Not, to be clear, the Evangelion FAQ. Because such a thing inherently can’t exist. It is essentially impossible to talk about What Is Really Going On in Neon Genesis Evangelion without bringing personal judgment and speculation into play, because so much is ambiguous and because the possible background materials tend to contradict one another.
Which, of course, is true of basically every story ever told, but it’s more noticeable with NGE.
But a handful of people over at Mark Watches are watching the series for the first time, and they have Questions of a basic “what actually is the plot to this thing” sort. So as a sort of public service… here we go. They finish the series Friday, so I figure getting it up today will give time for people who have seen the series to comment and suggest changes, alternate interpretations, maybe even questions I forgot.
Anyway, FAQ is below the cut.
Q: What is an Eva?
Evas are described at various points in the series as artificial humans, copies of Adam, humanity’s last defense against the Angels, or attempts to create gods. In truth they are all of these things: copies of Adam created by human science to serve as vessels for human souls and anti-Angel weapons as part of the Human Instrumentality Project. At full power, an Eva is equal to or even stronger than an Angel; however, their power is restrained by the “armor” used to control them. Only a berserk Eva can access its full potential.
The name “Evangelion” is a pun. It refers both to their derivation from Angels (both words ultimately mean “messenger”) and, because it can be contracted to “Eva,” as in Eve, to the fact that they are made in Adam’s image.
Q: Why do the pilots have to be children?
This is not entirely clear. One possibility is that there is something different about people born after Second Impact as opposed to before, which makes them more qualified to pilot Eva. Alternatively, perhaps the more plastic and flexible brains of children are better suited to synchronize with an Eva than the less adaptable brain of an adult. Or perhaps, knowing the power of a berserk Eva, NERV deliberately gave them the souls of mothers and put children in the pilot seat in order to provoke the Eva into going berserk to protect the pilot in its “womb.”
Personally, I think it’s all three.
ETA: TheWonko mentioned in the comments that the A10 nerve, which is where the interface with the Eva connects, is associated with familial feeling, lending support to that third possibility. (It’s not entirely clear whether that association exists in real life or is made-up science for the show.)
Q: Whose souls are in the Evas?
The two we know basically for certain are Eva-01 (which contains Yui Ikari’s soul) and Eva-02 (which contains Kyoko Soryu’s soul or a fragment thereof). Eva-03 probably contains the soul of Toji’s mother, and the mass-produced Eva Series probably don’t have souls of their own.
That just leaves Eva-00, which is a topic of much debate. The most common theory among English-speaking fans in the 1990s and 2000s was that it contains Naoko Akagi’s soul, which is why it’s hostile to Ritsuko, Rei, and Gendo–Ritsuko and Rei out of jealousy of their relationship with Gendo, and Gendo out of rage at being abandoned by him. However, as better translations became available, consensus has shifted, and it is now usually believed to be a piece of Rei’s soul separated from her after the death of Rei I (later returned to her after the destruction of Eva-00). This would explain why Shinji senses a small, distorted version of Rei when he attempts to pilot Eva-00, why Rei refers to “the me in the Eva” in Episode 23, and why Rei II seems to have flatter affect and more identity confusion than Rei I and Rei III (since she’s the only one missing part of her soul). Some fans have noted that Ritsuko is in shadow and thus looks much more like Naoko than usual in shots from Eva-00’s perspective right before it attacked her.
Q: What is Rei?
During an early activation test of Eva-01 with Yui Ikari as the pilot, she achieved too high of a synch ratio and was absorbed, just as Shinji would be in Episodes 19-20. As part of the attempts to retrieve her soul from the Eva, clones of her were created to serve as vessels for her soul.
Yui’s soul was never recovered, but as part of his plan to hijack Instrumentality, Gendo arranged to have Lilith’s soul implanted in one and raise her under the cover story of being a friend’s child that he adopted. When the “active” Rei dies, her soul transfers to another one of the clones and she is able to carry on as if she had never been killed.
In addition, the inactive Rei clones serve as cores for the dummy plug system, soulless humans that can pilot the Evas but lack any wills of their own and thus are totally obedient.
Q: What happened to Asuka’s mom?
The process of transferring or copying her soul to Eva-02 caused her severe psychological damage, and eventually she killed herself.
Given that her most prominent symptom is a loss of the ability to recognize her daughter, it seems plausible that NERV was trying to find a way to give an Eva a soul without killing a person, and used an approach similar to the approach Dr. Akagi used to create MAGI. In other words, they tried to copy Kyoko Soryu’s “mother” aspect into Eva-02, and the result was that she lost that aspect of herself and hence the “bond” connecting her to her daughter. It is thus uncertain whether Eva-02 contains the complete soul of Kyoko Soryu or just the mother aspect.
