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Psychology in Japanese Animation: Neon Genesis Evangelion

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 2

Hideaki Anno's masterpiece of Japanese animation, Neon Genesis Evangelion, offered enough to popularize the "intellectual-stimulation" brand of anime in the late 1990s.

Although it's not quite studying psychology at home, it certainly got anime fans talking and produced a new "psychology" hobby in more than one, and made some of the concepts of psychology more accessible to the layman. Providing plenty of action, intrigue, humour and human appeal certainly didn't hurt, either. To those who have not yet seen this series, I warn that some of the information here may be thought of as spoilers.

Asuka Langley Soryu, a 14 year old girl chosen to pilot a gargantuan biomechanical Evangelion, is an interesting study of concepts such as narcissism and the id. At a very young age, she lost her mother - ironically, to the Evangelions.

Asuka's mother, Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu, experienced a severe mental illness after an early experiment attempting to synchronise a human mind and soul with an Evangelion. Kyoko was involved in one of the first attempts to link a human mind to the biomechanical defence weapon, the Evangelion - a creature cloned from a superhuman form of life called the Angels, which are on a different evolutionary branch to humanity. As sometimes occurs when human technology attempts to display its grandeur, devastating results affected the very humans using the technology.

After the experiment, Kyoko was unable to process reality, and could no longer recognise Asuka as her daughter. She began stroking and speaking to a rag doll as if it were the real Asuka. Asuka's rejection and trauma came full circle when she discovered the body of her mother after Kyoko hanged herself.

Asuka's character well illustrates the idea of narcissistic, arrogant behaviour as a defence mechanism. Her shameless bragging and condescending, controlling behaviour only intensify when things don't go her way. She refuses to accept the idea of any failures or problems being the result of an inadequacy on her part. She aggressively and conscientiously blocks out her past, focusing only on her current successes and achievements. The "id" part of Asuka's human psyche is controlling things - it is driven by desire for comfort, safety, and reinforcement; and has a childlike sense of its own importance and infallibility.

Asuka's sensitivities, however, cannot be hidden or protected when she is involved in a terrible incident whilst piloting her Evangelion. The threatening alien beings called Angels enter and violate Asuka's mind in a targeted attempt to disable her - which is indeed a good move, as Asuka is a force to be reckoned with when her narcissistic psychological strength is being put to good use in her Evangelion. Every negative, hurtful, raw thought of rejection, loss, pain and vulnerability is laid bare and projected onto her mind in full force. To the sound of the "Hallelujah" chorus, the alien being representing retribution against human arrogance strips her of her ability to control her Evangelion.

The full effect of this incident is intriguing though tragic to watch, and is of great importance in the playing out of the Neon Genesis Evangelion story. For anyone interested in psychology themes in entertainment, Neon Genesis Evangelion and its follow-on concluding feature films are not to be missed.


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Comments

Feb 15, 2010 6:57pm
eileen
wow that seems so unreal but tragic. How awful for the mother but so traumatic for the daughter. I had not thought about this at all. thanks for telling us and opening my eyes anyway.
Feb 16, 2010 1:30am
derosajohanna
Thanks for your comment, eileen! Yes, it's a tragic story in many ways, but don't worry... Interestingly the story between Asuka and her mother does not actually end there, on this tragic relationship dynamic....

Glad you found it interesting!
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