This post covers Neon Genesis Evangelion episodes 8-13.
As a story moves away from its introductory phase, one particularly noticeable change takes place. Instead of introducing new characters and new plot elements, the story itself increasingly becomes a source of complexity. There are, as always, exceptions to this rule but by and large, no writer wants to spend an entire story just constantly introducing new characters and adding backstory. No, the point of the story is to tell it – you want to move the plot forward. Yes, I know that sometimes revealing backstory can help advance the plot but my point is that generally speaking, as a story progresses you want to rely on them less and less. In this week’s group of episodes, with the introduction of the fiery Asuka Langley Soryu, Neon Genesis Evangelion finishes assembling its cast of troubled teens and begins a slow shift towards the meat of its story. The group of episodes that we will be looking at today is a something of a mixed bag. On one hand, you get the sense that we’re in a ‘monster-of-the–week’ mode in which the main trio fights the episode’s Angel and in doing so coincidentally learns a lesson about themselves. It’s a little formulaic but also gives us plenty of opportunity for character development and inches the plot forward too. Given that we don’t know what the Angels even are, or where they are coming from or how many of them there are, it’s a little hard not to see this formula as a way of intentionally slowing the bigger story down and giving the audience time to get comfortable with our three protagonists. However, despite all that, I’m still enjoying the series and its pacing though that’s at least in part because I’m pretty sure that all these lessons and character development moments are going to have a big payoff at the end of the series. I will concede that it is a little troubling that I feel no closer to understanding the series’ ultimate end-game now than I did half a dozen episodes ago. There are a lot of mysteries hanging in the air and even though we’re only halfway into the series, I feel some of them need to start getting unwound soon.
The Fiesty Redhead
In doing a little research for this week’s write-up (i.e. procrastinating because my outline for the write-up was already hitting 2000 words), I ended up on TV Tropes (as is my wont), and through some typical TV Trope magic, ended up on a page with Asuka (and Shinji) as the featured example. Deciding that this was a sign that the universe wanted me to stop slacking off, I decided that it was time to start and given the circumstances, it was only appropriate that I started with Asuka. Asuka’s introduction rounds out the three main protagonists and pilots of the Evangelion robots and gives us a foil against which to judge her peer pilots, Shinji and Rei. Before we talk about these three pilots as a collective and the thematic implications of their personalities and relationship dynamics, let’s take a closer look at Asuka and what we know about her so far.
I guess my impression of Asuka so far has been that among the three pilots, she is the closest to normal. Of course, she also has plenty of personality flaws – which, in turn, could be manifestations of some dark underlying experiences. There have been a couple of hints dropped – nothing concrete just yet – but it seems that when it comes to interpreting Asuka’s character, you can take one of two approaches. Either she is an intelligent, savvy teenager, complete with the obnoxious self-importance that that implies, with some mild childhood trauma lurking under the surface; or she is totally damaged and each of her personality traits – whether positive or negative – can be explained through the lens of the damage left by that psychological trauma. Now, in order to reach that conclusion, I would need t0 have had some idea of what the nature of her childhood trauma was. We’ll get to that in a minute. First though, let’s consider the alternative hypothesis; that she is just a normal, mildly troubled teen in a series otherwise rife with strange kids and dysfunctional adults. Regardless of which hypothesis we work with, there are a few characteristics that are undeniable. Asuka’s strengths as a character are numerous and they stand out in no small part because of their absence in her peers. She is confident, out-spoken and intelligent; yet, each of those positives is frequently taken too far and turns into a negative. Her confidence often sours into arrogance; she can get unbearably bossy and annoying, and her intelligence seems to have given her the impression that she can be as reckless as she likes, without consequence.
The above are simply facts – regardless of how you consider Asuka, you probably won’t argue much with it. There is really nothing among Asuka’s strengths and weaknesses that suggests that we need to look to the extraordinary for an explanation. Teenagers can often be arrogant, reckless and bossy; with or without having problematic childhoods. Yet, there is one factor in the above, one that is played up again and again that leads me to favour the more pessimistic, troubling perspective. Asuka is prone to these pretty ridiculous fits of insecurity and jealousy. Once these are brought into play, it becomes much harder not to see both her pros and cons as direct consequences of that insecurity and its underlying inferiority complex. Her arrogance becomes overcompensation, her recklessness would seem to stem from her defiant thirst to poor herself and her bossiness is just another way for her to remind herself of her own worth, though I’m sure the character herself would say that it’s to prove that worth to others. Beyond that, I feel like Asuka’s self-consciousness about her body (she frequently mentions not wanting men’s attention yet often intentionally draws it to herself (the incident with her and Shinji’s almost kiss comes to mind)) and her need for a relationship with a desirable man (first Kaji, who demonstrates obvious social value, then later Shinji (which we will get to in a minute)) are both harder to explain away as normal teen behaviour. She only considers Shinji as a male character once she gets it into her head that Rei, her hated rival, is interested in him because it is Rei’s supposed interest, more than anything Shinji himself says or does that convinces Asuka that he has value (though, to be fair, she does acknowledge him once he saves her). All this is classic middle school politics but I have to wonder – given the way the insecurity is portrayed, and it’s frequency, I can’t help but think that Asuka has some insidious abandonment issues. This makes sense not just because it explains several aspects of her personality but also because that would link her closely to characters like Shinji and Misato who both have similar experiences with their parents.