(ETA: elpsycongruent pointed out on Mark Watches that Eva-02 probably has Kyoko’s entire soul, noting that in EoE, when Asuka is pleading not to die, the voice of her mother mostly offers protection but occasionally says things like “Die with me!” This suggests that some of Kyoko’s post-mental break personality is in there, suggesting that it’s her whole soul. GoukaRyuu replied speculating that a piece was broken off in the contact experiment, and the rest of her soul was drawn to it “like a magnet” when she died.)
Q: If the Eva pilots are so important to the future of humanity, why doesn’t NERV hire some therapists for them?
Well, for starters, the very first thing any competent therapist would recommend is for them to stop piloting Eva, and that’s not an option. Second, if I’m right that part of the point of having children as pilots is to provoke a protective response from the mothers’ souls in the Evas, then the more traumatized the children are, the better.
Q: What is Human Instrumentality?
The forced evolution of humanity into godlike beings, accomplished by fusing all human souls into a single entity that possesses both the Fruit of Life and the Fruit of Wisdom.
Q: The Fruit of what now?
The Fruit of Life, also called the S2 Engine, comes from Adam. It is that which Angels possess that humans do not. It is the source of their vast powers, their regenerative capabilities, and their immortality. The Fruit of Wisdom comes from Lilith. It is that which humans possess that Angels do not, namely the capacity for individual consciousness and rational, abstract thought.
Q: What are Adam and Lilith?
Adam and Lilith are both Progenitors, immensely powerful beings created by the First Ancestral Race (FAR) to seed the universe with life.
Q: Who are the First Ancestral Race?
The FAR were a humanoid species of great power and intelligence that existed billions of years ago. When their planet was on the verge of destruction, they decided to launch a fleet of arks, the Seeds of Life, to spread throughout the universe and seed planets with life and intelligence. However, for some reason (possibly to ensure that the first seeded planet wouldn’t have a huge advantage over the others?) they decided to split their abilities, so while the FAR themselves possessed both the Fruit of Life and the Fruit of Wisdom, each of the Seeds of Life only had one or the other, and no planet was to have two Seeds.
Q: What were the Seeds of Life?
Each Seed of Life had four main components. First was the ship itself, a giant hollow sphere called an Egg or Moon. The Black Eggs carried Progenitors with the Fruit of Wisdom, while the White Eggs carried Progenitors with the Fruit of Life.
The second component was the Progenitor, which was the active part of the system and had multiple functions. First, the Progenitor’s job was to seed a planet with life. Then, once beings able to carry souls evolved, the Progenitor was to open the Doors of Guf within it (at least for Lilith, they are located in her palms), and release the souls stored in the third component, the Chamber of Guf.
The Chamber of Guf was a storehouse containing the souls of the FAR, which are recycled into the bodies of intelligent beings on the seeded planet, once they emerge. All souls possess the capacity to generate an AT Field, which defines them and gives them physical form, but also separates them from one another.
The final component of a Seed of Life is the Lance of Longinus, which is able to generate an Anti-AT Field. At its most basic level, it can penetrate the AT Field of anything with a soul, destroying it utterly, but its true purpose is that in an emergency, the Lance activates to shut down all AT Fields on the planet, drawing all souls back to the Chamber of Guf, and it then shuts down the Progenitor, leaving the planet dead and silent.
The Seeds of Life were programmed to seek out candidate planets in the process of formation. To ensure the two Fruits could not be combined, each Seed of Life was assigned a different planet. The Seed of Life assigned to Earth was the White Moon of Adam.
Q: What was First Impact?
Due to some kind of error or accident, the Black Egg of Lilith arrived at Earth shortly after the White Egg of Adam. It collided violently with the Earth and a conflict between the two Progenitors erupted. In the course of this conflict, Lilith’s Lance of Longinus was destroyed, and so was the crust of the Earth itself, with the debris eventually settling down to form the Moon. In the end, Adam’s Lance of Longinus activated, wiping out the nascent Angels and drawing their souls back into the Chamber of Guf in the White Egg, which (along with Adam and his Lance of Longinus) ended up buried beneath Antarctica.
Lilith was then free to seed Earth with her own type of life. Her blood, which is LCL/the primordial soup, served as the source for all life as we know it. Eventually, the ancestors of humanity evolved and Lilith opened her Chamber of Guf, releasing souls into them, and the rest is (quite literally) history.
Q: What is SEELE?
SEELE is a secret society that has existed for an unknown period of time, but is over a hundred years old by the beginning of NGE. It’s a bunch of rich, powerful old men determined to make the world work according to their designs.
Q: What’s all this about Dead Sea Scrolls?
