premise of the real and constructed identities and looks at which of these two identities we humans choose to follow, investigates why we choose to follow that identity, and then argues for what he believes we should follow. In both Kare Kano and Evangelion, Anno's common theme can be shown to be his study of the factors which cause the characters of those series to choose to live through the constructed self rather than the real one, and the ways in which they finally break free of these restrictive factors. He does so by exploring the characters' self-discovery of these restricting factors, hoping that we, as the audience, may discover the same factors in ourselves and free ourselves in the same ways.

In this paper, I will look at those factors restricting the real identity that Anno identifies, in the logical sequence of deconstruction of such factors presented by him. It is probably noteworthy, though, that such a progression is much more cleanly and logically done in Evangelion; after all, Anno was restricted himself by having to follow a prewritten manga when directing Kare Kano. In order to identify the degree to which Kare Kano reflected Anno's own thoughts, I made my own comparisons of the anime and manga; these comparisons have revealed that Anno overwhelmingly followed the direction of the original work, but still expanded on certain areas in greater depth, areas which I will point out throughout the course of this paper. Nevertheless, highly similar themes of human identity crop up in both series, indicating that such a study of Anno's psychological analysis of his characters in either series is indeed valid and worthwhile.

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