One final comment on Asuka before we move on: I found the way that she was being presented very stylistically intriguing. Here, here, here and here are a small handful of screenshots and let me see if you can see the pattern. If you haven’t caught it yet, you will see that Asuka, regardless of the situation, is being presented in a more dominant part of the shot. That could mean that Asuka is closer up in the foreground, or that she is standing above Shinji or something similar. It lines up very well with the rest of their relationship and it’ll be interesting to see if this stylistic choice changes as their relationship evolves.
The Three Musketeers
With Asuka’s introduction and the way the subsequent episodes were structured, it’s fairly clear that we are meant to see the three Evangelion pilots as the series’ primary protagonists. I’m not perfectly comfortable with that categorization myself because it feels like Rei is far from taking a shaping role in the way events play out – sure, she would be involved but her personality is so passive that it would seem more like she was just there instead of actively driving events and making things happen. A character like Misato, on the other hand, despite not being thematically one of the ‘Chosen Three’ youngsters has shown herself to nevertheless be an active part of the way the plot unfolds. Regardless of whether or not you consider Rei to be a typical protagonist in any sense, I think it would be interesting to take a look at the character profiles of the three pilots given the extent to which the plot depends on their ability to deal with the increasingly sophisticated Angel threat.
It simply cannot be coincidence that the three pilots ended up being as psychologically disparate as they are – if you imagine a spectrum of personality between Asuka’s passionate fire and Rei’s detached cool, you’ll find Shinji right in the middle of it. He is far from unfeeling, like Rei is, but at the same time, he also lacks Asuka’s drive and energy. The character’s position on that spectrum also explain their relationships – Asuka and Rei simply cannot get along (though you could argue that maybe if Rei put in any effort at all and if Asuka dialled it back a tiny bit, they could get somewhere) while both girls have functional relationships with Shinji; or whatever the equivalent of a functional relationship Rei is capable of experiencing. Their personalities also reflect their motivations for fighting the Angels – Asuka, with her energy and spirit, does it to prove her worth to the world while dispassionate Rei does it strictly out of a sense of…duty? Or because it’s all she knows? Once again, we see Shinji straddling the line between them – there is a big part of him that does this because he craves his father’s attention, yet you get the sense that increasingly, it’s begun to become a part of his identity, a fundamental part of how he sees himself. He is no longer just Shinji, the abandoned, neglected kid; now, he’s Shinji the Evangelion pilot, for better or worse.
I don’t really have a bigger point to tie any of this to – I don’t really know if understanding the difference and similarities between the characters gives us any insight into how the plot plays out, for example. I do think it sets up a comparison point, one that we can look back at by the series’ end and see if things have changed by then.
The Grown-Ups Are (Not) Alright
The pilots aren’t the only characters being developed as the series progresses – the Misato we see at the end of this group of episodes shares few, if any, characteristics with the Misato that we saw at the beginning of the series. In all fairness, perhaps what’s really changed is my perception of her – at the beginning, she seemed like an immature child put in charge of something was way out of her league. I just couldn’t understand why she would be in such an important position and her frequent outbursts and misunderstandings with Shinji only furthered my poor opinion of her. That poor opinion has improved somewhat, true, but has yet to turn into approaching a full-fledged endorsement of her. I no longer think that she is immature or totally incompetent but on the contrary, the last few episodes have been revealing a hitherto unseen, but slightly concerning, sombre side of her. The decisiveness with which she seemed willing to put Asuka in danger in ‘Magma Diver’, for example, felt a little out of character and seemed like something Gendo would do – in fact, her promotion signalled to me that maybe she was starting to see things like Gendo does and the promotion was his way of incentivising that. The recklessness of her plans in the episode ‘She said, ‘Don’t make others suffer for your personal hatred.’’ (quite the episode title, let’s just abbreviate it to ‘The Value of Miracles’) worries me too – she seems just a little too willing to sacrifice the pilots, for my liking. It feels almost like as the series has progressed, she has started seeing them less as people and more as resources to be deployed. I guess it’s easier to think about the strategic loss of a resource than the death of person. Yet, for all that, I don’t get the feeling that this is a new aspect of her personality – it’s just one that we haven’t seen before because the circumstances haven’t called for them. The Angels have been getting more and more sophisticated (a topic we will revisit shortly) and while the Evangelion robots are strong, the gap is shrinking and it is forcing Misato get increasingly creative with her solutions and take more risks. I should also say that viewed strictly through the lens of her job and nothing else, Misato is nothing if not competent. I also don’t want to make this observation out to be more than what it is – despite Misato getting a little colder in her pragmatism, we still see her frequently at the heart of lighter-hearted moments.
