Down in the Muck
Author: Amanda Wells
Source: Noise In My Brain
I admit, it could be jealousy.
Shinji Ikari is one of my most favorite Evangelion characters, perhaps one of my most favorite anime characters of all time. Yet he is constantly dumped on my fans, who act as if he's a one-dimensional crybaby with no personality.
I realize this will never change in fandom, but what disturbs me is that many fans act as if Shinji is the only immoral cast member. It is rare that the flaws of Rei, Asuka, Misato, et al are mentioned, and it is even less common for them to be the target of rage and contempt. Some have even gone so far as to say they are morally superior to Shinji. It is only through coaxing of discussions, and fans devoted specifially to character analysis, that the faults of EVA's other characters come to light.
Also, when dislike of other EVA characters is expressed, it is done more in terms of "normal" character dislike, focusing on personality aspects that are personally distasteful. The characters are hardly ever boiled down to an unflattering and limiting description. In contrast, Shinji-bashing is as common as cockroaches, something that is stumbled on, rather than unearthed.
I believe that this does not happen because the other EVA characters are of superior moral character and emotional strength. Instead, it happens be because but because there is a gloss over their flaws that makes them more acceptable to most. The focus of this article will be Rei, Asuka, and Misato, because they are fanboy darlings and some of the most explored cast members.
The veneer that covers the faults of Rei, Asuka, and Misato has many parts. The first is quite simple: it is sex--both in the fact that they are female, and they are "sexy". In our society, what is common is what is treated as truth. While feminism has made great strides, I think there is still a cultural subconscious that percieves females as the "fairer sex" or the "weaker sex". Women are thus to be forgiven for emotional outbursts, shedding tears, and "cowardly" behavior. Men (or boys) are not granted this. Sometimes it almost seems any sign of femininity and emotion in a male is treated as a sin against nature.
That's what's behind the more favored treatment of EVA females. Because they have boobs, they are mostly considered free from any transgressions of strength and morality. They are good and beautiful; almost all is forgiven.
Presentation is another important factor. It may be said that Asuka, Rei, and Misato have more dynamic, "positive" traits to counter their negative ones. Rei has an aura of mystery; Asuka is a warrior devoted to her cause; Misato is a strong worker and provides comic relief. These things take the sting away from their psychological problems. Compared to this, Shinji is an air raid. However, the plot of EVA itself deconstructs these images of Rei, Asuka, and Misato.
Through Rei's various visions, we find she may have strange origins and be philosophical, but is no enchanting dream girl with a dark past. Instead, she is a hurting, lonely person who wants to die but never can. She is detached from emotion and desire, almost seeming will-less.
Asuka may like fighting, but she eventually sucumbs to her own pain. It is also interesting to note that Asuka's desire for combat was a defense mechansim, a way to prove to the world she was worth something, to contradict her mother's insane predictions. It did not have "positive", "healthy" roots. Asuka does not overcome; she represses. And it all comes back to haunt her. The girl screaming, "I hate everything!" is hardly a picture of someone in control of her life and her pain.
Misato's lament to Kaji in episode 15, when she admits she got drunk to gain her courage, is also troubling. It puts the earlier episodes, where she cheerfully guzzles beer, into a darker light. Those scenes were initially presented as comic, but even the past is not safe from the truth. When she was in college, Misato ran from Kaji when she discovered his similarities to her father, outright lying to him, and only confessing eight years later. Her skill as a military woman remains untouched by all this, but can those skills truly make her a hero? They have nothing to do with her problems, which remain to haunt her.
I'm saying that the combat actions and "auras" of the three females are but a dusting, a bright wrapping concealing the ugly gift inside. That gift is immorality, repression and hiding, running away from problems. The pretty coating cannot disguise that fact, for it is not at all connected to their moral fortitude. The turtle hides in a strong shell.
It may be said that I am expecting too much of the characters; that I am not allowing them to show human emotion and treating every sign of humanity as a sin. But Shinji is interpreted that way, and most do not complain. What I am striving to do is to say that the women of EVA are not morally superior to Shinji, and nor is he morally superior to them. Instead, they are all on the same ugly level, despite appearences.
Thus far only the TV series has been considered. End of Evangelion might seem to tip the scales in favor of the integirty of the Asuka/Rei/Misato triumvate. Rei choses to defy Gendou and merge with Lilith on her own; Asuka awakens from her coma and almost succeeds in destroying nine Evangelions; Misato acts like a military woman, saves a life, and dies with a motivational speech. On the other hand, Shinji must be dragged around by Misato, arrives too late to help Asuka, and his first decision after Rei gives him the choice to direct Third Impact is basically to give humanity the finger.
