Comedy as a Defense Mechanism in Neon Genesis Evangelion – Cameron Mumford

Freud presents the idea that humor can “assert itself against the unkindness of… real circumstances”[1] as a defense mechanism to deflect the true horror of the situation. He gives the example of a man cracking a joke while being led to the gallows[2]. I shall expand on this through an analysis of episode nine of Neon Genesis Evangelion (Hideaki Anno, 1995-1996, Japan) where the comedy in this episode is a deflection from the strong themes of depression and trauma which permeate this show. I would argue that this episode is the only one in the series that is written as a comedy, with Shinji and Asuka required to learn how to live in sync such that they can perform a “dance” to enable them to defeat an angel which can split into two beings.

The characters’ comedy originates in their trauma. To illustrate, let us observe this humorous montage of them training. The two are struggling to work in sync, resulting in amusing physical comedy enhanced by the jaunty music throughout. However, the physical comedy is from Asuka towards Shinji, as she is blaming him for her failure. We see in the prior scene that Shinji can move in sync with Rei, thus implying that Asuka is at fault. However, she cannot admit this to herself, because if she does then that would mean admitting that she is not the best. This superiority mindset is how she copes with the trauma caused by her mother’s neglect. The comedy of this scene is a deflection from the trauma that Asuka is battling.

This episode’s relationship to the rest of the show can also be seen as a deflection from the show’s intense themes. This is the only “comedy” episode, therefore, this could be seen as an attempt by Anno to convey this Freudian idea within the structure of the show and further cement it.          

[1] Sigmund Freud, “On Humour” in The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 21, 160-166, Hogarth Press, 1961, p. 163.

[2] Freud, “On Humour”,  p. 161.

 

Bibliography:

Freud, Sigmund. “On Humour” in The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 21, 160-166, Hogarth Press, 1961.

Filmography:

Neon Genisis Evangelion. Netflix. Created by Hideaki Anno. 1995-1996. Studio Gainax.

Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!. Netflix. Directed by Hideaki Anno and Seiji Mizushima. 1995. Studio Gainax. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NeY3zAiEr8

2 comments

  1. I think this is an imaginative example of comedy as defensive measure. I wonder whether perhaps Asuka’s belittling of Shinji functions as a visual allegory of the Super-ego suppressing the Ego to keep it safe from the trauma of failure? Asuka’s self assumed superiority through identification with a neglectful parent is indeed a dark irony.

  2. I think this is a particularly pertinent example to use when approaching Freud’s ideas on comedy. As it shows how sometimes the comedic can represent more on a narrative and character level, than just serving the base purpose of entertaining an audience. Linking the idea of a characters diegetic comedy to represent their trauma is delightfully nuanced perspective.

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