Four Evangelion Hot Takes
This is a bit different from the usual essays where I spend a week playing a game and then three weeks agonizing over what to say, and then spend a lot of time trying to edit it. I haven’t written in too long, and I want to try to just write something instead of going another month without actually producing #content. So this is pretty much unedited nonsense, aside from a few places where if Google Docs put a green or red line I might have changed things. Or not.
I’ve spent the last week or so binge watching Evangelion on Netflix, and then I watched the Rebuild movies that are out so far. And since I haven’t actually seen many hot takes or discourse on them other than criticism of the way Netflix’s dub changes the script, I’m going to belt out the hottest takes from 2000 era anime forums. In the words of Big Joel, you literally can’t stop me from doing this:
Shinji is right to feel like shit
“Shinji is right to not want to get in the robot” isn’t really that big of a hot take. Everyone and their mom who has actually seen the show and thought about it for two seconds is likely to admit that in reality being a Newtype would be terrifying, and fighting cosmic horrors would suck. That’s why I want to turn up the heat and say that he’s also right about everything else he feels. The sources of his depression aren’t just in his head, they’re real.
Twice in the series Shinji has a real “get in the robot” moment, and tries to quit being an Eva pilot. In the first, he feels that no one actually cares about him, and they only like him because he’s an Eva pilot. And he’s right. The people around him only care about what he can give to them, and even the nicest of them don’t actually give a shit about his feelings. He’s right to want to quit. That’s not a healthy environment to be in. He’s a means to an end, not a human being with his own thoughts and feelings. In the end he comes back not because the people around him realize that he’s a valued member of the team that they care about, or because he has some Its A Wonderful Life moment where he realizes everyone would suffer without him, its because he decides that he’s nothing if he isn’t an Eva pilot.
He places his value in himself on the value that he can provide other people. Kind of like I always do when I feel terrible for not being able to provide a value to anyone around me, including the people who supply me with money. Like, share, and subscribe to pay me to feel continually more terrible for not producing! But at least I’ll have money! (But seriously that’s not a joke, please subscribe to my Patreon and also tell me that I’m worthy of your grace)
In the second of his two major attempts at quitting, Shinji refuses to fight Bardiel, an Evangelion unit that has become an Angel, because he knows that another scared teenager is trapped inside of it, and he doesn’t want to murder another human being. In response, his father has the cockpit deactivated and the Dummy Plug system turned on, sending Unit 01 into a berserker frenzy that sees Bardiel’s brains splattered all over the road and giant robot viscera splashed across buildings. That’s a pretty fucking massive violation of trust and Gendo allows the Dummy Plug to go well beyond what is necessary, up to and including crushing the entry plug with Tohji in it.
I don’t know about you, but if my boss/father forced my giant robot to attempt to murder one of my friends, I’d feel justified in quitting as well. When he quits being an Eva pilot this time, he’s brought back not only by the belief that his life has no meaning beyond the cockpit of a giant fleshy murder robot, but by seeing everyone around him suffer. Shinji’s version of Clarence showing him a Bedford Falls where he never existed is watching Asuka get beheaded and Rei utterly fail at shoving an N² mine right at Zeruel’s core. When he comes back, once again nothing changes about the situation. Shinji himself is forced to just put up with a hostile and abusive situation for the fate of the world.
This even extends into the final moments of the series. Shinji’s ego — here meaning the psychological concept, the mediation between conscious and unconscious mind, the way that he knows what is and isn’t real, as well as his sense of self — is utterly destroyed and Human Instrumentality is underway. All his feelings are laid bare. Asuka tells him that she knows all about his jerk off fantasies, and implores him to do it right there for her, demanding that he be all hers or she doesn’t matter to him. Shinji tells her that if she really wants that, she should start by being nice to him.
The women of the cast tell him that they are nice to him, and Shinji reacts like a whiny pissbaby incel, calling them liars, but, like… he’s right. They aren’t nice to him. They really do keep things vague. They continue to dress him down and they’re right that he never tries to understand anyone else (though, to be fair, neither do they), but he’s right: No one is nice to him.
