My original character analysis of Asuka Langley Soryu is the most read post in the history of this blog.
This doesn’t especially surprise me. For one thing, it’s really old and it’s still out there, so people have been able to find it for three-plus years. For another, it’s related to Neon Genesis Evangelion and that’s always a touchstone for a lot of people. And, of course, I pointed out that one of Asuka’s defining characteristics is that she’s fourteen and she’s horny. I’m sure the combination of “Asuka,” “fourteen,” and “horny” as search terms attracts a few searches, right?
Note that I have done it again. I may be dumb, but I ain’t stupid 🙂
But I don’t know about you, but I keep learning stuff all the time, and that means I sometimes think about things I have thought about before and can say, “Hmm … I didn’t think of that last time.”
Of course, what defines Asuka as a character is not just that she is fourteen and horny but that she is searching for love in any sense of the word but doesn’t really know what it is, right? Because her father was a sperm donor and mother a suicide, Asuka doesn’t know or understand parental love. Because she was a child prodigy and college graduate at fourteen, she doesn’t know or understand romantic love. Because she is an arrogant bully, she doesn’t know or understand friendly love.
So she plays romance games with Shinji, pulls him toward her and pushes him away at the same time, kisses him and insults him, shuts him out and then crawls into bed with him, and so on. In my racket we call her “The Dance-Away Lover,” the person who pulls you exactly this close, but if you come any closer, they dance away.
She doesn’t know what she’s doing and so although she wants love, she is built in such a way that she cannot find it. That makes her a tragic figure, right? She does not find that for which she yearns. Tragedy.
When you look closely at her Asuka is a tragic figure in another way, and that’s structurally.
When you boil it all down, EVA centers around the Ikari family, and especially the lost Yui, right?
Gendo is Yui’s husband
Shinji is Yui’s son
Rei is Yui’s clone
Nowhere in there is room for Asuka to be the hero. IT JUST WOULD NOT WORK. It would be like one of the freakin’ dwarfs waking Sleeping Beauty: Anti-climax.
So Asuka, who yearns for love but can never find it, also yearns to be the hero! To Save the World! To be the Greatest Eva Pilot Evah!
And she can’t, because structurally the hero has to be someone from the Ikari family tree. (In the original, if you go to End of Evangelion, it’s Rei. In the rebuild, it’s Shinji.)
This means that Asuka has to perform the important but doomed role of, for lack of a better term, “Loser.”
The Loser is called a loser, of course, not because they are bad or anything like that but because a lot of narrative forms call for someone to lose before the hero wins. The Loser’s function is to jack up the tension before the final conflict is resolved.
It’s an important role because it sets the stakes of losing: Reminder, when Asuka goes out to fight the final battle against the angels in End of Evangelion SHE DIES. Those are the stakes that await the world, personified in Asuka. If Shinji or Rei doesn’t get the job done, Asuka’s fate awaits the rest of the world.
So that’s ANOTHER reason why Asuka is a tragic figure: The nature of storytelling dictates that SHE CANNOT WIN. That’s not her job, or the job of any character like her, in a story. She must lose.
Interestingly, at the end of End of Evangelion, when Rei reinvents the world she reinvents Asuka as well. In End of Evangelion, with the narrative tension gone, it’s possible for Asuka to succeed in life, for some definition of success. My goodness, she could even finally bag herself a Shinji!
At the end of Evangelion 3.0+1.0, though, where Shinji is the hero, Asuka does not appear. Shinji has Mari, so Auka’s not bagging herself a Shinji at the end of this story. On the train station platform with Shinji and Mari are Rei and Kaworu. But Asuka is nowhere to be seen. (Or maybe I just missed her. I went back to watch it again but it was gone from Amazon Prime. Guess I’ll have to wait for the home video release.) What does that mean? It certainly doesn’t look like a happy ending for her there, either, though.
So Asuka can’t be loved and she can’t be the hero. She can’t have the two things that mean the most to her, in fact, the only things that mean anything to her. Boom. Double tragedy.
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.