Okay. Maybe I’m not done talking about this series.
Neon Genisis Evangelion is filled to the brim with deep and fascinating characters. Each of them could fill a whole essay on their own. But among all of them, the one that resonated with me the most was the central character: Shinji Ikari.
Shinji perfectly embodies the themes of fear and loneliness that are so centric to NGE’s story. As such, he is an absolutely perfect protagonist. He plays with each of the other characters, especially Asuka, brilliantly from start to end. Sure, he’s not the most energetic or eccentric character. But he’s easily my favorite.
Let me break down why.
The Wound: Jesus, I thought I had daddy issues…
Evangelion wastes no time establishing why Shinji is the way he is. In fact, in terms of the writing, this is one of the most clear-cut and straight forward things in the whole show.
After his mother’s death, Shinji’s father abandoned his son to fully dedicate himself to his work. He grew up without either of his parents and without friends. His childhood was completely isolated.
This wound has forged everything that Shinji is. He is quiet and obedient for fear that he’ll be abandoned if he isn’t. He struggles to read social cues due to his isolation. His father’s abandonment made him a terrible coward and now he struggles with standing firm in the face of his fears.
This is the primary aspect that makes Shinji so relatable to me. Growing up, I had several issues with feelings of isolation. I tried to follow the pack so people would like me, but my attempts always seemed to do the exact opposite. This is why Shinji strikes such a strong chord with me. He embodies my worst memories and my darkest fears.
Which made it all the more admirable when he overcame those nightmares.
The Want: Love Me
As I mentioned earlier, Shinji is a very quiet and obedient person. He rarely voices his own opinion or asks to do what he wants. Everything he does is to please others.
He does this because he wants to be praised. Everything he does is to be complimented. Shinji, for fear of being left alone and unloved again, wants to earn the praise and admiration of everyone around him. If he has that, they won’t leave him alone. He has value when people are praising him.
However, this ties directly into:
The Lie: If I Pilot the Eva…
Shinji believes that he is without value on his own. He believes that his only value is in being an Eva pilot. If he weren’t an Eva pilot, then no one would praise him. No one would be his friend. No one would want him.
We see this lie being reinforced over and over again over the course of the series. Misato becomes his guardian because he, the pilot, needed a place to stay. His only two friends came to him because he was an Eva pilot. Asuka and Rei only give him the time of day because he is one of the Children. And of course: his father only acknowledges him when he exceeds as a pilot.
But we know this is a lie. We see that people grow attached to Shinji as a person and not as a pilot over the course of the series. His two friends treat him as an individual, mostly ignoring the fact that he’s a pilot in the first place. Misato grows to see Shinji as a son, and then as… whatever the fuck the kiss in ‘The Death of Evangelion‘ meant. And in his father’s dying moments, he acknowledges the fact that he didn’t hate Shinji, but he was simply scared to get close to him.
This lie is what Shinji must confront when he’s trapped in the nightmare sequence during the Third Impact. He is forced to confront his fears of isolation and find value in himself beyond that. It is in this sequence that Shinji finally accomplishes his need.
The Need: Don’t Run Away
Shinji lived his life as a coward. He spent his days running away from the things that hurt him and blindly following orders to be accepted. After fourteen years of this, his self-confidence is about as firm as a bridge made of toothpicks.
Because of his lie, Shinji believes that his Need is to pilot the Eva well. If he does that, people will praise him and love him. Then he won’t be alone anymore. However, his true need doesn’t lay in others. It lays entirely in himself.
He needs to learn to overcome fear. He must learn to put himself out there in order to connect with other people. And Shinji realizes this in the final episode and the last few scenes of ‘The Death of Evangelion‘. He realizes that he wants to connect with other people, no matter how frightening it may be. At this moment, Shinji acquires what he needs: courage.
Shinji may not be the fan-favorite character. But by god, he is my favorite character! He is an incredibly effective and interesting protagonist. A perfect fit for this series.
Sure, there are a ton of other interesting and memorable characters. In fact, I’ll likely come back in the future to talk about them. But Shinji Ikari resonates with me like no other protagonist can. In fact, I doubt any other will ever again.
But hey! I’ve been wrong before!