Thus the descent into Shinji Ikari’s mind continued, and with it, the line between story and author-shouting-at-the-audience became even more confusing. I used to joke that if NERV had a therapist on staff, half of this story’s problems wouldn’t happen. Now, I feel like I need a consulting therapist to help me parse if Evangelion is taking a turn toward a very weird, very opaque sort of auteurism.
Yes, yes it is. Yes it was. Yes it will always be. This story was never about the audience. It is a grand catharsis.
A quick plot review. When Shinji synchronized to 400% with Eva-01 during the battle with Zereul, he was absorbed into the LCL of the entry plug. Thereupon, he goes on another beat poetry adventure into his own psyche. Meanwhile, Asuka takes to destroying furniture because she feels upstaged by Shinji, once again proving that she is the worst co-worker imaginable. SEELE takes the time to inform Gendo that they are quite annoyed at Eva-01 assimilating a S2 engine (presumably while it ate Eva-03). Despite Gendo’s machinations, they are still talking about things in terms of blown budgets and lost time. In contrast to these whinging project managers, Gendo is…letting Kaji snark at him.
There. Now everyone is caught up on what passes for plot in this episode.
Past-Adam didn’t have the courage to say it, but I will. It’s a goddamn mess. It is a shit show of writing that a modern editor would look at and contemplate the exact combination of drugs their author is abusing.
Let’s turn attention to the harder questions of this episode.
Must we, my past-self? Can’t we go out for a walk, instead?
When Shinji is talking to the psychic projection of Rei on the midnight train going anywhere, who is the series talking to when Shinji demands that people be kind to him?
Are Shinji and Hideki Anno yelling at the audience because humanity is garbage? Is Shinji talking to himself such that Hideki Anno could tell the audience that it is okay to make such a demand of their peers? Is Shinji a shitty little ingrate who is so caught up in his own bullshit that he can’t see all the people who care about him, regardless of if he’s an Eva pilot?
I could make a compelling case for or against each of those questions because the series is, once again, working against whatever message it might intend to communicate. I don’t know which way the frame-by-frame chaos and meandering moods want me to jump. It’s all so much pasta tossed at the wall. I need the writing to stop talking at me and start showing me something more meaningful than a flashback to a sketch of Shinji breast feeding on Yui Ikari.
Paging Dr. Freud to the Our-Budget-Problems-Were-Quite-Evident-In-This-Episode ward.
The fact that this is ostensibly a science fiction series, but one that sometimes chooses to be a religious allegory, makes matters even more murky. If Shinji has been absorbed into the LCL of his entry plug, and if the entry plug is the seat of the soul – a fact we learnt through one of Rei’s beat poetry jams – are we to assume that some of the personae talking to Shinji are coming from the awoken Eva-01? Or is the history of people being cruel and kind to Shinji meant to be the boy’s consciousness in battle with itself? Should we view naked Misato, Asuka, and Rei offering to become one “body, mind, and soul” with Shinji as the voice of the Eva, itself? Does the Eva long for permanence with Shinji? Is it seeking to contain a human soul within itself, or is Shinji so broken that he longs to lose himself into the Eva?
Makes bored wanking motion
For the life of me, I can’t remember how the events of this episode impact those that follow. I suppose it is conceivable that a taste of Human Instrumentality as seen in the aforementioned fantasy harem and Shinji asking if “this is what human warmth feels like” is a sort of holodeck escape from the brutality of life. The Eva offers an antidote to Shinji’s internal conflict, and in turn Shinji becomes that much more receptive, perhaps even addicted, to the warmth and one-ness of Instrumentality. As LCL, Shinji can have the three women he desires for different reasons, friends who like him, and the approval of his father, to boot.
Yeah, that’s a really interesting idea, Past-Adam. What a shame you are dead wrong about how it will relate to the actual decisions that Shinji has to make when Instrumentality begins.
This holodeck self-indulgence makes for an interesting counter-point to the episode’s coda putting Mistao and Kaji in bed together. For all the frivolous nude-implied teenagers that pepper Shinji’s trip in Eva-01, this scene manages to be just as alienating. First, Misato admits that she is using Kaji to try and understand what NERV is actually doing with Adam and how it connects to the Evas and the Human Instrumentality Project. Second, listening to Misato moan while the camera focused on an ashtray and half-glass of whiskey was a somehow a larger act of voyeurism than witnessing anything from Shinji. Follow that up with Misato complaining that Kaji “sticking” something somewhere unwelcome before the camera cuts back to Misato holding a pill. Kaji calls it the last gift he would give her.
I mean…was he trying to hide that pill…inside her? I don’t know what other implications one might take from that dialogue, nor do I understand why such an action would be necessary. I’m reticent to call this a case of Evangelion getting in its own way. It’s simply a bizarre choice. One that seems afraid of dealing with Misato as sexually active woman in her 20s.