Asuka’s characterization is ruined by the pacing (or Maybe its just bad)
I want to start out by saying that I don’t hate Asuka. She’s an interesting character and way more dynamic than Rei, which I think does add something to the show. Also unlike Rei, her internal and external conflicts are grounded in real world teenager problems of wanting to be seen as grown up, and dealing with loss and trauma and all that jazz. She’s an emotive character, and living with her highlights the best of Asuka and Shinji’s characterizations.
She’s also an utterly horrible little shit and its a surprise that anyone puts up with her.
Asuka is presented as the character type of the cocky ace pilot who is just too good to chastise. The big badass who gets away with flippantly mocking when another teenager seems to be dead. Who can hit on adult men like Kaji and not get called out on it even though he clearly expresses disinterest in her because you have to spoil the ultimate robot pilot and put up with her so she’ll be happy when the time comes to defeat the Angels.
Except that we don’t see that. Even in her first fight with Gaghiel, she comes up with a brilliant plan to avoid sinking, but in the end its Misato’s plan and the sacrifice of some of the only remaining pre-Second Impact military hardware that defeats Gaghiel when Asuka fails.
Later on she routinely acts like a bully to Shinji, mocking his dead mother (despite her own mother’s suicide), and practically getting excited that he seems to be dead when swallowed up by Leliel. She even gets mad at Rei for calling her out on that. Or at least glaring at her. Asuka’s character is so over the top and callous that it honestly strains credibility that she’d be allowed to exist in a world of grown ups without someone calling her out, even if she were an ace pilot, but throughout the show she actually gets her shit kicked in through most of her combat interactions. There are several episodes where Asuka and the other pilots don’t actually do anything other than show up in the plot, and then there are episodes where Asuka’s incompetence and unwarranted sense of self-assurance either end with her embarrassing herself (and NERV), as in the fight with Israfel, the dual core angel in episode 9 where the message of the episode is how she has to harmonize with Shinji, something that she just barely accomplishes for the fight, and that is instantly ignored.
Anyway, I guess I’m saying that Asuka would be less of a hateful little gremlin if she wasn’t almost entirely sidelined for things like Iruel and Jet Alone and the set of episodes leading up to Bardiel, and actually had character development. She gets moments that make us empathize with why she’s a hateful ghoul, but it really comes pretty late in the series.
The Rebuild movies kind of make the show’s lack of real depth to Asuka all the more apparent in that in the span of You Can (Not) Advance, Asuka has a more solid arc, going from a similarly cocky flygirl Air Force Captain at the age of 14 whose introductory fight against the drinkybird Seventh Angel does show that she’s competent and capable, to someone who actually grows to care about other people. Her jealousy and pettiness are all there, and at one point she high kicks Shinji off the ground when he sees her naked like something out of a harem comedy, but its also tempered and grounded and she grows over the runtime.
The starkest contrast is when we get a repeat of the elevator scene from episode 22’. When Rei breaks the silence, the context is different, but Asuka’s anger and jealousy are the same. But this time when she goes to slap Rei, Rei — who herself has gotten quite a lot of character growth, which makes the climax work — intercepts her hand. Asuka notices the cuts on Rei’s fingers and hand, the visual shorthand of a clumsy and incompetent anime girl cooking for the boy she loves. Asuka then looks down at her own fingers, bandaged up from also trying to cook for Shinji (who is also a more well rounded character; that’ll be another hot take), and feels empathy. She doesn’t have to say anything, just the visual cues and the (camera) cuts show us everything.
She then goes to leave, like in the original scene, but stops, and continues the conversation, asking Rei how she feels about Shinji. Asuka, the character who is the ur example of a violent and abusive “tsundere” has grown to the point that she tries to set her romantic rival up. And its such a good fucking scene.
And then Asuka goes back to being incredibly angry and bitter in the next movie and it makes sense that she’s regressed and oh my God I love the Rebuild movies.
