Eva-01. Absolute Terror Field. Angels. Second Impact. Adam.
These are just some of the words that flash on the screen like an obvious subliminal message during the chaotic opening to the 1995 anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. The series has remained a unique classic for 25 years thanks to its psychological, philosophical, and religious themes underneath its mech-action exterior. Another aspect of the show that’s remained popular, even by itself, is the show’s opening song by Yoko Takahashi, ‘A Cruel Angel’s Thesis.’
The song itself is so popular that it’s been a consistent top song for karaoke in Japan since the show debuted. Meanwhile, the internet gains at least one piano cover by a fan each day. Knowing the context of the show, it does beg the question of how the song could reach and endure the popularity it has for so long. To be entirely thorough in the research into this subject, we’re going to dissect the song and see if we can connect it to the anime.
The Opening Visuals and the Lyrics
I think it’s best if we start off with the song’s title. In a show that beats you over the head with religious imagery and questions the illusion of choice and life as giant monsters called Angels threaten humanity’s existence, ‘A Cruel Angel’s Thesis’ is certainly an appropriate title, if anything. Even if the tone of the song doesn’t match the show, its ominous title does a wonderful job of preparing you for what Shinji Ikari and his fellow pilots go through during the show.
Speaking of the tone not really matching the show, this becomes the most apparent if you listen to the song by itself. Its gentle crescendo into upbeat is the exact opposite direction than the depressing tone the anime is known for. Nonetheless, the opening to the anime does manage to exude a sense of unease while using the song.
The reasoning for this is the synchronization between the beats of the song and the visuals. The soft intro to the song playing with visuals of the characters gracefully moving against colored skies is a serene sight. This tranquility disappears as the song picks up and the visuals quickly increase to match the beats, flashing between characters, words, and grotesque close-ups of the Eva-01 mech and the angels.
The difference between translations on the internet and the official English translation is minimal, so I’m going to use the translated lyrics that the official release on Netflix has. My overall impression is that the lyrics are quite uplifting. The usage of the title in the lyrics does stick out like a sore thumb, though.
Like a cruel angel
Become a legend, young boy
When a blue wind
Knocks on the door to your heart
You just gaze back at me
And smile oh so gently
So eager for something
You touch so softly
Those innocent eyes
Know nothing of the fate that awaits
But one day, you will realize
That upon your back
You have wings
You can fly to the faraway future
The cruel angel’s thesis
One day, you’ll take off through a window
If your overflowing pathos
Leads you to betray your memories
Then embrace the heavens and shine bright
Become legend, young boy.
As a lot of characters in this show struggle with their own mental health problems amid apocalyptic events, it’s easy to relate this uplifting song since as a viewer you want them to overcome the psychological and physical obstacles in front of them. With the song directly referencing a boy, and Shinji given an overbearing amount of responsibility for his age and mental state, it makes sense to connect the song with him.
Thrust into the role of a pilot, Shinji constantly struggles with the expectations of being a hero or ‘becoming a legend.’ His naivety, or ‘innocent eyes’ are also a constant problem for the very adult and hopeless world around him. The line mentioning that he has wings can be taken as a simple uplifting message. Or, it could also be taken as relating to the Wings of Light seen throughout the series.
Did Yoko Takahashi Just Make a J-Pop song?
Another possibility is that comparisons like these are just grasping at convenient straws. Although the song’s popularity is undeniably because of the popular series it’s attached to, it doesn’t change the fact that it is a catchy, fun song.
Something more telling is that the director, Hideaki Anno, was in favor of using a classical music piece for the opening song. The producers were against this idea and decided to go along with a J-Pop song instead. The lyricist has since revealed that she knew nearly nothing about the show and that the song took her around two hours to write.
Does this invalidate all lyrical connection the song has to the show then? Well, yeah, in a way it does. But the song is just as much a representation of the show as anything else is. I don’t see a problem with drawing parallels between the two.
The series and its film continuation can be watched on Netflix, while an official music video for the entire song can be viewed below. It features scenes throughout the entire series in a linear fashion, so expect spoilers when watching it if you’re not familiar with the series.
Or just expect pure confusion.