A Handy Motif in Neon Genesis Evangelion

December 3, 2015 § 1 Comment

Hey, just a thought… We all know about the visual match between Rei’s blood on Shinji’s hand in the first episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the embryonic Adam in Gendo’s hand in the director’s cut of episode twenty-four, and the semen on Shinji’s hand in an early scene from End of Evangelion, right? I mean, if you don’t, the image is out there and it’s fairly interesting, although the apparent consensus is that it’s merely an aesthetic choice with no thematic meaning attached to it.

Anyway, while rewatching parts of End of Evangelion, like one does, I noticed another visual match that also has to do with hands. First, there is the iconic shot from the OP of Neon Genesis Evangelion, where the bloodied hand of EVA 01 dangles by its side, presumably following the berserk rage for which that unit becomes known during the series.

The bloody hand of EVA 01 from the OP of Neon Genesis Evangelion

The bloody hand of EVA 01 from the OP of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Compare to that to a shot from episode three, when Shinji fights Shamshel in EVA 01. After grasping the tentacles of energy that the Angel wields, in order to protect two acquaintances from school who’ve wandered onto the battlefield, the purple armor on the hands of the EVA unit is burned off, revealing scars on dark flesh and nails that look recognizably human. It’s a moment of horror for Kensuke and Toji, seeing that the colossal machine protecting them and their home is both organic and fallible, but I think that the extremely close similarity between the two images is supposed to emphasize to the audience the tenuous utility and humanity of the EVA units. They are weapons of war, easily driven to wreak carnage, but they are also human under all-covering armor that evokes the “muscular armor” of Wilhelm Reich — the manner and means by which one’s body articulates its own psychological sense of self.

The burned hands of EVA 01 from episode three of Neon Genesis Evangelion

That’s interesting enough on its own, but there’s one more visual match in End of Evangelion. During the kitchen scene between Shinji and Asuka, in the midst of Instrumentality, the two characters get into a remembered or imagined argument about desire and responsibility, and understanding between them. It escalates, as Asuka refuses to trust Shinji with intimacy if he is unable to understand and to respect either himself or her, and eventually Shinji lashes out in a tantrum, demanding the love that he is missing not just from Asuka but from everyone around him. Again, Asuka refuses him and, after an incredibly pregnant moment, Shinji wraps his fingers around her neck and begins choking her.

Fuck me, it’s a hard scene to watch, even though I’ve seen it literally dozens of times. Two characters, both in desperate need, but unable to help each other because of their fundamental nature. The thing is, I notice that the mounting tensions of the scene are accompanied by several cuts to Shinji’s right hand, the opposite to the left hand of EVA 01 in the two shots described above, clenching and releasing as he wavers between fucking Asuka and killing her. Ultimately, he elects for the latter, the former being too daunting for him.

Shinji's hand in End of Evangelion

Shinji’s hand in End of Evangelion

The visual match to the other shots demonstrates that Shinji’s consummately human-seeming hand is also capable of monstrosities, no less than the blood-stained and armor-clad hand of his EVA unit. The flip in what might be called the “handedness” of the visual match could even be implying that one is the obverse of the other, but even if it’s a convenience for the scene’s staging, it still brings to mind those uncomfortable commonalities between man and machine.

Especially during the early episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the audience is repeatedly reminded that Shinji’s protection of humans and their world by piloting his EVA unit is still unspeakably destructive, but the visual match hints that the responsibility for that destruction rests on Shinji and not the EVA. At the root of it, the EVA unit is just Shinji’s own “muscular armor.” Without an EVA, he still tries to murder the closest person that he has to a soulmate, both before and after destroying the human race in semi-conscious pursuit of his own emotional security. The EVA units might be monsters on the surface, with their massive size and alien appearance, but under the skin they’re human — or, at least, a human work. Shinji certainly looks and acts human, feeling his feelings more than anyone else in virtually any piece of media ever, but under his skin… who knows?

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§ One Response to A Handy Motif in Neon Genesis Evangelion

  • Ben says:

    An telling hint on the general meaning of hands in Neon Genesis Evangelion is a conversation between Shinji and Rei (either a figment of his imagination or an avatar of the god-creature Lilith) at the peak of Instrumentality.

    Shinji: Nobody understands me.
    Rei: You never understood anything.
    Shinji: I thought this was supposed to be a world without pain, and without uncertainty.
    Rei: That’s because you thought that everyone else felt the same as you do.
    Shinji: You betrayed me! You betrayed my feelings!
    Rei: You misunderstood from the very beginning. You just believed what you wanted to believe.
    Shinji: Nobody wants me, so they can all just die.
    Rei: Then what is your hand for?
    Shinji: Nobody cares whether or not I exist. Nothing ever changes, so they can all just die.
    Rei: Then tell me, what is your heart for?
    Shinji: It would be better if I never existed. I should just die, too.
    Rei: Then why are you here?
    Shinji: Is it okay for me to be here?
    [Text reads “Silence” and Shinji screams]

    “Hand” is presented alongside “heart” and “being” as the tools through which a person is able to change their reality. It might even be argued that the hand is the most important of them, as the principal point of contact between the inner self and outer world. In light of that, the various motifs for hands in the series and movies are well worth the audience’s attention.

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