Human Instrumentality is good, actually
Neither the actual final episodes of the show or the End of Evangelion movie that’s meant to replace them gives any reason why Shinji should want to undo Instrumentality and go on living as a singular person.
Like, yes, the plan of forced evolution and humanity becoming a singular entity, complementing everyone’s flaws and erasing loneliness whether people choose to become part of the homogenous collective, that’s a bad thing. Its scary. And at least with the Misato scene, where she has to watch Shinji watching her have sex, that’s actually shown really well. When Instrumentality happens, everyone gets to watch you have sex. In End of Evangelion, the cast even comments on it. Forcing everyone into perfection is pretty bad, and a really good end of the world scenario.
But I don’t really buy why Shinji wants to become an individual again. I don’t really get why he has his big incel freak out and chokes Asuka after she does some domestic violence against him and says that everyone should die, but then at the end, he decides that, actually, maybe it would be better if he existed.
Why does Yui tell us that everyone has an innate desire to return to what they were? The entire series hammers home that opening up to people is painful and scary, and Human Instrumentality, while it does at first involve everyone seeing all your embarrassing sex moments, is also the flaws in the human heart being mended by the complementation of other human hearts. Its literally solving the hedgehog’s dilemma.
Maybe I’m missing something or maybe there’s a translation issue, but none of the dialogue feels like it gives Shinji any reason to undo the end of the world. Even the conversations with Rei and Kowaru, who represent hope and love, make me understand Shinji’s reasons, or why Yui says people will all eventually restore their forms. The hope that humanity will understand each other? Isn’t that what Instrumentality is, though? All of humanity finally understanding each other?
We’re all better off being one mind and soul, just one big ocean of tang, all happy and harmonious together, all our flaws filled by each others’ strengths. Hell, if I were a religious person, its what I’d think heaven is.
The Rebuilds Are Good, Actually
Oh my God, they’re everything I wanted out of the series. There’s more explanation, so that you actually understand what’s going on and it doesn’t just feel like random bullshit with no explanation. There’s context for the things that happen, mostly. Characters actually have growth. They have arcs. Shinji is still a whiny shit (which is justified, as I said earlier), but he’s also a stronger character. When he does have his first breakdown and runs away, its his own choice that finally brings him back to NERV. He tells the secret service agents that he’s ready to come back, because he’s made a decision. He’s a much more active character, whereas in the original series he’s passive until near the end, and frankly I never really felt his character change to the more upbeat guy he is when getting praised for his high sync ratio, or charging into the fight with Leliel only to get his shit kicked in.
I’ve already mentioned Asuka’s characterization, and how I much prefer it. I was surprised when she got the Bardiel arc instead of Touji, and its a shame that he and Kensuke don’t get nearly as much screentime — although they do still get personality and character at the marine treatment facility that they never got in the show — but a tertiary character losing out on screen time is the price that’s paid in order to strengthen the primary cast, and give Asuka’s arc a painful conclusion before she’s seen again, still traumatized from the consequences and both blaming and still holding feelings for Shinji, or, as the movie implies, the thing that has his shape.
Rei is the character with the most growth. In the show she was almost entirely flat, and after the Ramiel incident she never had a character moment like that again, outside of Asuka once spotting she and Shinji seemingly happy together after he got back from being Tang. Its almost out of nowhere that they’re shown to be somewhat like a couple. Rei sacrificing herself for Shinji to keep Armasiel off of him — and, perhaps, to keep him from seeing how she feels — doesn’t feel earned. Compare that to her portrayal in You Can (Not) Advance however and she’s a much more emotionally strong character after the Ramiel incident, finding her courage and motivations.
Not only does Rei having an actual personality give weight to Shinji being willing to end the world to save her, Rei herself gets to make a final sacrifice spurred on by her feelings for Shinji that have been developing. She carries a token to remember him and her sacrifice, even if its in vain, is an emotionally powerful moment where she actually has something to live for and wants to save Shinji, hoping against hope that her actions will be able to keep him out of the cockpit of an Eva. Its a fucking amazing moment, and the show has nothing like it, even as it makes Shinji and Rei’s relationship somehow the catalyst for the apocalypse.
