Theory and Analysis:What Is Canon?

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The Tiers of Canonicity

One of the difficulties in analyzing Neon Genesis Evangelion is the large number of secondary sources, some of which seem to be contradictory. Just how does one determine what is and is not canon? A very handy rule of thumb was invented for this purpose by Shin-seiki, a frequent poster at the Anime Nation and Eva Monkey forums. This tool is known as Shin-seiki's Tiers of Canonicity and is a proven system, both simple and effective, for resolving contradictory statements among various sources.

  1. The anime itself and its scripts and storyboards. The Director's Cuts are the final or official version and take precedence over the On Air version in the event of any theoretical contradiction.
  2. Statements made by the show's creators, principally Hideaki Anno.
  3. Official supplemental sources such as theatrical programs, Newtype Filmbooks, and Cardass Cards.
  4. The Manga, which is actually its own continuity. At best it can be used to support the anime when they are in explicit agreement; it should never be used to contradict the anime.
  5. Statements made by those responsible for adapting Evangelion for release outside of Japan. In the English speaking speaking world this would be representatives of ADV or Manga Entertainment.

Lower tiers are canon only if they do not contradict the evidence presented in higher tiers. Info from lower tiers should also be treated with somewhat more skepticism than higher tiers.

This system is a widely accepted method in evangelion discussion circles and is therefore accepted as guideline for presentation of material on this wiki.

The following are some examples of each tier.

Tier 1: The Anime Itself and its Scripts and Storyboards:

The primary Canon is the evidence presented in the series. For example, when Misato reveals to Shinji in Ep. 19 that all of his classmates are Eva pilot candidates, that is official and no lower tiered source can contradict it. You can then combine it with evidence from elsewhere in the show such as Toji's implication in Episode 03 that his mother is dead, and the revelations that the souls of Unit-01 and Unit-02 are the pilots' mothers, and conclude that Unit-03's soul is that of Toji's mother.

The scripts and story boards have yielded some important gems of information. For instance, the script for The End of Evangelion explicitly describes the "Mother" from the sandbox scene as Misato.

Everything added to the director's cuts is first tier canon and was put there to set up something that happens in EOE. Shin-seiki has promised to write an essay that will go over this scene by scene.

The production drawings that were applied to the final show also classify as first tier canon. The same applies to genga, the drawings done by the keyframe animators, and "roughs", which are drawings created inbetween the production drawings and the actual genga.

In case of direct conflicts between first tier sources, Renewal takes precedence over the Unremastered version, Director's Cut versions over On-Air versions, and End of Evangelion over the two ending episodes of the TV series. Non-contradictions include Renewal's removal of the mystery images superimposed over the Rei clones in Episode 23' because nothing in the show actually contradicts them.

Tier 2: Statements made by the show's creators, principally Anno.

The most famous example of this is Anno's statement that Kaji was not shot by any of the main characters, but by a nameless assassin sent by either Nerv's or Seele's security division. Anno rarely comments on NGE, so when he does you know that he feels that it's an important issue. In this case he was so shocked that many people believed that the assassin was Misato that he issued an explicit denial. As there is no credible evidence in the only higher tier, the series itself, that Misato is the assassin, Anno's statement is canon.

Note: The Confidential Information is said to have come straight from Anno. Provided that this is true, it should be considered Tier 2, not Tier 3.

Tier 3: Official Supplemental Sources.

Tier 3 is where the information starts to get a little less reliable, and must be carefully checked against the evidence presented in the series. For instance, the Red Cross Book has:

"[Angels (SHITO)] Beings originated from the source of life called Lilith. They take various sizes and shapes: from a giant octahedron to a minute Angel the size of bacteria, or even a "shadow" Angel without tangible form. Borrowing Fuyutsuki's words in episode 26', it seems that Angels are beings which got the "Fruit of Life" whereas humanity got the "Fruit of Wisdom". In other words, "Angels" are another form of humankind with the same potential as humans. Thus, humans are the 18th Angel."

