[full spoilers for NGE and the End of Evangelion movie]
I’ve talked a lot about this series already, I’ve written a review of it to express why I really like this series, and I’ve mentioned it in other posts such as my recommendations list, my psychological anime list and in my article about character archetypes. But this show needs more of a spotlight on why it is so great and revolutionary; and that is with its characters. I never give out 10/10 for anime as I feel no work is perfect, but I do give out 10/10 in individual categorise that make up an anime such as animation, story, sound or characters. It is very hard to even earn those, as I feel for a series to earn a 10/10 it means that I can’t find any possible way to improve on what it has done already. And one of the shows that earned this distinction was NGE for it’s characters, Fate/Zero was another show that was really close to reaching that level but ultimately fell short in some areas with it’s large cast.
NGE is a once in a lifetime show, and I can’t possible understand what kind of mental state the creator Hideaki Anno was in when creating this show. NGE didn’t invent character archetypes, but it looks like it provided the blueprint for them. Their have been countless copies of NGE’s infamous characters all done to various degrees, but none could replicate the amount of depth these characters possess.
Almost all these characters feel real, they feel as if the choices they make are completely justified and necessary considering who they really are. Most shows fall flat in developing why that character would do this, and would rather say it’s for the sake of progressing the plot. But NGE does something extraordinary but making the plot progress based on why the characters would act a certain way to the situation. I could spent all day talking about why I think every individual character is complex in their own way, but I would rather just focus on the main 4: Shinji, Asuka, Rei and Misato, as I feel all 4 are in the Top 5 of most developed and best written characters in anime.
I thought I would start with my favourite character out of the bunch: Rei. Rei is a clone that is made up from Shinji mom, and is thus indebted to her creator and basically former lover Gendo Ikari. She has a sense of loyalty towards Gendo; because Rei never keeps the same memories of her previous selves, so the only constant she has ever had in her life would be Gendo, she always knows that he created her and is with her for most of her life. This loyalty to Gendo is what makes Rei amazing, when Shinji comes into the picture Rei’s character starts to develop, as she now has another constant with her that cares for her too. Most of Rei’s life has been her being a science experiment, and all the people around her have never shown her any real compassion of care for her as she can be replaced by her other clones at anytime.
Rei knows her life is disposable, but she still wants to enjoy life to some extent. Shinji is basically Rei’s son being that she is made up of his mom, so she has some connection to him on a personally level without really knowing him that much, or understanding that connection. Rei detests what she really is which is a clone, she has no attachment to her body as she understand what she really is, this is why Rei doesn’t get embarrassed by Shinji walks in to her room whilst she is naked. She doesn’t feel any embarrassed because she doesn’t care about something she finds as trivial as her body. This kind of balance within Rei’s inner mind is what makes her so compelling; wanting to help out the person she idolizes Gendo by going to the extremes for him, whilst also detesting what Gendo has made her become; a person who is just a puppet with no soul and no memories.
This is explained a lot in Ghost in the Shell with its concept of shells and people who are cybertronic being completely detached from their bodies and they can be swapped in and out at anytime. NGE takes that idea and pushes it a step father, while someone like The Major in GitS finds solace in her ghost and knowing who she is because of it, Rei doesn’t have that because her memories and experiences are new with every iteration of herself. Some key moments do stay but overall she is a completely new person all the time and the only thing that connects all of them together is the people who tell her she is the same, by giving her the same name, the same appearance and treating her the same as before.
Rei’s character complex continues to bother her throughout the series and ultimately reaches an implosion in the last 2 episodes in NGE. Not even counting how being the key to triggering human instrumentality and the third impact takes it’s toll on her psyche, Rei shows the most characters growth throughout the series, whilst the other unravel who they truly are under their facades, Rei takes a different route and grows into what she truly feels she is supposed to be and builds on that throughout. Their is so much more to Rei take would take too long to explain; from Shinji influence on her; the hostility between her and Asuka and even how Shinji, Asuka and Misato living together like a big happy family leaves her excluded from the rest of her team and emphasises the point to her that she is different to everyone around. To her because of what she is, and she finds more flaws in herself and further excludes herself and she feels she doesn’t fit in.
Now for everyone favourite character in anime: Shinji Ikari. Shinji although not being my favourite character in the series, I strongly believe he is the best character ever constructed in anime and one of the best every created in any medium period. The complexities in this one character is truly mind-boggling, when I said that Anno is a genius I’m specifically talking about how he was able to created this character.
