Anime's (Post)Human Instrumentality Project

Curator's Note

Anime has explored the idea of what it means to be a humanistic individual surrounded by robots (of various shapes and sizes), cyborgs, and androids across a number of different genres and formats, from the romantic comedy/magical girlfriend series Chobits (2002) to post-cyberpunk film Ghost In the Shell (Japan 1995, United States 1996). Perhaps no genre has been more popular for exploring this idea of the posthuman than the mecha (giant robot) genre.

The series Neon Genesis Evangelion (Japan 1995-96) follows the mecha genre faithfully for the first half, the show slowly slides into deconstruction with characters questioning their relationships to these giant robots (called Evas) and why they’re fighting alien lifeforms (referred to as Angels). The scene here is from episode 16 ("Splitting the Breast"). In it, the main character Shinji and his Eva are swallowed by an Angel. As the life support systems for the Eva slowly shut down, Shinji is forced to confront himself in a series of abstract vignettes.

These vignettes become increasingly common, not only for Shinji but also for the other pilots, as the situation in the series become increasingly dire. This particular sequence lays the groundwork for these vignettes, using montage, stills, intertitle cards, and small children versions of the characters that confront the characters with their emotional baggage. Tellingly, the vignettes occur not only when they pilot an Eva, but when also when they confront the Angels (which have a near-identical DNA structure to human beings).

Without experiencing the posthuman, be it fighting an alien lifeform or piloting a giant robot, (which happens to also contain a human soul), Shinji would not come to grips with the death of his mother, his father issues, and ultimately decide if he’d rather be absorbed by the Eva’s displaced soul or continue to exist as a humanistic individual. Indeed, in the feature-length film that wraps up the series, Shinji rejects a plan to turn all of mankind into a single consciousness, selecting instead for individuals to struggle to connect with other.

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