Evangelion: A case for nudity & sexual implications

Having just finished watching Neon Genesis Evangelion (Eva) i came out of it incredibly satisfied with its plot and execution as a whole. It was expertly crafted with deep character arcs, love, death, tragedy and of course giant mechs fighting angels.

Note: i watched this on Netflix and only after finishing it did i find out Netflix changed a number of things to avoid licensing issues. Also changing the voice actors to fans dismay, although this did not affect me in any way.

It was dubbed first of all, which in this case i found well executed, i found myself enjoying the performance of the voice actors and how well they translated into the animation.

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So, there really were no negatives to my viewing of Eva. The aesthetics were phenomenal and the script featured unusually deep-dives into the human psyche which i have never experienced in any western shows, only ever anime. It is a powerful tool in developing character and one that anime, especially Eva use well to give their characters complex and compelling arcs. I found myself noticing a variety of tools that this anime used that western cartoons would never dare pick up. I believe this spurs from a variety of things:

  • Western, namely US cartoons are made purely for a younger audience, whereas anime is watched by teenagers and adults, split fifty-fifty.
  • It is also noted that anime is watched by females and males evenly (Gardiner, 2003), this is a significant fact as almost all of western cartoons have specific demographics in mind i.e. Transformers for boys and Barbie for girls, with exceptions such as Adventure Time breaking the mould.
  • With an older demographic for anime, they are able to present more complex scenes, with plots that are hard to predict, giving the audience a more active role in deciphering possibilities, creating more thought provoking experiences.
  • Cultural influence is a massive player in this scenario, as the Japanese shinto and buddhist culture do not have to abide by the strict perfectionist morality that comes from Christianity that underlies the majority of western culture and media.

So that is what gave Eva the edge, but i’d like to focus on the last point. Without the need to abide by a strict cultural norm, Japanese anime is free to explore more adult themes. Nudity and sexual implication is something i’ve come to expect from anime. Eva was full of it, and though i’m not complaining, i do think it deserves an analysis.

It goes without saying that even western cultures most self-aware and meta cartoons such as Rick and Morty would not dare show any amount of exaggerated cleavage or jaw-dropped big-eyed boys staring at the pretty teacher as she walks across the school grounds. Anime is a different story. I find myself having difficulty trying to look up an Evangelion gif that can get my point across without stumbling onto the inconceivable amount of fan-arts, hentai and other explicits that have been created following the shows initial release. Taboo as it may be, this is the reality of anime as it lands itself in the realm of nudity and unrestraint.

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Although it is noted that in the case of anime, nudity can be used as “fan-service”, and it definitely is throughout Eva, i also noticed that nudity and sexual implication is used to disarm the characters, making them feel naked, and became critical in scenes that called for self-reflection and epiphany. It was also used to highlight the human form and its beauty, this was a massive key as provoking imagery became all the more interesting and beautiful through the art style of Eva, much alike all of anime.

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So as i reflect i note that in a western context, this use of nudity would not float even for a second, but within the walls of anime, it flourishes. As an audience has come to expect such scenes, it becomes clear which bits are made purely for comedy, embarrassment and fan-service.

The ‘fan-service’ scenes are light-hearted, with the characters becoming red-faced, rosy cheeked, massive-eyed and that singular droplet of sweat protruding from the side of their head Image result for neon genesis evangelion nudity

And in comparison, the more plot-driven and adult scenes use nudity in a way to place emphasis on certain aspects such as the human condition. So you have to respect a show that has almost all you could ever ask for; embarrassing moments, an intricate plot, complex characters, emotion, tragedy, reflection, giant mechs fighting angels and as controversial as it may be, nudity.

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I do think it would be a highly informative process for western culture to unpack an anime series such as Neon Genesis Evangelion. There is an undeniable attractiveness to the aesthetics and care taken in the animation and is something that is always brought up in comparisons between the cultures. There is a longevity to anime that is also a powerful factor within Japanese culture and one that fuels community and economy not just in the younger population, but the teenage and adult demographic. There is also one last important factor that i find especially interesting. I have noticed that in my upbringing i used to love cartoons as i was younger, as did we all. I had a seriously ridiculous amount of toys and watched Cartoon Network as much as i was allowed. As i became older, i noticed that it was not socially acceptable to be watching cartoons anymore and they were now considered childish and stupid by my parents. I will give them the benefit of the doubt as how informative could The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy or Codename: Kids Next door really be?

