Asuka Langley is the next bombshell to enter Shinji’s life, both in the sense of being drop dead gorgeous and in the sense of having an explosive personality.
We first meet her on an expedition with the Pacific Fleet. The crews of the ships and the EVA pilots themselves think they are just transporting EVA Unit 02 from Germany to New Tokyo. Asuka is the brash and talented pilot of the new unit. Of course, things don’t go as planned. This is also the episode that introduces Kaji Ryoji, Asuka’s ex-guardian and an old lover of Misato’s – and Dr. Akagi’s as well.
The relationship between Shinji and Asuka is, at least intially, less interesting. She isn’t broken in any obvious way. She has a powerful personality and a strong ego. If Rei was the Queen of the Kuudere Trope, then Asuka is certainly a Princess of the Tsundere Trope. I can’t say she is the queen because she is also a himidere. (Taiga Aisaka of “Tora Dora” is the Queen of the Tsundere Trope.)
Over time she becomes the most important female in Shinji’s life.
She loves being the center of worshipful attention. She will allow you into her inner circle if you are “special” in some way as long as you concede her status as number one. Otherwise there will be a struggle in which she will assert her dominance.
From the beginning, she kind of likes Shinji. As long as he plays second fiddle and acknowledges her superiority she’s happy to have him around. However he’s started to heal and grow a bit. Misato has given Shinji a mother figure, however dysfunctional. He’s gotten closer to Rei. He has friends at school now who appreciate him. Multiple victories over angels have made him more confident on the battlefield.
Shinji has developed an ego. (Even Misato approvingly noted his new found “snark”.) The two egos clash.
During their first encounter she invites him into her EVA’s plug to do battle with the underwater angel, a fairly intimate position to be in. You don’t do this with someone you disrespect. But she insists he has to wear her spare plugsuit. It gives him a feminine appearance, symbolically neutering (and embarassing) him.
I noticed that the “prog knife” on EVA 01 looks like a hunting knife, maybe a Bowie. (Later on Unit 00 gets one too.) The one for EVA 02 looks like an X-ACTO utility knife. If I were going into a fight, I’d want the Bowie. The utility knife is designed to break off, so in a fight against an opponent harder than a cardboard box, it would keep breaking off close to the handle. A couple times and you would have no blade left.
I think the dangerous woman with a utility knife is a trope.
Even though she has finished graduate school, she is disappointed when finds she must attend the local high school for potential EVA pilots. She must start living like Japanese who have a group orientation and not a western individualist ethos. Still, the boys all love her (which she secretly finds disgusting) and even the girls like her – but only when they aren’t being terminally jealous. She is on very pleasant terms with Shinji. When she attempts to talk down to Rei, the other EVA pilot, Rei’s response is brutal.
Asuka is not used to meeting people who don’t defer to her.
Even more traumatic, when she moves in with Misato (thinking she has displaced Shinji
as the number one pilot) she learns the three of them will be living together. (There is a part of me screaming that Rei should have been there before her and not living alone in that depressing hovel.)
In the next battle, Asuka’s competitive nature gets the better of her and she charges into battle, leaving Shinji to eat her dust. The angel is able to split in two resulting in a humiliating defeat for both of them. It just happens that enough damage was done to the angel by a tactical nuke that it must spend the next ten days repairing itself. (I’m not sure how we know this.) Our protagonists have time to regroup.
This leads to a synchronized dancing arc that is comic relief as the two try to coordinate without subordinating.
It occurs to me that since you can damage an angel with a small nuke, why not just use a larger nuke? Or why not just chip it away into nothingness with lots of smaller nukes? Or, since we can produce AT fields, stick the nuke in an AT field to deliver it. Or use that super rifle again? Start carving it up with a prog knife. Hit it while it is down! This isn’t a boxing match where everyone returns to their corners at the end of the round.
Ah well! If we use tactics that logically follow from what happened before, we lose all that hot mecha action – and a bizarre dance sequence.