Shinji is a hated character for the most part of the series and that is because he is designed to be hated. He is annoying and whinny and really just a pussy, but at the same time he is so real in what he does. A lot of people dream about what it would be like to live in an anime and be it’s main protagonist, Shinji shows this reality that many otaku’s wish for. Shinji having lost him mom at a young age and not really knowing the detail of her death being that they were covered up by his father, Shinji now feels a sort of resentment towards Gendo as he fully doesn’t understand Gendo’s motivation for hiding the truth.
At the same time Gendo is the only thing that anchors Shinji to having the dream of having a normal life. Shinji can’t move on from the past although he tries so hard to, as soon as the series starts Shinji is reintroduced to the thing he hates and loves at the same time: Gendo. Being the unmovable object that Gendo is, he reminds Shinji of everything he hated about his childhood whilst also providing a false reality in which they can all be one big happy family and Shinji can finally look forward in life instead of behind.
Shinji starts to unravel as the series goes on because of who he is, having to put his life and the fate of the world in his hand is hard on him, it starts to get easier as he goes on with more Eva pilots forming relationships with him and letting him know that he does not have to do this alone. But this is countered by the battles with each Eva becoming harder and more taxing. He wants to quit being an Eva pilot, but at the same time he only got those meaningful relationships he values so much for being an Eva pilot. From his high school friends; to Misato and even the other pilots value him on being an Eva pilot first before anything else, this is evident towards the end when he decides to quit being a pilot and quickly loses all the relationships and meaningful bonds he has formed.
Anno is so self-aware of the character he has created that he gives out the explanation behind him during the middle of the show by another character, and then further expands on it building up to the eventually self-realization by Shinji of who he really is and what kind of person he is. Misato encapsulates Shinji persona so well when the explains his Hedgehogs dilemma. Hedgehogs dilemma is an observation that during the cold winters Hedgehogs can’t handle the cold on their own, so they look for partners to come together with so as to keep each other warm but because of the nature of hedgehogs they can’t do this. The spikes on the hedgehogs injure each other whilst trying to keep each other warm, so the creatures suffer and inflict pain on themselves and their partners whilst trying to survive.
Shinji is fundamentally the same, he tries to form meaningful relationships with others, but whilst trying to do this he opens himself up to being hurt by others. The emotional damage that Shinji goes through would break most people in two, and he only goes through this damage because he tried to form these relationships. The Evangelion program provides simultaneously the best and worst experiences of Shinji’s life which makes him so conflicted on it. He wants to be a pilot to feel like the hero and bring value to his own life as well as form relationships with others, but at the same time he hates the Eva’s destructive power, the abuse he gets from being a pilot as well as being at the mercy of Eva’s to keep these bonds.
Misato Katsuragi is everything right in anime, she is one of the most perfect character constructions I’ve seen. The amount of care taken into creating her, must have been massive. She is so deeply flawed; with her battling her own demons and silently suffering at their hands; whilst trying to help and teach pupils Shinji, Asuka and Rei to handle their own respective internal struggles. She is both the best and worst person to help each of them in this fight against themselves, because she is losing her own inner fight, but also understand each of them more than they understand themselves.
Misato is one of the strongest female characters in anime alongside others such as The Major and even Balalaika, whilst also being the weakest character in anime incapable of even handling herself; being that her entire persona is a lie. Misato being the supervisor and guardian for the Eva pilots and even going out of her way to live with Shinji and Asuka shows how much she cares for them, and in some ways she is the ideal guardian for Shinji. She understand him more than anyone else in the show, probably more than he even understands himself.
But Misato also play a key role in being so close to Shinji; Misato is really attractive and is revered by many of Shinji’s classmates for her beauty. Being that she is really attractive but also a slob and messy at home, Shinji get to see the duality of her life and people’s personas first hand. She is really put together at work and when she visits him at school, but also never cleans or cooks at home, he sees first hand what people value most in others: their outside personas. This shapes Shinji the most throughout the show without Misato even realising it.
Another key thing within Misato’s personality is her alcohol abuse, she has most of her fridge stocked with beer when Shinji first sees it. Lacking most basic fruits and vegetables and only surviving of noodles, Misato dedicates her free space towards her alcohol. This shows her reliance on the drug to numb her senses to what is really going on around her and within her. Misato uses a number of different agents to hide who she is, from being drunk most of the time, to using her sexuality to distract others from peaking at what inside.