Alternate interpretation: Kaji was going for butt stuff and the camera held on the whiskey glass because Anno couldn’t sneak actual fucking past the censor/wanted to say something about his own sexual hang-ups. You know, there’s a serious fucking problem with your narrative when, as an author, you are more comfortable exploring the libido of teenagers than adults. But before you tell me that Anno is attempting a self-portrait, really watch the entire episode and tell me if you think it is sticking the landing.
If, however, this is an episode that is meant to show the line between Instrumentality and individuality, then it’s worth returning to one of my earlier questions – is Shinji a shitty ingrate? There’s no doubt that Gendo has been manipulating him, probably for his whole life. One flashback in this episode shows Shinji recalling that he saw the Eva in construction as a child with both Gendo and Yui. He then ran away from both his parents. A subsequent flashback to the first episode reminds us that Gendo’s specifically said it would be impossible for anybody else to sync with Eva-01. This has to be an indication of some engineered suffering in Shinji’s life.
Later, we are going to find out, I think, that Eva-01 assimilated Shinji’s mom. So all those ‘become one with me’ moments might have been the most incestuous robosexuality you can imagine.
However, there’s ample evidence of people being kind to Shinji. Aida took Shinji in during his first flight from NERV. Suzuhara enjoys Shinji’s company as demonstrated on their trip to Rei’s apartment. Both Kaji and Misato offer some not-terrible moments of parenting toward Shinji. So the question is better seen as trying to find the intention between Hideki Anno writing Shinji as an ingrate or writing him as someone so bent from childhood trauma that he can’t process kindness when it is happening to him.
I would draw attention to the fact that the defining moment of episode 19 is Kaji telling Shinji that he has to choose to act in a way that he can live with. Likewise, the psychic projection of Misato in this episode told Shinji to set aside his past and choose who he wants to become. This recurring sentiment is presumably what convinces Shinji to return to human form. Since Shinji gets into the robot in episode 19, seemingly without Gendo’s machinations, and since he chooses individuality on the urging of a memory of Misato, I think we can finally demonstrate some evidence of character growth. And if we are seeing a character who can grow, then it’s reasonable to interpret this character as someone with enough agency to be held to account for their lousy behaviour.
Gods help me there needs to be more to this series than the idea that being nice to people is good, so let’s try to rise above our own dubious actions.
Wow, look at Past-Adam laying down the sass.
All this said, the problem at hand remains that I can’t hear the author’s voice despite the fact he is clearly shouting at me. There are a multitude of interpretations on what goes on in this episode, each seemingly on par with the other.
Be nice to Shinji.
Shinji is kind of an asshole.
Be nice to him despite the fact I have written him as an asshole.
I don’t know that I want to do that.
Religion, am I right?
Sir, literally don’t know what you are trying to do with religion other than cram it in as set dressing.
A note from a version of me who has finished watching the entirety of the series, for a third and final time, and is now free to connect the dots that past-Adam could not quite see:
The fundamental question of the series, one that Shinji has to answer in the final two episodes, is this: is it better to be alone on a world of one’s creation, or to share one’s essential existence in a world of perfect understanding?
Putting this question in the context of this episode is one of the reasons why I feel like the ending of Evangelion is an unearned mess. Shinji could have enjoyed a third way between Instrumentality and individuality if he stayed in the robot. He could have enjoyed existence where his mother-Eva provided him with all the warmth and compassion that he ever wanted. He could fuck his mom-boss, mom-clone, and work-crush in equal measures and nobody would ever be mean to him again.
Instead, he opts for individuality.
When the time comes to make that choice again in episode 25/26, he goes in the opposite direction. Shinji initially decides that his cowardice and shame make unfit to be a part of the human gestalt of Instrumentality. Then, out of the blue, he pivots toward accepting a life with others because maybe he can be nice to himself.
What is one meant to take from these decisions? I think we are looking at suicide metaphors. In the case of episode 20, there’s no hard evidence that the world of Eva Instrumentality would have carried on once NERV dumped the LCL out of Eva-01’s entry plug.
Then again, who the fuck knows in a series that cares so little about its own internal consistency. If Eva-01 has an S2 engine and could power up on its own even without said engine, who’s to say it couldn’t perpetuate Shinji’s soul.
When actual Instrumentality happens, Shinji’s isolation would effectively be an end of life scenario. He would have no chance of ever connecting with people again, and the beat poetry proposes that we can only define ourselves in proximity and relation to others. Thus, in a world of his own fantasy, Shinji would eventually drift into nothing. Though the thought is alluring for a moment, he eventually walks it back and chooses to join the gestalt.
In both cases, Shinji chooses not to un-become. Cool, but ultimately inconsistent, hard to parse, and such little payoff for the work involved.
I’m 39.930 words into this project and only now am I getting to this point? All that work to land at Mr. Mackie from South Park saying, “suicide is bad m’kay?” and the protagonist responding with, “Well, I guess,” to the applause of the rest of the cast?