"The Beast that Shouted 'I' at the Heart of the World" is the twenty-sixth episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
The Human Instrumentality Project continues as humankind attempts to complete its existence. Shinji continues to struggle with the impact of his personal existence, and eventually views a world (resembling a light-hearted, comedic high school setting) in which he is not an Evangelion pilot. Shinji, now understanding that his existence is not fixed, destroys the constrictive shell which he had formed around himself. He is met by all of the other characters from the series, who applaud and congratulate him, and, in response, he thanks them all.
The fear of ceasing to exist. But Shinji Ikari thinks that he might not need to exist, because he is unwanted, useless. Misato Katsuragi tells Shinji that what he truly fears is failure. Failure to be loved, and of seeing how weak he is. He replies that Misato does the same thing, and she agrees. In fact, she and other characters say, it’s true for all humanity, this weakness. It’s why Instrumentality is taking place. Humans cannot live alone, but yet they are separate entities: thus conflict and pain is created. Humans cannot live but in Instrumentality. "Really?" asks the text.
The questions, posed by Rei Ayanami: What are you alive for? Who are you living for? Are you happy being alive? Asuka Langley Soryu thinks it is for herself, and she is happy. Misato only wants to do what she enjoys. But Shinji is unsure of all these things. Ryoji Kaji’s voice asks: Do you hate feeling lonely? Do you hate suffering? Shinji does. So does Misato. So is that why you run away? Misato asks, what’s wrong with running away from pain?
But, Shinji says, I mustn’t run away! He is asked why, and Shinji replies that it’s because running away hurts just as much as what he ran away from. It’s wrong, even when the others say that he can run away if he wants to. And if he runs, the others will forsake him. Yet also, if he does what others tell him to do, then they won’t forsake him. He’s afraid of being hurt, but the other characters tell him that he’s not the only one who feels pain. Shinji has just made himself believe that he’s the only one who gets hurt.
If Shinji believes that he has no worth, and does nothing, then he won’t be hurt. Shinji has made himself believe all these bad things about himself, so that he has to do things like pilot the Eva because he has nothing else of value to give. And he hates himself. Shinji holds the telephone receiver, and through it he hears the other characters saying they hate him. Even so, they like him when he pilots. But again, it is Shinji’s self-deception, both the hatred and the sole value being related to the Eva. The others warn him that with this, he will lose his own identity. But Shinji still believes that he has nothing.
Various images of nature are shown, and the characters discuss their feelings related to them. The question is posed: What do you seek? What do you desire? Are you afraid of being insecure? Misato, Rei, Shinji, and Asuka are all afraid of being unloved. Shinji also wants to be worth something, so no one will abandon him.
But Yui Ikari tells her son that only he can find his worth. Shinji can’t understand where he exists, and asks if he is just the sum of items and symbols that others recognize as himself. He knows that what he feels to be himself, is himself, but that’s not good enough. Shinji is still confused, he protests that no one understands him. The others tell Shinji, that only he can truly understand himself, so he must be good to himself. But still he doesn’t comprehend the meaning of that.
The others say that if Shinji depends on outward things to define himself, all these things will eventually change and disappear, as time passes. But his heart and mind can truly change his world.
Then the construction of the place changes to a white void, where Shinji exists as a drifting pencil sketch. He interprets this as a world of nothing, but his own voice comes back and says that it’s a world of perfect freedom. But perfect freedom is perfect nothingness, for there is nothing to hold on to, nothing to orient himself in. Gendo Ikari will give him a restriction: a horizontal line that defines ground and sky. Shinji has lost the ability to fly, but now feels more secure as he has something to walk on. In any world, things change, the person changes, and the person can shape the world, through the shaping of perceptions. Yet this must also be in the presence of others. Shinji in this white world feels that he is disappearing, and it is because he can’t know his own shape without other things to compare it to, and there is nothing else there. Shinji knows who he is, but other people must be there shape his mind as well in order to form a complete self. That is the truth.
