I recently finished watching the twenty-six episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and felt moved to record some of my impressions, particularly due to the striking nature of its conclusion.
The title in this regard is a little deceptive, since NGE does not draw solely from Nietzsche, but from Existentialism in general, with recognizable elements from Sartre, Kierkegaard, and of course Nietzsche. The philosophical elements of the anime come to the fore in a blatant fashion in the concluding two episodes, when all pretext of action or drama are dropped and a psychological/philosophical analysis of the main characters ensues in a series of probing questions into the nature of the self and existence. Which is not to say that these concluding moments of the anime series are isolated from the preceding episodes, rather, the plot and character development had been building up to this dramatic, yet almost anti-climatic, moment of character self-actualization.
Yet, it is in these last moments, when all elements of plot are stripped away, and the viewer is brought into the depths of the characters troubled psychology, that the ideological underpinnings are cast in their starkest light. The concluding moment, when the protagonist achieves his self-realization through an act of will, practically screams Nietzschian concepts of will to power and ubermensch. This powerful drive to individuality is placed in sharp contrast to the almost completely subsumed sense of self that the protagonist displays earlier on.
It was a very interesting story, but one thing that causes me to appreciate Cowboy Bebop more is that much of NGE’s drama is dependent on the almost debilitating psychological problems the primary characters display. They all seem to display signs of mental illness and from this is derived the plot tensions that move the story forward. Not that I think the story is a failure because of this, but because of this there can be moments where the viewer can struggle to relate to the characters, and this can distract from the story. In addition to this, one can almost understand the conclusion of the story’s prescription of Nietzschian self-actualization as a necessary counter-balance to the opposite extreme that is displayed in the characters up to that point. However, I think it can also be misleading, because the debilitating nature of the mental illnesses being displayed almost calls for this potent counter-measure, but at the same time can just as easily throw the character (and any person who thinks they can see themselves in these characters) into the opposite extreme of promoting the self at the expense of those interpersonal connections that provide it with an environment in which it can exist.
I do think this kind of unrestrained egoism is just as bad, and debilitating, as the parasitic dependence upon others it opposes. Human nature is only complete, and fully realized, when a balance is found between the two, between individuality and community so that the two are harmonized and brought into agreement with one another. It is a confused, and immature, perspective that tries to draw the needs and goals of these two into contradiction. This is not to say that conflict cannot be found between them. But it is the goal, the conclusion of human strivings, to find this balance and bring the two into harmony. It may not even be an attainable goal, but at the very least, the highest in human kind is found in the struggle to bring these two into unity and to resolve the discord.
I guess this is why I am reserved toward NGE. It is a tale of the struggle to discover ourselves and to shake off the shackles of dependency, but because of the extremes being displayed, there can be little in the way of discovering this balance, and so the viewer is left with what I believe is an incomplete picture of the realities of the human condition.