Despite all her bravado, Asuka isn’t what she seems. A genuinely confident person has no need to show up the competition, they just do it. An internally secure person has no problem working as a team. Only an insecure person keeps trying to prove they are superior. Her wall starts to shatter when she is unable to synch with Shinji, yet Rei synchs perfectly. She storms off in a fit of pique. Her pride does not allow her to subordinate to a team environment.
When your ego is entirely a matter of pride in your superiority, discovering equality may be crushing.
In the fast food store, where Shinji catches up with her, we hear the truth. Without being an EVA pilot, she has nothing. It is the only thing that counts. Not being young and beautiful, talented and athletic, with an unlimited future. Not being so intelligent she’s completed graduate school while still in high school. Not being popular and the object of every boy’s love. In the end it is more important than even pride.
So far we do not have a lot of Asuka’s background but like Shinji, her mother died as the result of 2nd impact. She has a stepmother she is indifferent to and Kaji is her Guardian. She has a crush on him but she is way to young for him. Misato is more his speed and Asuka is jealous.
At this point we don’t know her childhood details but it is not impossible that NERVE was as ham handed with her as it is with the other pilots. And yet despite polar opposite personalities, she and Rei came to the same conclusions. Their only value in life is to pilot EVAs.
The night before the battle, Misato leaves them alone. No doubt she is hoping there will be a bit of physical and emotional bonding between a pair of adolescents about to go into battle together. Instead, Asuka explicitly places “the wall of Jericho” between them.
She is terribly afraid of closeness and the resulting bond that might be formed. But she isn’t as good at it as Gendo is. She hasn’t retreated into sociopathy to avoid pain, she is just another hedgehog, like Shinji. Like the wall that surrounded Jericho, her wall is fragile and could fall.
That night she wanders into the bathroom, mostly asleep, then lays down on the floor next to Shinji. The temptation to place a “Domestic Girlfriend” kiss on her lips is overwhelming. (Waiting for someone to start yelling “rape-ish” here.) But as he’s he’s about to do so, her inner demon gets hold of her.
And that is that. Arousal turns into disinterest. The girl Shinji had high on a pedestal comes crashing down.
“You’re as much of a kid as I am.”
And that’s that.
Asuka makes overtures for Shinji to become more than just a friend. She shows off her body in a two piece and displays her diving prowess (Hey! Look at me!) and he seems clueless. “Nice swimsuit.” or even “Hello” was beyond him. In a later episode she even kisses him. Clueless again! I guess he’s waiting for her to attack him.
So much of this anime is about the failure to communicate! Throughout, not only do we have one party refusing to clearly state what they need but the other party doesn’t have a clue that something important is being communicated.
Misato, Shinji and Asuka go to a hot spring after vanquishing the angel in a volcano. The genders are separate but right next to each other. The girls are talking about Misato’s chest scar. There is giggling. There is poking about in ticklish places. In his position, listening to the two incredibly desirable females I lived with grabbing and groping and laughing in the next bath over, I know what I’d be doing and it wouldn’t be getting embarrassed because a penguin saw how aroused I was.
You are completely alone. Why are you embarrassed?
Boys should enjoy arousal and masturbation. Shinji seems incapable of enjoying any aspect of sexuality. Everything makes him unhappy and uncomfortable. The closest thing to sexual release he ever experiences is much later in the show when he masturbates over Asuka’s nearly nude and unconscious body in the hospital. And then he hates himself for it.
This is an important part of the reason why Shinji is hated so much by so many guys. Obviously he cares for her, putting himself at great risk to save her. Yet it is as if he fears intimacy far more than battling any angel. He cannot even say he likes her, even though she’s being obvious about inviting it. He cannot even properly fantasize about a woman when he’s all alone. It isn’t quite all his fault. She is incapable of coming right out and saying to Shinji what she’d said to her ex-guardian Kaji.
Their relationship deteriorates and this has a crucial impact in the latter episodes of the anime.