One of the big revelations about Misato in this group of episodes was obviously centred on her backstory. We weren’t given a huge amount of detail and context but enough for it to be effective. All of a sudden, we can understand Misato’s desire to fight the Angels and we can see that she has the tools in her emotional toolbox to understand Shinji, if only she knew how to use those tools better. Misato’s backstory isn’t particularly tragic in any absolute sense – yes, it was sad but worse things have happened to better people – but there are elements of it that seem to have been placed with the express purpose of establishing connections between her and other characters. Her complicated relationship with her father gives her a better bridge to the desolate lands of Shinji’s mind than anything she’s had before. It also shows the audience just why she herself is so difficult to get close to. There was a moment when everyone was celebrating her promotion in ‘The Value of Miracles’ that she saw that Shinji wasn’t really buying her excuse of ‘Oh, I can’t remember why I work here anymore’ – the focus shifted and I wondered if that’s anything would come of it. I’m glad that she is able to recognize that her story has value to others and even though I don’t think that Shinji and Misato’s relationship is ideal at the moment, I do think he understands her better now. In the future, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are elements of her story that are revealed that allow her to better connect to Asuka and, somehow, even Rei. Assuming Rei has emotions and can function in human society.
Kaji is easily the adult character about whom I have the least to say and it isn’t just because he was introduced last. He was first introduced to us in ‘Asuka Strikes!’ but it was the final scene of that episode, where we see him hand something to Gendo (that was later revealed to be Adam – more on that soon too) that convinced me that he is worth keeping an eye on. Yet, every time I do pay attention to him, I don’t see him doing anything particularly interesting. As a character, he fits the Han Solo character archetype – a rogue with a good heart. Yes, I know that he’s a part of the military and I’m also aware that at this stage we don’t really know what his motivations are given that he has been seen working with Gendo in some sort of secret capacity. At first I thought that his role was something of a one-off meant to simply keep the plot going, it seems that by getting him involved with Misato (again), the writers are indicating that he is here to stay. Him rekindling his relationship with Misato really wasn’t much of a surprise – the sexual tension where there right from the get go and it wasn’t like Misato even really hesitated once presented with the opportunity. Kaji’s true loyalties aren’t really clear to me – on one hand, he seems to be working for Gendo as some kind of spy or special agent but at the same time, you get the sense that his role in all this is bigger, somehow. He does not seem ideologically bound to Gendo (whatever that would look like) but neither does he seem overtly critical of him. I’ll continue to keep a watch but I do hope that he turns out to be more than Misato’s boy toy.
You know, until the last episode I watched, I wasn’t going to cover Ritsuko at all. Until the episode ‘Lilliputian Hatcher’, Ritsuko was a secondary character at best. Sure, she was a prominent secondary character, but we really knew next to nothing about her and it didn’t seem like that was ever going to change. Prior to the aforementioned episode, there was scare evidence that there was even anything all that remarkable about her, apart from her obvious intelligence and competence. By that I mean, there was no indication that her story would be one that could compare to that of the other main characters. ‘Lilliputian Hatcher’ changed all of that; the episode was probably one of the first times that the focus of the series has shifted away from Shinji and co-pilots and given that, it seems all the stranger that the focus would be given to Ritsuko, of all people. The most interesting thing to come out Ritsuko’s increased time in the spotlight has less to do with Ritsuko herself but more to do with her mother and their relationship. If we assume that Ritsuko, Kaji and Misato are approximately the same age, then I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to imagine that all three of them experienced the Second Impact in some form or another. In that regard, I get the feeling that Ritsuko and Misato share several aspects of their childhood with each other – they both had a parent obsessed with something Second Impact related (Misato’s father died at the South Pole and Ritsuko’s mom was instrumental (heh) in create the MAGI computers but both daughters have difficult relationships with their parents. Ritsuko, especially, seems to be comparing herself to her mother very directly; in the three aspects of career, family and self-actualization, it seems like Ritsuko does not think much of her mother in any aspect except the first. It’s hard to go into much more detail when we don’t know the full story but I guess at this point, it should suffice to say that we can officially put Ritsuko on our ‘People-To-Watch List’ and hope that she delivers better than Kaji.
