End of Evangelion, Death Threats, and Author-Audience Relationships
Please Note: This article contains spoilers for Neon Genesis Evangelion, End of Evangelion, and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
TW: Sexual Content, Depression, Suicide
After finally finishing Neon Genesis Evangelion for the first time, I found I had become deeply immersed into the show’s exploration of depression, isolation, abandonment, and the ways in which we hate ourselves. For me, that’s when Evangelion was at its best. This is not to discount the fantastic battles, or the interesting conspiracy and lore developed throughout the show’s run. However, it felt to me that these aspects were always given a backseat to the characters and their inner struggles.
It’s no secret that the creator of Evangelion, Hideaki Anno, suffered from bouts of depression during the production of the show. With an increasingly tight budget, and his own mental health drastically interfering with the writing and creating of the show (it has been noted that Anno would constantly rewrite episodes before they were due to begin animating), Evangelion was a troubled production. This is never more clear than in the final two episodes of the show’s television run, Do You Love Me? and Take Care of Yourself.
Without delving too deeply into the inner machinations of the show’s plot, these two episodes are a drastic departure from the show’s tale of angels, conspiracies, and the Human Instrumentality Project. Instead, these final two episodes serve as a therapy session of sorts for the characters, with Shinji Ikari as the focal point. The team behind the final two episodes sought to resolve the emotional arcs of each character, and leave Shinji in a happier place compared where he was throughout the show’s run. To Anno, this was the point of Evangelion.
However, for many fans this was not what they wanted. Due to budget restrictions, and Anno’s shift in focus, fans were left wanting for a resolution to the Human Instrumentality Project, Seele, and NERV that wasn’t to be.
In a 1996 interview with Newtype, Anno was quoted as saying “Evangelion is like a puzzle, you know, any person can see it and give his/her own answer.”. Of course, this is also due to Anno’s hesitation in providing clear answers to Evangelion.
Some fans responded to this hesitation with vitriol, and with death threats. Anno’s mental state continued to spiral, at times the director considered suicide.
In 1997, End of Evangelion released in theatres as the “true” ending to the show, and much like episodes 25 and 26, End gives no easy answers. It instead forces the audience, through Shinji, to confront their self-destructive states and desire for easy answers, for help they have not earned. It is a film at war with its own creator, and the audience.
The treatment of Anno and the team at Gainax is, unfortunately, not an isolated incident. Death threats and hatred being hurled at creators is the norm in a fandom culture that prioritizes getting what you want over the creative freedom and expression of the creators.
This norm can be seen everywhere. Rian Johnson received death threats for his creative choices in The Last Jedi; to this day, there are still vocal advocates who rail against the film, and Disney, and Kathleen Kennedy. George RR Martin, creator of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series that is the inspiration for HBO’s Game of Thrones, has infamously had increasingly long gaps between books in the series; The Winds of Winter, book six of seven, has been repeatedly delayed due to Martin’s admitted struggle to write the book amidst the growing popularity of the series. When the show concluded in 2019, amidst the firestorm by fans for the show’s admittedly terrible ending, the clamouring for the books reignited with a passion.
Hideo Kojima, in an eerie way, found himself in almost the exact same situation as Anno following the release of Metal Gear Solid 2. After crafting an existentialist deconstruction of the medium that concludes with encouraging players to make their own choices, Kojima was ready to step away from the Metal Gear series. However, fans felt betrayed by the game, and by the decision to replace Solid Snake with Raiden, a distinctly unlikeable character when compared to Snake. Though this was intentional, fans ignored the themes, and zeroed in on their personal attachment to what a good sequel to Metal Gear Solid would look like.
Kojima ultimately returned to the series with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. MGS3 has, since its release, been hailed as the pinnacle of the series. However, it wasn’t so simple. Kojima had originally avoided working on what would become Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. He instead made MGS3, a prequel to the rest of the Metal Gear series. However, after members of the development team were made nervous due to the threats, Kojima was compelled to direct the sequel project. He had to acknowledge that MGS2 was real, despite its overtly postmodernist themes and story. He had to give the fans what they wanted.
Kojima and Anno are birds of a feather, in that their most acclaimed work within the series came about as a result of their decisions to return. It’s what makes experiencing their work so bittersweet, the knowledge of the abuse they endured as a result of creative decisions. One can understand why George RR Martin would be hesitant to evoke the wrath of the Fans by releasing books that, most likely, could never live up to the absurdly high expectations set in place by those who have made their release a personal dream. Or, perhaps he realizes he doesn’t owe it to the fans.
Within fandoms, there becomes a sense of entitlement surrounding the content that is consumed, that you know what’s right, and what is deserved. Our perceptions of how important something is informs our personal attachments, and when something is not what we want it to be, it can feel like a betrayal. But that’s not an excuse to wish harm on someone else.
While here, I want to address the difference between criticism and abuse. It is not unfair to criticize Anno and Gainax Animation for the hypocrisy in their straightforward depictions of adolescent sexuality, and the ways in which the female characters of Evangelion, two of which are literal children, are fetishized in marketing and merchandise. It is unfair to wish death upon the creators of your favourite anime because the ending is not what you wanted. There is a distinct line between constructive criticism meant to better the creators of your favourite show, and betraying the trust of author and audience.
Circling back to End of Evangelion, we see what happens when an author responds to the toxic elements of fandom. Shinji, the audience surrogate, masturbates to completely over a comatose Asuka; he remarks the now infamous “I’m so fucked up”/“I’m the lowest of the low” (Dub/Sub). In this moment, Anno is holding up a reflection to the audience, some members had grown to be sexually attracted to Asuka and Rei, among other characters in the show.
In one moment of the film, Shinji is interrogated by his perceptions of Asuka, Rei, and Misato; the primary female influences on his life. Rei asks Shinji if he ever tried to fully understand them, and Shinji sullenly claims that he did. I can’t help but feel that this is Anno’s way of asking the viewer if they tried to understand what he was doing with Evangelion.
The ways in which we proclaim attachment to the work of an author, and attribute any failings of their work as personal attacks, deeply disturb me. When we cross the line of criticism, and threaten the safety of others over fantasies, then we are Shinji. We never fully tried to understand. We are the lowest of the low.
Take care of yourself.