Rei's case is the most ambigious. While she does break free from Gendou, it is only to merge with another being, and act as guide to another. That is Rei's choice, but it's hard to view it as a heroic effort to overcome her problems and come to the aid of others. Instead, Rei III appears to function on instinct, waking up and going to Lilith with no apparent summons. Floating up to her, Rei says, "Ikari-kun is calling me". Despite her words to Gendou, can Rei III truly be seen in engaging in an act of self-definition, ovecoming all her problems thorugh a conscious act of will? I would disagree. Rei III makes her move because she has a greater sense of incompleteness than Rei II. She has lost the human ties that Rei II acquired, and thus returns to her source, Lilith. Rei escapes.
I mentioned in another essay that when Shinji has a zeal for combat, it is presented in a negative fashion. The same may be said of Asuka in her combat with SELEE's nine EVAs. We see the Deck Trio (Maya, Hyuga, and Aoba) as audience to the battle, and they view it in a negative light, especially the sensitive Maya, who pleads for Asuka to stop. Furthermore, Asuka's expression of murderous rage for most of the battle makes one wonder how positive her combat experience really is. Asuka eventually fails despite her best efforts, and even her last attempt to make her EVA rise, the last gasp of a defiant soul, saddens Maya and is visually grotesque. This adds a dark and pessimistic cast to the scene.
It is also noteworthy that Asuka regains her power through contact with her mother's soul. This has echoes of Shinji's many head trips, including episode 16, augmenting the idea that her and Shinji are more alike than most believe. Asuka does not return to the battlefield through an effort of conscious will; she needs prodding from an external source. That Asuka is more active following her awakening is not a sign of her greater strength; rather, she is simply reclaiming her old defense mechanisms, ones Shinji never used.
Misato is a far smaller player in the film in comparision to Rei and Asuka. That she has military skill is nothing new, and my stance on that issue remains. Misato's skill as a major does not excuse her moral failings and lack of emotional integrity. Thus for most of her on-screen appearence, she brings nothing new to the table.
Misato's rescue of Shinji is a heroic move. Also, instead of rejecting Shinji, she tries to get him moving. Yet even then, her heroism is tainted. The audience can never be sure if Misato actually believes what she says to Shinji, or if she is only parroting what she desires to believe. There is no evidence that Misato has overcome herself. Indeed, if the TV ending is read as related to EoE, Misato is still very disturbed.
Misato's speech to Shinji ends with their kiss. I've never seen this analyzed much, so I offer my own explanation. I believe Misato fosters desires for a nonthreatening love interest. She has been abandoned by the adult men in her life; her father left her and Kaji died. Misato kisses Shinji because she percieves him as the only male around she can dominate, and thus not fear, because he is young, feminine, and even worse of than herself. Even if the true reason for the kiss remains unsaid, the fact that she kissed someone half her age, in a gesture that is to all appearences sensual and left him promising to "Do the rest" when she returned. Even if Misato knew she was dying and they could never "do the rest", why would she say that? The entire incident is not a moral act.
Shinji in End of Evangelion is a difficult case. Part of the reason his decadence seems so high in comparsion with the women in EoE is that Shinji is given much more control of the situation. Rei gives him the choice to determine Third Impact, and thus lets him take his immorality to an enormous scale. All pretensions at quivering self-devaluation are taken away from Shinji: he declares that if no one loves him, all should die.
That might seem like a case for the greater moral strength of Rei, Misato, and Asuka, but they were not given the choice that Shinji did. One might regard Rei's choice of who to make a "god" to be insane. Shinji can't even make the right decisions for himself, and entrusting him to make a choice for billions of others seems ridiculous.
In Asuka's case, she was passive like Shinji early in the movie. Also like Shinji, she needs contact with the mother/EVA to goad her to action. Because of this, I feel both characters should be judged by the same standard.
Even if Asuka is the one to return with Shinji at the conclusion, we don't know why she did so. It could be Asuka had such a strong will that she would rather face the world rather than enter Insturmentality. Yet she was the same person that declared she hated everything. What better way to express that hate by demanding "death"? If Shinji was led to a morally correct choice, Asuka could have been, too. But somehow I doubt she would have made the "correct" choice right away, given her mental condition.
I believe immorality and character flaws are at the heart of Evangelion, and no number of cutesy fanservice can change that. Characters are left only with the potential to move on, with identities that change but do not improve. Asuka, Rei, and Misato are just as bad as the rest.