[EVA] Religion and Gainax was RE: [EVA] Moura interviews

Carl Horn once at ix.netcom.com
Tue Dec 22 13:57:03 EST 2009

On Dec 22, 2009, at 6:51 AM, Gwern Branwen wrote:
> ...all 4 points are throwaway dialogue and names. How is Asuka very
> German, besides throwaway dialogue? How is GEHIRN or SEELE or NERV
> German besides their putative locations and names?
> The only thing I can think of that is at all 'German' about SEELE or
> NERV is a very strained analogy to the Nazis, and then only if you
> deracinate all their ideas and plans, psychologize them, and ignore
> the long history in Japan of grandiose revolutionary movements seeking
> to create a new world. (Do I really need to give examples?)
> Besides, if we were supposed to see SEELE as the inner party
> leadership, wouldn't one expect even a few more Nazi symbols or
> something? There's a rich body of symbolism, rhetoric, actions,
> architecture etc. associated with fascism which Gainax could *easily*
> have used; said body is even more available than some Kircher-style
> kabbalahs.

They aren't putative locations and names, any more than Tokyo-3 is  
putatively located in Hakone or NERV's fighting units are putatively  
named Evangelion. In the series, NERV actually does have bases in  
Berlin and Hamburg, and NERV, GEHIRN, and SEELE actually are German  
names. If we can't see what is actually there in Evangelion, or, if  
we do see it, and decide it is merely "throwaway," how firm can our  
overall interpretations of the series then be? "This was not  
relevant, and that was not relevant...now, with this portion left  
that is relevant, I will say what the whole thing meant?"

There are two perspectives on the series that need to be kept  
separate. One is its internal world; that is, the world of this  
fictional story, and the way its fictional characters understand it  
and its events. The other is the external appearance of this  
fictional story to us, the outside audience. I assign the words  
"external appearance" to us and not them, as a reminder that all  
elements of Evangelion are, to us, equally superficial (in the sense  
that none of them actually exist) whereas all elements of Evangelion  
are, to them, equally real, either as physical or psychological  

I don't have an elaborate theory to defend as to the significance of  
the German used in Evangelion; I said that after a certain point one  
could do no more than speculate. But realizing that something within  
the series isn't fully explained or developed is a different thing  
from declaring it must then be a "throwaway" element. Again,  
throwaway from whose perspective? Certainly not that of the  
characters. If you worked for an organization in America (or Japan)  
that had a German name, and which had changed its name from that of a  
previous organization that also had a German name, and your American  
(or Japanese) boss ostensibly took his orders from a man with a  
German name belonging to yet another organization with a German name-- 
if you were one of the characters of Evangelion and knew all these  
things, the reasonable inference to be drawn is that there was some  
significant reason for all these German names being used and chosen.

Just as the characters presumably had reasons to call the beings  
attacking them by the names of medieval angelology (we might say,  
"these are code names," but the characters didn't, as they did call  
it "Operation" Yashima--and even if they were code names, we would  
still have to ask: why those names in particular? Because they  
sounded cool and different? Excuse me, because they sounded cool and  
different to Gendo Ikari?), they presumably had reasons behind these  
German names. The mere fact the series doesn't explain it would not  
support it therefore being a throwaway element of no significance;  
first of all, that would not make sense to the people within the  
world of the series. People, after all, choose names, be it Shinji  
for a boy, Rei for a girl, or SEELE, NERV, and GEHIRN for  
organizations. Second, it is hardly the only thing in Evangelion that  
is not explained; if something about Eva being unexplained makes it  
presumed therefore irrelevant, well, that should keep many of our  
threads considerably shorter ^_^

(Oh, yeah. Gainax decided that "shito" be translated in English as  
"Angel," but we've decided what it actually means in Japanese is  
"mysterious creatures ultimately created by an alien race, but who  
have no religious significance or symbolism to its characters."  
Actually, the word those characters chose to describe them means  
"apostle," so apparently they're confused on this no-religious- 
significance thing both in Japanese and in English. It's a double  
whammy of delusion on their part. If only the characters and  
scriptwriters of Evangelion would stop using these throwaway words of  
theirs, and embrace the language of true understanding--that is,  
ours, the Evangelion fans).

As a matter of fact, Anno is a student of Leni Riefenstahl, and  
parodied her Triumph of the Will in the Nadia omake. In the spring  
1997 issue of Tokion he said regarding the dangerous potential of  
art: "Nazi Germany was a perfect example. Those guys were making  
great movies! Even the anti-Nazi propaganda films Disney produced,  
portrayed Nazis as being fashionable" (He also said of Evangelion in  
that same interview, "I'm obviously not from a Christian upbringing,  
so they will have to excuse me for borrowing certain Christian words  
and images." He didn't say, "They will have to ignore my borrowing  
them, because they have no meaning whatsoever within the story").

But if you don't mind my saying so, it is highly superficial and  
insulting to suggest that the only thing one could even strain to  
possibly identify as German as an influence upon the world of  
Evangelion was the Nazis. The Nazi period is an infamous stain on  
their (and the human) record that can't be erased and should never be  
forgotten. But is that all we have to say about the history of German  
scholarship and culture? Are we that ignorant about Germany, that all  
we know about it is that "those are the guys we fought in World War  
II"? Are we that ignorant about Japan, that we assume the knowledge  
and image they have of Germany derives mainly from the Nazi era? That  
isn't history. That's the History Channel.

Let's look at another word the Japanese use as an official  
translation--the word they used long before World War II, and long  
after World War II, and today--to name their national governing  
assembly. That word is not "parliament" or "congress," it is "Diet,"  
derived from German. Well, that decision was probably throwaway, just  
a name. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the German  
influence on Japanese modernization (one of the chief foreign  
advisors on the wording of the Meiji Constitution was named Lorenz  
von Stein. Originally of the University of Kiel) or their long  
tradition of studying of German philosophical and scientific thought?  
No, the Japanese and the Germans...Germans? Those were the Nazis,  
right? The Japanese? They were those guys who were with the Nazis,  

Roentgen, Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Hertz, Born, all  
won their Nobel prizes for work written in German, not English. My  
own degree is in history. If you want to pursue a doctorate in that  
field, the single most useful foreign language to learn is German,  
because German is a leading international language of historical  
scholarship—especially Asian history, in which German speakers have  
been prominent for over two centuries. We speak of the psychological  
ideas in Evangelion. What language do we think Freud and Schopenhauer  
originally wrote in, or do we assume Anno didn't know it was German?  
Occultism? Now, Athanasius Kircher, he was French. Ha, ha, just  
kidding--he was German, too. You know, we're not the gatekeepers here  
in the English-speaking world, still less in America, that control  
Japanese access to Western thought. They translate plenty of other  
European languages directly into their own, and have for a long time.


More information about the evangelion mailing list