Shinji Ikari always frustrated me and I could never really figure out why. It wasn’t that he was a wimp (even when he was) because I sympathized with him. In watching JesuOtaku’s Evangelion review, she went on to characterize him as unlikeable because of how whiny and self-absorbed he was when everything was unfolding in the background. This is mostly true, but not really the reason as to why he frustrated me.
Only recently, as I looked back on the series, have I been able to come to terms with some of the reasons why. The most frustrating aspect of Shinji Ikari is how little his actions matter to himself. Out of all the EVA pilots, Shinji is responsible for killing the most angels. These are the same creatures that, if not stopped, would bring about the end of the world. Thus, Shinji has saved the world at least a dozen times over. He’s the greatest hero in the entire history of the world. Despite this fact, Shinji can’t take any pride in any of this, because he was forced to do it. He believes that because he didn’t decide to do it, that it says nothing about him as a person for doing it. He doesn’t believe his actions are more important than his perceived identity. Thus, he turns inwards and struggles to define himself while refusing to take action. This is completely futile, because a human being will never grow or discover who they are by doing nothing. This is why the people who know Shinji personally are so angry at him/give him so many speeches about growing up in the show: they’re trying to tell him that his actions are the only thing that have purpose, so either agree to pilot the damn robot, or don’t.
One of the hardest things to watch in Evangelion is the two or three times that Shinji refuses to pilot the robot (again) only to come back in order to save someone else/humanity. As a teenager and someone who felt empathetic toward Shinji, I wanted him to leave town and never come back, because everyone who wanted him to pilot acted like complete assholes about it. Thus, when he finally relented and got back into the robot, it felt like he was being a wimp and giving up his pride. Now that I’m older, I get that Shinji gave into the responsible option and chose to try again. It makes Shinji annoying to many, but if he listened to his pride, he would have done nothing and humanity would have been destroyed. Shinji tried again.
Evangelion is entirely about trying again, even in hellish circumstances. The show is very uncomfortable to watch at times because most of the characters have gone through such hardship that you think of them as victims and then expect that they should act like victims and let some force bigger than themselves care for them. But that isn’t the point.
There seem to be two dominant messages going in Evangelion for two different types of people:
1) To the older generation - when you abandon the younger generation because life gets hard, you’re damning your own future.
Every adult in the Evangelion universe has come to terms with the fact that they are selfish and they lament the world that they have created for the youth while also trying to force them through it.
2) To the younger generation - when you give up, even in a horrible world, the world is doomed.
The children didn’t make the world the way it was, they just inherited it. It’s a completely horrible, crapsack world but they HAVE to make it better because no one else will. It’s not fair, it’s just what happens.
Shinji Ikari is the struggle of the younger generation. He wants to turn his back on the world, but he can’t because he needs to save it. Everyone else is trying to give him reasons to save the world, but he’s too self-absorbed to appreciate any of them. He doesn’t realize that people love him because everything is about him. Evangelion is the story of Shinji Ikari’s struggle to define himself without using any of the means by which anyone defines themselves: their actions.
That’s why you never see the scene in which Shinji realizes that he’s a hero who saved mankind from eldritch abominations over a dozen times; his actions don’t matter to him over some vague notion of who he might be and as long as he can think about it, it stops him from changing himself and actually defining himself.
One of the best scenes in all of this is in End of Evangelion during Third Impact when Shinji and Asuka have their metaphysical confrontation (which ends with Shinji choking Asuka). Shinji wants Asuka to love him (or save him) and Asuka pushes away and tells him that he only cares about himself but never learned to LOVE himself.
When I first saw this scene, I didn’t really get it. Now I do. Shinji is massively self-absorbed and cares only about himself, as Asuka said. This becomes apparently obvious at the end of the show, when everyone is going through their own crises, and Shinji doesn’t really seem to notice because he’s too focused on himself. If Shinji cared about others, he wouldn’t be so self-absorbed because he would spend a lot of time focusing on others. Up until this point, Shinji has only saved the world precisely because he can’t imagine a world where other people don’t define him. This is the kind of validation he wants from Asuka in this scene. He wants her to love him so that he can be “the one who Asuka loves.” That is how he wants to define himself and him wanting Asuka to love him isn’t a sign of love, it’s him trying to use her to give himself purpose. Asuka sees right through it and pushes him away. She tells him that he never even learned to love himself. This may seem contradictory, because she just told him that he cares only about himself, but caring about oneself and loving oneself are actually two radically different notions.
Shinji cares about himself by simply focusing on himself and remaining in his own mind. It requires nothing but his own attention and the belief that what makes his identity is who he is at that precise moment. But he doesn’t love himself. If Shinji loved himself, he would try to improve his life; he would try to change. If he loved himself and hated his life, he would change himself instead of being dragged along over the same hardships and never becoming a better person. That’s why Shinji is so frustrating: he has the same dilemma over and over again and always remains the same.
Evangelion has a very bitter, unsettling message that is entirely meant for you because you watch Evangelion. If you do nothing new: life WILL always be shit. Unfortunately, if you try to do something new, life MAY be shit. There is always the possibility of it not being shit if you do something new and different and that’s what you should chase in life. But, conversely, doing the same thing over and over again (even if it’s shitty), will feel a million times more comfortable than the mere notion of doing anything new or different.
So Evangelion is the story of Shinji Ikari doing the same thing over and over again and having his life get worse because of it. When he tries to do something new or different, he gets hurt and goes back to the same routine instead of attempting to change. This is why I suspect that the rebuild movies are a sequel: Shinji is going to keep trying until something changes, even if it takes multiple lifetimes/realities.
And this message is trying to tell you that you should do the same.
Hideaki Anno may hate you, but he’s trying to help you nonetheless.
just another friday night alone
THIS PIECE OF SHIT VIDEO HAS MADE ME CRY LAUGHING LITERALLY EVERY TIME I WATCH IT. IF I EVEN THINK ABOUT IT I START GIGGLING LIKE A FUCKING IDIOT, FUCK
Wow the new Captain Toad game looks great!
Oh dear god what is this
when the truth is found to be lies
when all the joy in you dies