More Christian Symbolism Than A Vatican Horror Movie
No, I don’t have any recommendations for Vatican Horror Movies. Also, it’s not that I just began noticing the imagery – rather, it’s that I didn’t think a couple of instances (which could easily be just coincidence) warranted a proper discussion of the matter. The truth is, even now that I have a more substantial list of evidence with me, I still don’t have a lot to say about the symbolism. That there is symbolism is undeniable; a couple of ambiguous images and references, we can write off, but when the mountain of evidence is this high, there simply has to be something to it. I guess what I’m struggling with is how it all connects back to a greater narrative purpose and in interest of brainstorming, more than anything else, I’m going to list out the examples that I’ve caught. Feel free to point out more in the comments, as long as they aren’t spoilers for future episodes!
- Adam: This is the strange fossil (?) that Kaji finds in ‘Asuka Strikes!’ that we learn a tiny bit more about later. I can’t tell if it is a living being or something else but it’s very obviously going to play a big role in events to come. I believe someone made mention of it being the ‘first human’ – a clear reference to the biblical story of Adam and Eve but then that brings up the obvious question of where (and what) Eve is and how she comes into the picture. Even if it is the first human, how does this help the current humans cause?
- Angels: There are just so many questions around these things. Even this far into the series, we have absolutely no idea what they are! It’s clear that aren’t necessarily a single species of beings given how diverse and seemingly unrelated they are – it seems that the only thing they all share in common is an AT field (which raises interesting questions about the Evangelion robots themselves, see below). Shinji raises a very interesting question; one that I’m sure was sort of in the back of all our minds: if the Angels are enemies, why are they even called Angels? It is possible, as Gendo seems to suggest when he takes his odd trip to the South Pole, that the Angels are merely delivering divine punishment to mankind and in truth, it is mankind who are the bad guys. Now, while I’m not totally sold on this, I do think it can take us in some interesting directions. We see that most of the characters in the series are no saints and there is something of a recurring concept surrounding mankind not being able to overcome its own greed and ambition. Given the level of biblical references we’re seeing in this, I do feel like this hypothesis has some merit to it but at the same time, I think it’s more likely the senior characters like Gendo or even Ritsuko know more about these strange beings’ origins and the reason that they are called Angels in the first place. One thing that we have also all been aware of, even if it is only in the back of our minds, is that the Angels have definitely been getting more and more sophisticated – between the virus like Angel that Ritsuko fought off most recently to the kamikaze Angel from a couple of episodes before, it seems obvious that the Angels are evolving and adapting to the humans. This has implications not only on what kind of Angel will come next but also on what the Angels are and who/what created them. There are a lot of questions to answers and only relatively a small handful of episodes in which to answer them (remember, we still need to advance the plot along too, it can’t all be exposition).
- Evangelion: The ‘Evangelion’ does not itself exist in the English language but it does seem based off of the word ‘Evangelical’ or ‘Evangelist’. Both these words refer to the act of or the person spreading the word of God and bringing Christian salvation to the barbaric masses. Yet, in the context of the show, it’s hard to take that view and still try to make sense of it in the context of the other references. For example, if you think of the Evangelion robots are the machines spreading the message of a divine power then they should, by the logic connecting these references, be on the same side at the Angels. It’s an interesting line of thought, if for no other reason than the fact that Evangelion robots also share the one trait that connect all the Angels – the possession of an AT field. Of course, whether this AT field implies that the Evangelion are sort of a domesticated/controllable class of Angels or whether it just means that they are human creations that mimic the Angels with the purpose of fighting them remains to be seen.
The big question here though is that if this imagery is all pointing us to some kind of in-universe divinity, then how would said divinity even come into play here? There was a moment with Vice-Commander Fuyutsuki and Gendo were discussing the power of the heavens in delivering judgement (in reference to the Second Impact) versus the power of man in defending themselves and overcoming obstacles but I can’t help but think that there simply isn’t enough room in this story for an actual Abrahamic God – unless this universe’s version of said God is the Final Big Bad Angel that our protagonists have to beat. Even so, I can see that there are many references to Christianity being made but I can’t help but wonder how it’s going to pay off – references without a purpose are ultimately little more than meta fan-service (in a sense). I am open to being surprised, of course.
That brings us to the end of another group of Neon Genesis Evangelion episodes! I’ve been a little absent from the comment sections lately but that’s not for any particular reason – I’ve been trying to find as much time as I can outside work to write these down. I do read the comments though, so by all means keep them coming. As always you can support me by contributing a little something to my Patreon – anything you spare is appreciated and keeps the sight up and running. There is going to be a longer than usual break between this post and the next because I’ll travelling for work and am unlikely to find time to watch another 5-6 episodes, much less write a 4000 word post about them. I’ll drop an update on the Facebook and Patreon pages when I have a little more detail (also, there’s a tiny bit of incentive to follow me there!)