I am now 20, Australian, male. I watch anime and i will not stop. I’ve come to realise how important it is that anime has been able to create content that is socially acceptable and actually considered a source of intellectual entertainment (still not by my parents) for the grown-up population. I do hope western culture eventually can catch up to the amazing world the Japanese, Chinese and rest of Asia get to experience through their anime. Though on second thought, we are given glimpses of demographic shifts for cartoons in western culture:

  • Adult Swim, their shows like Rick and Morty and Family Guy are hugely successful and watched by a largely adult audience.
  • Adventure Time and the Regular Show, light-heartened and self-aware.
  • South Park and American Dad, prey on the political and social contexts in a comedic and playful manner.

So hey maybe its not a lost cause after all!

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4 thoughts on “Evangelion: A case for nudity & sexual implications

  1. In my opinion, you captured the ethnography of both west and east approaches quite well, of course, this is only surface-level stuff, as one could write a thesis on the topic.

    ‘When researchers do ethnography, they study a culture’s relational practices, common values and beliefs, and shared experiences for the purpose of helping insiders (cultural members) and outsiders (cultural strangers) better understand the culture’ (MASO, 2001). This post helped me to begin to grasp the differences between what is culturally acceptable, which for some must be shocking at times! For example, the issue with Japan’s comfort with nudity vs conservative outlooks in the US. You displayed why these differences exist i.e. A strong underpinning of Christianity in the west and the more free and open practices in the east.

    ‘Autoethnographers value narrative truth based on what a story of experience does—how it is used, understood and responded to for and by us and others as writers, participants, audiences, and humans.’ (BOCHNER, 1994; DENZIN, 1989). I appreciated how you detailed your experience of the film, I think here you achieved a good ethnographic insight into your own life and cultural conditionings both of yourself and your parents. There are many layers in your blog to unpack, and they are all meaningful. Thank you for your insight.

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  2. Hey Noah, it’s very nice to see that a young fellow Australian like you is interested in the realm of anime – goes to show just how much the Japanese culture is globalising. I’ve never thought about the fact that anime has a broader range of audiences than most Western anime, but it is actually very true! They do address more complex issues and can actually be very stimulating for the brain.

    You mentioned that Japanese anime explores adult themes very vividly and I consider this debatable. In my own perspective, growing up, there was many times that my family would censor me from watching Western cartoons because they would discuss severe adult themes (Family Guy, Simpsons, etc). They would change the channel to an anime as most of them would, as you say, merely ‘implicate’ sexual notions rather than directly saying or showing. The hentai category and the fan fictions, are however, another story.

    But yes, cartoons are generally made for laughter whereas anime concentrates mostly on life issues; human emotions and violent/sexual themes. This article delves deeper into that ideal: https://www.diffen.com/difference/Anime_vs_Cartoon

    But there’s a dark truth about the sexuality of anime: many young men in Japan consume such high levels of anime that it actually gave them high standards for potential female partners. My Japanese friends would agree to this, as they claim that the men are constantly looking for good looks rather than personality. It could be argued that the sexuality in Japanese anime gave birth to Japan’s high beauty standards.

    And with that, I present to you two questions:
    If an anime is recreated with real characters and places (live action), do you think that it would have the same effect on the audience?
    And, what do you think will happen if Western cartoons started to bring in more intellectual and adult themes?

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  3. Yo. I always love getting peoples original reactions to EVA. It is such an incredible show that leaves even the most veteran of anime consumers scratching their heads. It’s one of those shows that really gets you thinking and is one of a few that don’t have defined lore or meaning. I like how you placed emphasis upon exploring how nudity is used in anime in comparison with western media and cartoons. So much anime has nudity (whether it be story-driven or pure fan service) and a lot of great shows are often written off due to containing nudity and the stigma surrounding anime and hentai.
    I really enjoyed reading your post and there is certainly more to unpack in this topic. However, I really would have liked for you to expand on the medium that you watched EVS through and how you watched the show. Due to EVA being a very mentally demanding show, I feel that explaing how you watched it will really help the reader to understand your point of view and will help contextualise the points that you are making in your post. As Ellis says “When researchers write ethnographies, they produce a “thick description” of a culture”

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