This post will have at least one major spoiler for Evangelion and at least one major spoiler for Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Big ones. Also, this is not a review.
Hello, I’m one of the new writers here on THAT, and my name is ghostlightning. I’ve been lurking and commenting here since around Spring of 2008, and I mostly do my blogging over at We Remember Love. I’m thrilled to join the first team blog that I’ve ever read.
I was a poor college student in the ‘90s, and I almost completely missed out on Neon Genesis Evangelion. However, I had only been able to get hold of maybe four VHS volumes and was able to watch maybe the first eight episodes. I wouldn’t be able to watch the whole series until 2003.
But when I finally did, something changed in me. It wasn’t enough anymore that I liked, or had a good time with a show. I suddenly had to know everything about it. I suddenly had to think hard about alternative approaches to how it all meant. I’m a literature major by degree, but up until then I never thought to ‘read’ anime the same way I would read stuff for school (or grad school).
Neon Genesis Evangelion opened the floodgates to a heightened appreciation and a pumped-up enthusiasm for anime. Sure I’ve been a Macross fan since 1984 and have been watching robot anime since 1980 (they were my first cartoons along with Looney Tunes and Disney shorts), but my appreciation and my ability to get into and think about the shows I like now became possible only after I experienced Eva in full.
I can’t not enjoy anime the same way again; there now has to be a conscious effort to ‘ease up on experiencing’ a particular show, because my default mode is to approach a show as if it were as demanding as Evangelion.
So, to say I’m an Eva fanboy would be understating things. But enough background!
Of the many departures Rebuild of Evangelion 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance did, the most significant is how Shinji transformed. By the end of this movie, he isn’t the Shinji we remember: the crippled in spirit, the paralyzed in thought, the compromised in being a 14-year old boy – who has the welfare of all humanity demanded from him. The Shinji we see is far more similar to Simon the Driller, resolved to fight the Spiral King halfway through the narrative of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
Having followed robot anime throughout the years and Gainax shows in particular, I find it easy to think of Simon as an apology for Shinji. How so? Simon got over himself. Shinji never did. Up to the very end he was never at cause for the circumstances in his life. He never felt powerful and never felt responsible. Simon’s ascendance, his use of Kamina’s death as a means to get better, is so awesome to me precisely because I view Simon under the lens of Shinji.
Ever since Evangelion, viewers have, or have at least been tempted to view teenaged robot anime protagonists under the lens of Shinji Ikari. Mostly the questions revolve around “Is he going to suck as hard?” What more for Simon, who is in another Studio Gainax show? Simon evolved, reaching stupendous levels at the end of his struggle; Shinji remarkably remained indecisive, weak, and damaged even at the very end.
Evangelion 2.22 changed all this.
First, a love triangle: Asuka is tsundere for Shinji, Shinji likes Rei, Rei now likes Shinji and Gendo to be good to each other. Shinji now has no perceptible attraction for Asuka beyond the banal, and his feelings for Rei are highlighted. This will be very important later on.
Here’s the crux of the conflict (it’s done amazingly well):
Misato was on a mission when an angel attacked. This time, the angel (Barachiel?) ‘possessed’ the Evangelion Unit 03 which was being tested with Asuka piloting. Gendo had to assume direct supervision of the operation to fight it. Shinji sortied using Unit 01, but Barachiel/Unit 03 had its way over him, partly or mostly due to his reticence to fight for fear of harming Asuka.
When Shinji proved to be unresponsive to direct orders and with his synchronization with Unit 01 failing, Gendo activates the Dummy Plug control system, in this instance literally controlling the Unit 01 over Shinji’s shoulder. A great touch of cruelty: Shinji’s hands never leave the trigger/controls anyway. The Dummy Plug control system fastens them in place.
The system itself is unstable, and goes overboard by tearing Unit 03’s dummy plug apart despite how the Eva/angel itself is already dismembered. Now the Dummy Plug system is autonomous – neither Gendo or anyone else had control over its every action. However, Shinji blames Gendo for endangering Asuka, and perhaps for bloodying Shinji’s own hands in the act.
He threatens to level the base holding Gendo into account. This is already a significant change. Shinji was a character who runs away, as opposed to being one who confronts his problems. It’s still contextualized as a tantrum, and Gendo treats it exactly as such and neutralizes Shinji’s control over the Eva.
As much as Shinji yearns for his father’s approval, he resents him for never loving anyone, never feeling true loss. He resents him for treating people as tools, as things to discard when they’re no longer needed, or useful. He hates the world with this kind of father in it, where all his own efforts amounted to nothing.
His friends are still hurt, he still suffers, despite following orders and fighting inside the Eva. He rejects the world. This is the Shinji we know, though I feel that even in this aspect of whining there is a decisiveness to him that I never really noticed before. There’s a resoluteness to running away, and he faced his father directly just to say so.
Still, this is pretty much the Shinji I remember hating.
He does run away, and when Tokyo 3 is laid waste and the most dangerous angel has breached Central Dogma… only then does Shinji come back. What made him come back? What made him beg Gendo to let him pilot the Eva again?
Alone in a emergency shelter, he is informed by the AI that the shelter is no longer secure and that he must move to a safe zone. Evangelion Unit 02’s head plunges through the shelter’s roof. The European pilot gives him a hand and takes him outside where he sees Tokyo 3 laid waste by the battle with the angel.
Then he saw the angel devour Unit 00 and Rei Ayanami in it. The angel practically revived itself with the fusion with both Unit 00 and Rei. Without further prompt, Shinji ran to pilot the Eva and rescue Rei, which he did, in the fashion of Evangelion.
So here we are, Shinji turns GAR. This narrative rebuilt the Evangelion story and its lead character. At 14 years old, Shinji found courage and resolve. This is the Evangelion I’ve always wanted. Or is it?
I realize that as much as I hated Shinji all these years, I never hated Evangelion, quite the opposite. It could even be that Shinji for all his failures, made the narrative as powerful as it is. It was grounded in such a way that it never forgot that Shinji (and Asuka) were 14 year olds.
The real fantasy is to have a 14 year old kid become a man and save the world. Fantasies aren’t bad nor wrong, but they are fantastic. They aren’t representative of humans being human. Rebuild 2.22 did this to Shinji, and made him a better man. But did this make him a better character? Did this make for a better Evangelion?
Think about all the elements of the TV series and End of Evangelion that are contingent on the immaturity of Shinji: Gendo’s cruelty (he’s still pretty callous in Rebuid, but ways to go to match the totality of the TV series), Misato’s love, courage, and sacrifice (where has it gone?); Toji’s tragedy; Kaworu’s temptation?
Am I leaving something out?
So are all of these things that make Evangelion what it is, worth giving up just to have Shinji stop running away?
Relevant post on Evangelion: Does Hideaki Anno Remember Love? (by otou-san on WRL)