It’s easy to dislike poor Shinji. He’s passive and males are supposed to be aggressive. He’s supposed to love Rei but he’s fascinated with Asuka. He’s supposed to be the hero but time and again he quits, and other people die because he does. He doesn’t fit in with other anime stereotypes; he doesn’t kick ass all the time like Utena or the kids of Gundam or Code Geass.
I still think he’s great character. He’s a great character because he’s REAL.
He’s FOURTEEN and he’s CONFUSED.
The essential nature of fourteen is that, in modern society, it’s a confusing time. Biologically you’re an adult, in the only way that matters: You can pass your genes on to the next generation. That was old enough to be “grown” in ancient society, old enough to be grown in Shakespeare’s day; it’s old enough to be “grown” in a lot of places of the world today.
Grown: able to operate an AK-47.
But sociologically he’s a kid. He’s expected to go to school, can’t get a driver’s license, isn’t allowed to drink, has to have a guardian (Misato), and so on. Biologically adult + sociologically child = mentally confused.
Probably listening to Nirvana
What Shinji wants is love, specifically, to be loved. I mean, love is the heart of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Love of one kind or another drives everything that happens. And that’s reflected in Shinji in a couple ways that are prototypically adolescent.
There are supposed to be five kind of love – I may have mentioned that. ANYWHO, Shinji is actually pretty good at one of them already: Xenia, the love between a guest and host. I mean, look at all the nice things he does for Misato because he lives with her…even though she arranged/ordered it.
Agape, the love between man and god, is a tough one, since the God of Evangelion is some combination of his girlfriend, Rei, and his mom, Yui. (If you can separate the two at the end of End of Evangelion, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.) So there’s a mishmash of agape and eros – romantic love – and or agape and storge – familial love. Good luck figuring that crap out.
But there are three key people in his life, and each of them represents a different sort of love to Shinji.
There’s Gendo. Shinji wants to love Gendo. Who doesn’t want to love their father? And he does, or at least thinks he does, until Gendo makes it clear that HE DOESN’T CARE.
Gendo’s eyes are elsewhere (on Yui, and Yui’s clone Rei). Gendo won’t return Shinji’s love. Not can’t. Won’t. And he won’t do it because the only one Gendo loves is Yui. Even at the end he’s ready to sacrifice Rei to get Yui back.
Congratulations, Shinji. You’re screwed.
Then there’s this: Shinji’s a normal fourteen year old, and while he’s biologically adult he’s sociologically a child, so he’s not supposed to do anything about his biological adultivity. Surprise! He lives in the same house with two HAWT babes.
Now Misato usually has the sense, as a 29-year-old, to leave statutory rape out of her repertoire, except when she really needs to manipulate Shinji…but when she really needs to manipulate him her mouth makes him promises (sex) her body won’t keep (because she’s dying).
And Asuka…She’s hot, she’s horny, and just like Shinji she’s fourteen and she doesn’t know what to do. She locks herself in the closet to keep him away and then climbs into his bed with him. She smacks him for looking at her when she’s running around nude and lets him look down her blouse.
The surprise is not that he masturbates when he sees her bare breasts. The surprise is that it’s the only time he masturbates.
Since Asuka doesn’t know how to go about getting laid (to not put too fine a point on it), neither does Shinji.
Congratulations, Shinji. You’re (not) screwed.
And then there’s Rei, to whom he is attracted. He sees her injured and his heart goes out to her, so we have one vector of attraction. We see her reminding him subconsciously of his mother, and we have another sort of attraction. And then there’s the fact that she’s pretty, she’s his age, and she’s so much nicer than Asuka. That’s a third kind of attraction.
And Rei comes to respond to him. She opens up to him. She asks him to hold her hand. She acts like the perfect fourteen-year-old girlfriend, tentative because she’s fourteen, affectionate because he is her first true love.
Then Rei dies and a new one replaces her, one that is back to zero in terms of their relationship.
Congratulations, Shinji. You’re screwed.
Now, all this crap is piled up on Shinji to the point that I can’t make sense out of it. I don’t think ANYONE, not even Hideaki Anno can make perfect sense of it. IT’S JUST TOO MUCH.
That’s it. That’s the point. That’s what we have to understand to understand Shinji: there are SO MANY factors, POWERFUL factors pulling on him that no one can predict what he will do. NO ONE.
That makes perfect sense. He’s FOURTEEN and he’s CONFUSED.
That’s what it mean to be fourteen.
That’s what makes him a great character: He’s a normal kid.
He’s not an archetype. He’s not a hero, not an anti-hero, not a villain. He’s not a trope, not the Hero, not Admiral Baby. He’s an honest representation of what it means to be fourteen and halfway out of his mind.
That’s what makes him a GREAT character. He is REAL.
It’s really hard to do but they dood it.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.