In real life, the Dead Sea Scrolls were a set of documents written by the Essenes, a Jewish splinter sect, around 2000 years ago. They were found in 1917, and some were published and others kept secret by the Vatican. (Since NGE was produced, the secret scrolls were released, but at the time it was made they were still secret.) The Dead Sea Scrolls include some of the oldest versions known of certain books of the Bible, and a number of other books which the Essenes appear to have considered sacred but which were not preserved elsewhere, including books of apocalyptic prophecy.
In NGE, the secret Dead Sea Scrolls are in possession of SEELE, and contain detailed information about First Impact, Adam, Lilith, and the Angels. SEELE is able to use them to plan their “script,” the process by which Human Instrumentality will occur.
Q: What was the Katsuragi Expedition?
The Katsuragi Expedition was a SEELE-funded effort to locate the White Egg of Adam in Antarctica. As only certain members of the expedition were aware, this was the first step in the Human Instrumentality Project, and its goal was to trigger Second Impact.
The only survivor of the expedition was Misato Katsuragi, whose father (the leader of the expedition) gave up his chance to escape in order to get her to safety. However, Gendo Ikari (nee Rokubungi) was also a member of the expedition, and mysteriously called home the day before Second Impact killed everyone. (Most likely, he was warned by his girlfriend Yui, whose father was a member of SEELE.)
Q: What was Second Impact?
The series contains a number of explanations of Second Impact, most of which are lies. The first is that Second Impact was a meteoric impact, which is false. The second is that it was caused by an Angel making contact with Adam, causing him to go berserk. This is also false.
The truth is that Second Impact was caused by the Katsuragi Expedition deactivating the Lance of Longinus. This released the souls of the Angels from his Chamber of Guf, and caused Adam to awaken (the Giant of Light seen in flashbacks and referred to by Fuyutsuki). The real destruction, however, occurred when the Katsuragi Expedition then used the Lance to reduce Adam to an embryonic state, which released so much energy that it vaporized much of Antarctica and altered the axial tilt and climate of the Earth, killing billions and devastating the environment worldwide.
This accomplished a number of goals for SEELE: It released the Angels’ souls, allowing them to take physical forms possessing the Fruit of Life/S2 Engine, which SEELE intended to study and copy. It gave them the embryonic Adam to work with. And it let them convince world leaders that Second Impact was the opening strike of an alien invasion, allowing them to develop the Evas (essential to the Human Instrumentality Project) under the guise of being weapons to defend against that invasion.
Q: What was SEELE’s plan for Human Instrumentality?
Step 1 of SEELE’s plan was Second Impact. Step 2 was to develop the Eva from Adam–bodies possessing the potential to be as powerful as Angels, but under human control. Step 3 was to use the Evas to destroy the Angels, in the process learning how to create S2 Engines and install them in the Eva Series. Step 4 was to create a fusion of Adam and Lilith, and then use the Lance of Longinus to initiate Third Impact by shutting that fusion down, causing all human souls to return to the Chamber of Guf and then reincarnate in the Eva Series, which would possess both the Fruit of Life and the Fruit of Wisdom, and hence be gods. It is also possible that they intended to leave most human souls in the Chamber of Guf, with only the souls of the SEELE members themselves inhabiting the ascended Eva Series.
Q: What went wrong with SEELE’s plan?
In a word? Love.
First, out of love for her newborn son, Yui laid in motion a plan to betray them. Yui realized that if all of humanity were merged into a single being, it might mean no more loneliness, rejection, and misunderstandings, but it would also mean no more love, friendship, or empathy. She decided that people should have a choice which they wanted, and so laid in motion events that would ensure she, rather than SEELE, would be in control of Third Impact, and able to offer Shinji (and everyone else) a choice between Instrumentality and reincarnating as humans. This plan involved creating Eva-01 from Lilith rather than Adam, ensuring that Eva-01 gets an S2 engine and serves as the core of Third Impact rather than Lilith, and either being absorbed by it so that her soul was at the heart of Third Impact, or possibly (if Yui’s death really was an accident) being the pilot when Third Impact occurred so that she could be the one to choose.
Second, out of love for Yui, Gendo turned against SEELE so that he could use Rei to hijack Third Impact and return to Yui.
Third, out of love for Shinji, Kaworu chose to die rather than carry out SEELE’s plan for him to merge with Lilith and create the hybrid they needed to carry out Third Impact, which together with the loss of the Lance of Longinus derailed SEELE’s original plan.
Fourth, again out of love for Shinji, Rei rejected Gendo’s plans and gave power over Third Impact to Shinji instead of Gendo.
Q: Who or what was Kaworu?