Also the movied are just fucking gorgeous and everything is so Goddamned “extra”. I don’t even like using hip slang terms like that, but I honestly can’t think of a better word to describe shit like the Sixth Angel fight, where now instead of a single floating cube that shoots a laser beam, Ramiel is a swirling, whining, shrieking array of crystals that all dance and fold and move about in a glorious mix of mid-00s CGI and animation, or the mesmerizing multiformed Eighth Angel that takes the place of Sahaquiel, brutally spearing Shinji with a little gremlin that pops out and requiring all three pilots to work together all while CGI cilia dance and sway. Every Angel is more extravagant and over the top than its television counterpart, and all the fight scenes have more of the gross, fleshy meat parts underneath the armour of the Evas showing up. I miss the scene where Shinji freaks out over Unit-01’s helmet falling off and the look of its squishy vagina eye regrowing in the window, but as a trade off there are absolutely dozens of scenes of gross meat robots.
Unit-01’s gloves melt off against the Fifth Angel, showing human flesh with rivets bolted into the skin of the knuckles. When the Sixth Angel fires its final beam at Shinji and Rei blocks it at the seeming cost of her life, it actually burns the flesh of Unit-00’s arms, and Shinji takes a Progressive Knife to the entry plug, cutting it open to free Rei, each stab making a gross and satisfying squelching noise. The Evas are overtly treated as fleshy, human things. Something hammered home even more than in the original when Unit-03 is torn apart and eaten while its gross flesh arms flail in terror trying to keep Unit-01 from throwing entrails across the residential district with her teeth.
Rebuild has the three things I wanted more of from Evangelion: Meat robots, character growth that feels consistent, and explanations of context and background that don’t involve me having to look things up on the EvaGeeks wiki because the information comes from a fan translation of a Japanese only dating sim.
Even You Can (Not) Redo, a movie other people seem to hate, is filled with things I love. Its far from perfect, and I think that we’re thrust into this new world only to have Shinji taken away from the people with answers and context far too early, but so much of it is spent outside of the meat robots, just learning about our characters and how they’ve changed and what that means, and how the world is even more fucked up than we remember it. That’s great.
I even like the fact that Shinji does the one thing that he should never ever fucking do, and that’s get in the robot. His motivations actually make sense, in that they’re completely fucking foolish. But they’re foolish in a human way, just like his willingness to go for the spears even after Kowaru tells him not to. Because unlike the movie’s title, unlike what Fuyutsuki told him, he believes that he can redo, and it hurts him that even Kowaru would go back on what he promised and say “actually, no, you shouldn’t do it, you’ll just fuck it up”.
And of course he does fuck it up. And I absolutely love that. This boy has two extinction events on his conscience because he desperately wanted to set things right. He is an utter fuck up and I absolutely love him for it.
I can’t wait to see what happens next. I want Shinji to get the will to live. I want him to defeat his father and I do want him to save the world and unburden himself of the sin of causing the apocalypse. Twice.
Anyway, those are some hot takes. Honestly they’re probably lukewarm, but like I said, I really need to write something. Ideally I’ll write something once a week, no matter how pointless it is. I actually put down on my jury duty questionnaire that I run a business, since Patreon technically claims that my creator page is my business page, so I should probably do something that’s actually productive that people are interested in, but I’m also an utter mess, so 🤷🏼♀️.
If you did like these takes, or the livetweet threads that lead to this post, or you like the other opinions I have and want to finance me in some way, you can support me on Patreon, or give me a one time donation. If you want to read something I’m actually proud of, try the critical analysis on Vampyr, this discussion of politics in Metal Gear Rising, which is honestly some of my best work, and this very out of date and yet still somehow relevant essay about how politics is a game and liberals don’t seem to want to win. I need to get around to rewriting this one, because wow, it is incredibly relevant.