Neon Genesis Evangelion is exalted for diving into themes of alienation, isolation, and Freudian subtexts. The series is usually seen as a subversion of the Mecha anime, focusing less on Mecha as a reflection of humanity and its ability for war and destruction. In contrast, Evangelion focuses more on the cast’s relationships and traumas. It is known to most Evangelion fans that many of these themes stem from the director, Hideaki Anno’s struggle with depression and feelings of isolation.
There is much to say about these themes that can be analyzed at Infinitum. A quick youtube search will bring up dozens of videos tackling the same criticisms or interpretations of the show. In all honesty, this is entirely fair since the show invests a lot of its time diving into these topics. Here, there is much to say about how the anime reflects or even ontologizes Anno’s depression a la Capitalist Realism.
“Capitalist realism insists on treating mental health as if it were a natural fact, like weather (but, then again, weather is no longer a natural fact so much as a political-economic effect). In the 1960s and 1970s, radical theory and politics (Laing, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, etc.) coalesced around extreme mental conditions such as schizophrenia, arguing, for instance, that madness was not a natural, but a political, category. But what is needed now is a politicization of much more common disorders. Indeed, it is their very commonness which is the issue: in Britain, depression is now the condition that is most treated by the NHS. In his book The Selfish Capitalist, Oliver James has convincingly posited a correlation between rising rates of mental distress and the neoliberal mode of capitalism practiced in countries like Britain, the USA and Australia. In line with James’s claims, I want to argue that it is necessary to reframe the growing problem of stress (and distress) in capitalist societies. Instead of treating it as incumbent on individuals to resolve their own psychological distress, instead, that is, of accepting the vast privatization of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill?”
― Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
This quote is one of my favorite passages from Capitalist Realism. This quote summarizes what some coin Mark Fishers Politics of Melancholia. In many ways, Anno’s work in Evangelion is a reflection of this Capitalist Realist subjectivity manifesting itself in cultural production. Mark Fisher points out this early in CR, that depression or melancholia is the permeating atmosphere that Capitalist Realism produces in tandem with global Neoliberalist politics.
What is often missed when watching Eva is what most audiences regard as the “boring” parts of the series. Evangelion invests a lot of its screen time in incredibly drawn-out political and bureaucratic, juxtaposed between action scenes with the Angels and the EVA’s. We can analyze this two-fold; on the one hand, it is an excellent budget-cutting technique. It requires fewer animators to produce still frames or scenes with low animations or choreography, saving the detailed, highly choreographed fighting scenes for the Eva’s confrontation.
After all, Anno was greenlit for Eva on the condition to create characters that would sell toys. But it also makes this permeating atmosphere that cements or grounds Eva in a world not too dissimilar from our own. In Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher is making the case that Neoliberal-Democracies have not done away with Beuracrcy and instead have only intensified it and permeated it into an overwhelming part of our daily lives.
To me, this is what makes Evangelion such an exciting show; there is a scene in one of the episodes where all of Japan has to harness an entire days worth of generated electricity to power a rifle that is humanity’s last stand against an Angel that will wipe out HQ. Most of this episode is spent on back and forths between different government officials getting clearance for mass evacuations, logistics, workers, etc. The show overloads you with this sense of “Beuracratic Realism” to ground the show in a realist aesthetic. I have always found these scenes to be rich because not only are they a reflection of the director’s world view and, by extension, a reflection of our socio-political landscape, but they illustrate this horizon of imagination under Capitalist Realism.
“We may be fighting giant Kaiju’s, but how is this going to hurt the economy?”