Kaworu was, like Rei, a clone of a human created to serve as a vessel for a soul. Specifically, he contains the soul of Adam, which was extracted by the Katsuragi Expedition’s contact experiments. If Kaworu’s birthdate (stated in the show to be the day of Second Impact) is accurate, it implies that he was created in Antarctica and was likely a clone of a member of the Katsuragi Expedition, plausibly Katsuragi himself or Gendo. Another possibility is that he is a clone of Keel Lorenz, the director of SEELE. It seems like the sort of self-centered thing he’d do, and helps illustrate the difference between him and Gendo: they each love exactly one person, and create a clone of that person as part of an effort to make them immortal.
Q: What was SEELE’s original endgame, and how did it get derailed?
Seele’s original endgame was, after all the Angels were destroyed, to have the S2 engine-equipped Eva Series merge with Lilith, creating a new god by combining the Fruits of Wisdom and Life. Then they would use the Lance of Longinus to return all human souls to oneness with each other and with Lilith, making the new god a vessel for the unified soul of all mankind.
This plan was derailed when the Lance of Longinus was used to destroy Arael.
Q: What was SEELE trying to do with Kaworu, and how did it get derailed?
SEELE’s backup plan was to send Kaworu–who had been raised as a human, and only partly understood his nature, much like Rei–to NERV with instructions to merge with “Adam” (really Lilith) in the basement. This forbidden Adam-Lilith fusion would, they hoped, be sufficient to create the new god and trigger Third Impact without the Lance of Longinus.
(ETA: GoukaRyuu suggested on Mark Watches that having Unit-01 there was probably also part of the plan, since after devouring the Angel it has become a sort of second-generation Lilith-Adam hybrid.)
This attempt was derailed by Kaworu’s love for humanity in general and Shinji in particular, causing him to sacrifice himself rather than trigger Instrumentality.
Q: What was Gendo’s plan, and how did it get derailed?
Gendo’s plan was to get ahold of the dormant Adam embryo and implant it in himself, making himself the forbidden fusion of the two Fruits, albeit with the powers of one of them inactive. He then manipulated matters so that Eva-01 (which contained Yui’s soul, and was made from Lilith) got an S2 engine, so that it too was a fusion of the two Fruits. Finally, when the time for Third Impact came, he fused with Rei, with the plan that she would use her connections to everyone (she is a clone of the woman whose soul is in Eva-01, bears the soul of Lilith, and is now fused with Gendo and Adam) to merge him and Yui into a single immortal godlike being. And maybe also the rest of humanity, who gives a fuck? Not Gendo.
Gendo’s plan was derailed when Rei told him to go fuck himself. (It was awesome.)
Q: What was SEELE trying to do in End of Eva?
SEELE’s second backup plan was to try to seize control of the Evas by force, in particular Eva-01, which as mentioned was made from Lilith but contained an S2 engine, making it a faux Adam-Lilith hybrid. Their first attempt to do this was by hacking the MAGI. After that failed, they “leaked” to the Japanese military that Gendo was trying to trigger Third Impact, so that they would attack NERV. (SEELE had been preparing for this contingency for some time, gradually reducing NERV’s security budget.)
(ETA: GoukaRyuu pointed out on Mark Watches that it’s very likely SEELE was responsible for the power outage in Ep 11, as a way of learning more about NERV’s defenses and crisis response.)
During that attack, SEELE sent the Eva Series (which, remember, are also faux Lilith-Adam hybrids) armed with replica Lances of Longinus to carry out Third Impact with Unit-01. After taking out Unit-02, they immobilized Unit-01 and used the replica Lances to give it “stigmata,” which could act as mini-Doors of Guf.
Q: What ended up actually happening?
Rei gained the true, full power of Lilith and Adam in a single being with her soul and mind in control. At the same time, Shinji’s panic and terror somehow summoned the true Lance of Longinus from the moon. This meant the two of them had control over the form of Third Impact. Rei desired to be one with Shinji, and Shinji wished for universal destruction, so Lilith/Adam/Rei/Kaworu activated a global-scale anti-AT Field and dissolved everyone into Tang.
The merger of all human souls occurred within Lilith’s Chamber of Guf, but Shinji came to desire selfhood again. He rejected Instrumentality, and emerged into the world.
Which was all just as Yui had planned. She realized after Shinji was born that a world without individual selves might mean an end to rejection and loneliness, but it also meant an end to friendship and love. She decided that he (and all the little children–congratulations!) should have a choice whether to become one or to return to the world with all its pain and sorrow and heartache and maybe, if you’re lucky, a tiny bit of joy.
Shinji and Asuka and who knows how many other people choose to return to life. An unknown number of people, but speaking with Yui’s voice, choose instead to live as a single, eternal being within the immortal god-body of Eva-01, and depart into space.