Shinji experiences an alternate reality which resembles a domestic comedy, everyone recast in appropriate roles: the Children are normal students, Misato is a teacher, and Yui and Gendo work at the university with Fuyutsuki. Shinji himself is drastically changed into a more typical teenage boy, confident and lecherous, while Asuka is his oldest childhood friend, and Rei is a transfer student, presented as a perky, ditzy schoolgirl.
After seeing this, Shinji realizes that there are alternate possibilities to his current life; a Shinji that is not an Eva pilot can exist as well. Reality might not be so bad, if there are all these choices. Shinji still hates himself, though. He is told again that he only believes that he is hated. People can only see things through their own filter. But they can change so much through that, by altering their perspective.
Shinji decides that he can learn to love himself, and he wants to be "me" and to stay "here". The dark world shatters, and Shinji is left standing atop a coral reef under a sunny sky, surrounded by most of the other characters. He is wished "Congratulations!" by the human cast (and a squawking Pen Pen), and smiles, thanking everyone.
The final text reads:
- The alternate reality presented here was the inspiration for Girlfriend of Steel 2 and its accompanying manga, although Ritsuko and Kaworu were added to the cast, and more traditional Evangelion elements were later introduced.
- An early idea for this episode included Aoba playing an instrumental version of A Cruel Angel's Thesis on the guitar during Shinji's Congratulation scene in Episode 26.
- The title "The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World" comes from a collection of short stories by American author Harlan Ellison. The Japanese word ai (love), could also be interpreted as representing the English "I". Both meanings are appropriate to the episode.
- The AU Gendo’s responses to Yui in the original script are "I know" and "Yes", echoing Shinji’s way of answering Misato after the battle with Sachiel.
- In “one of the possible worlds”, Shinji lives with Gendo and Yui, and in this world, Asuka is his childhood friend. Note that on the newspaper Gendo is reading is the headline “South Pole Base Opening Its Doors To Visitors”. The Second Impact has not occurred in this world. - Platinum Episode Commentaries
- Seeing the remakes, Episode 25 “Air” and Episode 26 “A Pure Heart For You”, may in fact make the content of Episode Twenty-Five easier to understand. The depictions of Misato and Ritsuko being shot to death, Unit-02 hugging its knees in the lake, and Asuka likewise hugging her knees within Unit-02 all correspond to Episode 25.
Gendo says, “All souls will become one and find eternal peace”. His Instrumentality Project must have been for all human souls to be combined as one and to compensate each other for what they have been deprived of. In the story that follows from Episode 25 “Air” to Episode 26 “A Pure Heart For You”, he was not able to execute the scenario he had drawn up. It may be that it was in Episode Twenty-Five and Episode Twenty-Six that his wish actually came true. - Platinum Episode Commentaries
- One of the final text lines, "To my mother, farewell" is also heard in Episode 26', although Shinji actually says that to his mother.
- The moment that Shinji gains conviction that it is okay for him to be there, the background changes, and the blue Earth spreads beneath his feet. However, there are no continents on this Earth, and it is covered by a gigantic coral reef. It seems this is the Earth that has been transfigured by the Instrumentality Project. This episode ends with the captions “To my father, thank you.” “To my mother, farewell.” “And to all the Children.” “Congratulations!” Eva is something of an Oedipus complex story, where a boy feels love and hatred for his father and mother, so the first two captions can be thought to means that Shinji has come to an understanding with his father and grown out of his dependence on his mother. Perhaps the latter two captions mean, “This is a world where all the children born into it deserve to live.” It is left for the audience to decide whether this ending is the Best Ending or the Bad Ending. - Platinum Episode Commentaries
- "Amidst the many words of congratulations, a faint smile starts at the corners of Shinji's mouth (and spreads across his face). A happy face -- that is the figure of the Complemented Shinji. This conclusion is also one form, one possibility among many." -Filmbook Vol. 9
- Neon Genesis Evangelion Encyclopedia (Poggio) pp. 79