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It is no secret that Evangelion reflects the depression and alienation felt by its creator, Hideaki Anno. After crushing attempts at big-budget anime, Anno withdrew for four years. Then a new series, Neon Genesis Evangelion grew from his depression. To quote him…
“I tried to include everything of myself in Neon Genesis Evangelion — myself, a broken man who could do nothing for four years… Then one thought. ‘You can’t run away,’ … It is a production where my only thought was to burn my feelings into film.”
Hideko Anno – What were we trying to make here?
“Don’t run away!” – Where have we seen that before? Evangelion is the story of a man’s descent into depression and his fragile recovery translated into a teenage mecha drama.
Spoils of anime are just ahead.
Shinji had no friends.
This is not surprising. Shinji doesn’t like himself. If Otosan has no use for him, he must be useless. How could anyone else like him? He has been flatly rejected by the most important person in his life. Anyone else he risks getting close too will probably reject him too. And he has defensive sharp points that can hurt anyone who tries.
That’s a pain he cannot accept. So he stays alone. His earbuds and his tape player placed on a permanent loop is his defensive wall and personal companion.
Being pulled into NERV’s operation is starting to force Shinji out of his shell. A new and unfamiliar city. People making demands on him. A duty thrust upon him that really is beyond his ability to cope with. A new school. A roommate who would be the envy of every boy and man but who only leaves him confused.
Misato is worried about him. He’s going to school. She gets him a cellphone. It lays on his desk unused. She is starting to worry that he has no friends. She contacts Dr. Akagi about it. For someone who understands the human psyche so well, Akagi is a cold fish when actually trying to use the knowledge.
School is a place of monotony – and disinformation. Every person there has a connection to NERV or they couldn’t live in the city. They know the reports of minimal casualties are bogus. When hundreds of tanks and dozens of aircraft get destroyed and a nuclear bomb is touched off, you can’t really hide it.
Secrecy is so ingrained into NERV, they can’t tell the truth even when it is obvious – typical bureaucracy. The school spouts out the party line according to the NERV public affairs department. The students are not impressed.
Evangelion fans know that the second impact was human-caused. It was believed that if we waited, other “angels” would eventually contact it and cause a catastrophe that would kill everything down to the bacteria. We could then use the results in an effort to force human evolution to the next level.
Nobody asked ordinary humans if they wanted to be force evolved like some Pokeball master forcing Pikachu to evolve into Raichu. Even Ash knows better than to do that. But it is in the nature of secretive elitist governmental entities to believe they know what is better for us than the unwashed masses of the hoi polloi.
This event is at the very root of all the “reasons” for the bizarre rules and events of this world and for Gendo’s supreme confidence in his plans. But, back to school.
The class already suspects Shinji’s role. New kid in town and a giant robot shows up battling monstrous kaiju. Of course, they must be connected! A chat message shows up on Shinji’s laptop.
Just type “YES” and press “Enter”, silly boy.
It does seem strange that NERV and all its public affairs efforts and penchant for security wouldn’t have told him not to disclose his role as a pilot. (The entire class is made up of potential pilots of 14 years of age but none of them know it yet.)
One click and suddenly Shinji is the pride of the school, surrounded mostly by adoring girls. A normal boy would rejoice and bask in the glory but not Shinji. He’s stressed out. He’s swamped by all the attention. So many inputs and unable to process any of them. He can’t possibly be worthy of anything but scorn, making it doubly painful.
Not everyone is so happy about having a pilot for a giant mecha in their class.Tōji Suzuhara’s little sister was buried and severely injured in the rubble of the last battle. He blames the pilot for her injuries. After school, he confronts Shinji outside and decks him with a punch. Shinji gets up, mutters he didn’t really want to be piloting the thing and gets decked again.
Toji’s friend Kensuke Aida was there too. His response is not exactly sympathetic to Shinji. Sorry buddy, but his sister got hurt in the robot fight. That’s just how he is.
Shinji just takes the abuse. He probably thinks he deserves it. And then the sirens go off. Rei, who has been so far isolating herself from everyone – including him – tells him they need to report.
Another day, another monster. Rei is still badly enough injured that she oughtn’t to fight and Unit 00 has not been fully checked out. Back into Unit 01 for Shinji. The entire central city retracts into the Geofront (a large armored bubble that houses the NERV HQ and into which tall buildings retract) and the remaining population are rushed to their shelters.
Kensuke imagines himself a videographer and is desperate to see the big fight. He coaxes Toji into going with him to help him get the thick steel door open and then they climb a nearby hill to watch. They are almost squished by the falling EVA unit and then almost killed by the attacking angel. Shinji has lost external power and is running out of internal, yet all he can do is grab the attackers tentacles and hold on. Anything else will kill his classmates.
This is where Misato realizes that Shinji will protect his classmates right up to his own death. As we saw in my last post, she disobeys orders herself and tells him to take them into his capsule. It was a sound tactical decision, one that Dr. Akari would not understand. Akari thinks Shinji can simply be ordered around at will because Shinji will do whatever makes his life easier. Misato knows better. And part of me really hopes Misato also felt good about saving those two lives.
Shinji’s enemy is now his friend. Toji and Kensuke understand now what it is like to pilot an EVA in a life and death struggle against an alien monster. They’ve shared the terror and seen the berserker rage. And Shinji can now accept their friendship because they have seen him at his worst and still accept him. That’s a helluva steep friendship curve.
I wonder how much better his relationship with Misato would’ve been if she had done a ride-along? But such things disrupt “synchronization”. He still won against the odds and against orders. Maybe synchronization isn’t as important as they think.
Misato and NERV’s ham-handed handling of the after-action debriefing drive Shinji deeper into himself. To me, his smiling, casual responses to her questions were clear signs of being on the verge of hysteria. He withdraws from school, then snaps and disappears just before his newfound friends come to visit.
Shinji wanders the city, on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Slowly he cools down. He meets Kensuke playing soldier, alone in a field with a campsite and toy weapons. They talk and Kensuke expresses his admiration and Toji’s apology for striking him. Kensuke’s mother also died in the second impact and that is a bond they can share. They eat and spend the night together in Kensuke’s tent. But in the early morning mist, NERV security comes to take him away.
Toji and Kensuke know where to expect him. People who are removed from town are deposited at a particular station and time. They want to say goodbye to their friend. But first Toji has a request.
“Hit me back!”
Check out the looks on the faces of the NERV security team.
And then there is a confession as the detail drags Shinji off. All his self-doubt, all his self-hate, he pours it all out for his friends to see. Probably the only two friends he has ever had. They’d like him to stay but won’t force the issue.
Shinji has so far successfully learned to navigate two other hedgehogs without too much mutual pain, even if it took destroying half the outer city to do it. However, it isn’t those two friends that ultimately change his mind and convince him to stay. It is a memory of words of encouragement from Misato.
At the end of the 4th episode, the question remains: Does Misato realize she is a hedgehog too?