Left this out of the fridge too long and spoilage is possible…
Shinji Ikari would not appear on the surface to be the world’s best candidate to pilot an EVA and save humanity. In normal life, he’s a quiet and unsocial boy with no friends. He lacks any sense of self-worth. As a young child, his domineering and unsympathetic father, Gendo Ikari, abandoned him after his mother is killed after the “second impact”. It seems he doesn’t have a use for his own son.
Shinji is broken. His father has left him feeling that his life is of no value. Shinji is severely depressed and lacks the fundamental assertiveness to ask for what he needs or to state what he feels. He retreats behind a cassette tape of music he plays endlessly.
Given his situation, Gendo Ikari might have at least looked into a caregiver to bond with the kid he abandoned. Maybe even therapy, once it was discovered that he might be needed as a pilot. But to Gendo, his son’s emotional well being is a waste of time. Everyone is a cog on the wheel of getting him to where he wants to be or they are useless.
For “reasons” only 14-year-old children can pilot EVAs. For “reasons”, the ones who can synchronize with an EVA are extremely rare. There’s a sudden attack by an “angel”, a kind of kaiju immune to conventional weapons. Their pilot is out of action from a test accident and NERVE needs a new pilot. Daddy knows Shinji is the perfect kid for the job (for “reasons”).
Not a good parent-child relationship.
We know pilots can be injured or even die. We also know that Shinji is our backup pilot. It never occurs to Daddy they might want to work with the kid and develop some combat skills in advance of him being tossed into the deep end of the pool. We know that Rei took seven months to get there and still ended up almost dead. Yeah, I know some people “learn to swim” that way but they have at least seen other people swim and have had the basics explained. If you aren’t there to pull them out some of them will die.
Daddy knows something special. He isn’t sharing his knowledge, so nobody else has a clue.
Shinji recognizes the absurdity of what they are asking him to do. Without a word of explanation, they want him to pilot an EVA and he knows he’s not qualified. To double down on this, he has no ego. A person with a strong ego will be thrust into an unfamiliar situation and will still do the best they can because not even trying would be shameful. But Shinji has no self-image to protect and no reason to try the impossible. He is supremely confident in his own inadequacy and the inevitability of failure. Why waste the energy of trying?
Wheeling out Rei Ayanami on a stretcher still bleeding and connected to IVs wasn’t just a desperate attempt to prep a pilot. Gendo did it to provide a reason to Shinji to do the impossible. While Shinji may not like himself, he feels for other people. Rei is a beautiful girl and terribly injured. Ikari is using her to manipulate his compassion for a fellow human, his hormonal instincts towards a female, and his belief that he has no value. Shinji rises to the occasion because it would be better for him to die in this absurdist drama than for her to suffer even more. Pretty noble, if you think about it.
Not that he wouldn’t have plugged her in if Shinji has still refused.
Of course, Shinji synchs up with the mecha almost perfectly for “reasons”. Even though he falls flat on his face, the EVA he is piloting has a mind of its own. First, it protects him in the launch bay from falling debris when it shouldn’t have been able to move, let alone have an independent will. Later it goes into berserker mode after Shinji has essentially lost it.
Every time Shinji goes into the Eva to do battle and wins it ought to increase his self-confidence, right? It doesn’t. After a couple of victories, Shinji still hates himself. His ability to function erodes.
Through it all Gendo smiles on coldly. He knew this would happen and he isn’t sharing his inside information. Everything is working according to his plan for “reasons”.
As far as regular humanity is concerned he appears a brilliant sociopath, without the slightest empathy even for his own son while totally obsessed with stopping “angels”.
And yet that may be exactly who you’d want defending humanity. Someone who’d send a critically injured girl to her death in battle on the slightest chance the angel could be defeated. The man who has no compunction about breaking eggs to make an omelet, the man who will coolly do whatever has to be done to protect humanity, regardless of the human cost. Still, we would prefer that he at least feel bad about what he had to do.
Yet such a man does not really take orders from anyone. He finds ways to make what he wants to do “fit” with the orders, other times ignores them and later justifies it. He is not controlled by the same interests that make the rest of us human. We know what he says his agenda is but what if he is lying?
Later we see he is capable of the kind of empathy we’d want to see in our leaders. Rei is in the plug of a unit that is going berserk in the facility. Her plug is ejected accidentally and goes violently bouncing all over the room. When it finally comes to rest, Gendo personally rushes out to the plug and manually opens the door to it, despite suffering severe burns to his hands. His anguish and concern are unmistakable.
We are told the unit probably went berserk because of pilot mental instability. Gendo is taken aback by this.
Gendo cares about Rei. He gives her the relationship that Shinji is crying out for. Why does a man who is capable of love not share it?
We later learn that Gendo loved his wife and Shinji’s mother, Yui. We also learn that Rei is a clone of Yui. Gendo’s past is not well explored in Evangelion. He had a troubled childhood. Starting with Yui, every woman he’s bedded was purely for practical reasons. He needed something from them and pretended love to get it. Except that somehow Yui broke thru and his love became a genuine thing. Yui dies and he is never willing to form another connection, even with his own son.
Gendo is broken, missing a piece called Yui. The entire series is nothing but his attempt to reunite with her.