The great thing about Misato is that unlike normal conventions where women try to hide their sexuality as they feel it’s the most precious and secretive part of them, she uses that sexuality to hide something she feels is more important: her mind. Somewhat akin to Rei but to a lesser degree, Misato doesn’t have a huge attachment to her body. She is a slave to her emotions, getting riled up by Kaji and her past relating to him, feeling melancholy when Shinji starts to feel down, having constant fights with her best friend Ritsuko. She is an uncontrollable mess trying her best to keep it all together.
Their is so much layered on Misato which I haven’t even began to scratch the surface of. Her relationship to men could be argued to be her biggest personality trait, which does related to her use of sexuality. How her absent father laid down his life to protect hers during Second Impact and her being the only survivor of the ordeal and even becoming a mute, with most experts saying she might never recover from the ordeal. This especially noteworthy on how big of a role it plays in the future and how she views the men in her life. Misato’s character goes above and beyond what is expected in character portrays in anime, she is refined to the point where everything she did was completely intentional and integral to understand her and the people around her. The small flicker of emotion when Shinji is called to pilot an Eva against the newest Angel, to how she lives at home with Asuka and Shinji and even how she treats her relationship with Ritsuko. Her dying moments and actions are perfect to sum up what her character is: A guardian angel to Shinji, a person that uses her sexuality to further her own goals whilst also being a slave to her inner turmoil.
And now we arrive to the biggest one of all; the girl who has spawned hundreds of copycats, even more than the previous 3 combined. The poster child that all other tsundere’s aspire to be someday: Asuka Langley Soryu, the germane fiery redhead, that laid down the blueprint for all tsundere’s to follow. Asuka is just as amazing as all the other main characters in NGE and arguably even better. Her past is woven into the main story and how she acts now, that it seems like all her decisions now are based on her past and she can’t move on and separate her decision-making now to how her past turned out. When exploring her past and her relationship with her mom, it is clear to see how big of an influence her troubled past affects her today. This is so real because it shows that no one really moves on from their past, and the decisions that they made in the past and how those turned out influences how they view the world now and their attitude towards everything.
Most anime mention a characters past through flashbacks and don’t really explore how that changes them from that point on. And some series even go as far as show a characters certain distinct personality trait that was developed by their past experiences, but none go as deep into it as NGE does with Asuka. Every person whether they want to admit it or not, base their decisions on their past, and no one can truly separate themselves from what they have experienced before and Asuka embodies this to the fullest. By creating a character that has become what she is now, inspire of how they were raised and what they experience, Asuka shine through her back story.
Whilst Rei is more focused on the present, Shinji being half-and-half with having him deal simultaneously with his past and present and them intertwining. Misato and Asuka are the only characters really that let their past be such a driving force in their present everyday lives without even realising it. If the characters of NGE were on a scale of past to present, Rei and Asuka would be on the two ends of the scales, representing each extreme. They are the two characters that don’t get a long with each other the most, with Asuka’s introduction in episode 8 Rei doesn’t change that much because of it, but Asuka shows visible changes throughout as her interactions with Rei increase.
Although Rei is a big contributor with Asuka she isn’t the most influential or most important, that role would go to none other than Shinji Ikari. The charm about Asuka is how we learn about her, as the show progresses we get to see more of her past and how that influences her now. Asuka doesn’t go into any great personality change because of her involvement with Nerv, but rather we see her unravel as her inner feeling are dragged out of her. The story doesn’t focus on who she will become as the it continues, but rather on why she is the person she is today.
She never develops more than how she is at the start, but at the same time changes the most out of everybody. Her relationship with Kaji is one of the more interesting looks at her past. Because Kaji serves as the only real male figure or even authority figure she has ever had, he plays a vital role in how she operates based on his approval. She throws herself at him time and time again and getting reject each and every one of her pursuits, without realising what she is really doing. Asuka doesn’t understand herself, she rejects her past not realising how big of an impact it made on her.
There is really so much behind these main four that I can’t even do them justice. I really only scratched the surface on how incredible these character are, there are more detailed and expansive discussions on each of these characters that would be 10 times as long as this one, like Demolition D’s comparison between NGE and the Rebuild series. The main theme of NGE’s characters are flawed people putting up personas, and each of these characters perfectly embody this theme. Kaji, Toji, Gendo and Ritsuko are arguable more developed and better characters than most characters in most anime; and those are just NGE’s supporting characters. NGE deserved its 10/10 for characters because of these four amazing characters, as well as the others stunning supporting characters.