The first line of the above is blatantly incorrect because it contradicts the evidence presented in the series that Adam gave birth to the Angels. For instance, Kaworu in ep. 24, call Adam "our Mother" (before realizing that he is actually looking at Lilith). The above reference as to the Angels origin is therefore not canon. This does not mean, however that you should throw out the Red Cross Book altogether. It should be considered reliable in places where it does support the evidence presented in the series, for instance:

"[Rei Ayanami] The First Children, and dedicated pilot of Eva-00. A young girl who apparently lacks emotions. Her body was created from the salvaged remains of Yui Ikari after Yui was taken into the Eva, and numerous Rei clones were then prepared in Terminal Dogma so that when one Rei dies she can be replaced by another. The present Rei is the third. The first was killed by Dr. Naoko Akagi, and the second died in battle against the 16th Angel. Although the personalities of these three Rei differ from one another, this is due to environmental factors. Their soul is one and the same, and it appears to have been that of Lilith. At the final stage of the Instrumentality Project, Rei betrayed Gendou, returned to Lilith of her own judgment and entrusted the future to Gendou's son -- Shinji Ikari. Birth date: unknown"

The above is perfectly in keeping with what we see in the series and is thus canon.

The "Evangelion Chronicle" materials also seem to fall into Tier 3.

Tier 4: The Manga

As stated above, the manga has established its own canonicity, separate from the television series upon which it is based. When debating the series, the manga is useful mainly as reinforcement. For instance, if the manga and the series both say that Kaji misidentifies Lilith as Adam then it must be true. What one should never do is try to claim that facts that are present only in the manga are also true in the anime. For instance, the notion that Asuka is a test tube baby is true only in the manga; in the anime, the man identified as her father is, in fact, her real father. Some people claim that the manga should be considered canon in instances where the anime is silent, such as Kaji's backstory, but even that seems to be very ill-advised.

Tier 5: Statements Made by Those who Distribute Eva outside of Japan

These are the least reliable of any of the official sources. It's evident, in fact, from some of their statements that the people at ADV and Manga Entertainment have a less than perfect understanding of Evangelion, sometimes giving credence to some of the most infamous "theories" that have sprung up in the on-line community. For instance, in her EOE commentary, Amanda Winn Lee seems to support the bizarre theory that it's not really Asuka on the beach at the end of the movie, but instead it's a "combination girl" of Asuka, Rei and Misato. The "evidence" presented for this is that her eyes are the wrong color. The trouble is that they aren't the wrong color, they're just reflecting the scene's ambient lighting in certain shots. In other shots you can see that they are, in fact, their normal blue. Likewise, in ADV's Episode 19 commentary, their special guest Sean McCoy states that the Unit-01 berserk incidents are Shinji's subconscious taking over the Eva, and that Unit-01 taking the S-2 Engine into herself represents Shinji declaring independence from his mother and becoming a man. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The evidence presented in the series is that the berserk incidents are Shinji's mother Yui, Unit-01's soul, taking control. The berserk incidents always take place when Unit-01 is out of power and can't be controlled by the pilot, and Ritsuko even says "She's awakened." In short, statements from these sources need to be taken with several grains of salt: they are fans of the series, and they've watched it a great deal, but they do not know significantly more about it (as in access to "behind the scenes information") than basic fans do.

Separate continuity: Rebuild of Evangelion

The Rebuild of Evangelion series classifies as a wholly separate continuity with its own backstory, which may not be applicable to the TV series and shall be treated as such. Although minor details such as Eva-01's blood type and the Lilin romanization can be accepted as official, even these might have to be viewed on a case-by-case basis if neccessary. Since this site primarily deals with the TV series (And Rebuild is still a work in progress), creating separate Tiers of Canonicity for Rebuild would be premature as best, although it is not inconcievable that it would be done sometime in future.