during winter shinji will fuss over kaworu and how he’ll “catch a cold and die” by wearing a t-shirt outside while it’s snowing. shinji will wrap him in a coat and at least two scarves, pulling a hat over his head and they’ll both laugh as kaworu waddles out the door bundled in about ten layers of clothing.

Rei & Asuka Must be Protected: On the Shortcomings of Evangelion Analysis and the Potential for their Future Growth

While it is not my primary reading of Evangelion, the specific reading of Evangelion that understands Shinji as a trans girl in order to contextualize the Oedipalization that occurs in the series is one that I think is conceptually very rich, although textually somewhat flawed because it leads to certain other claims about Shinji that are reflective of a larger flaw within a number of different readings of the series. A discussion of the notion of Shinji as a trans girl is one that could be conducted over a rather long period, one that I think could be rather interesting, and moreover have a great deal to say about the manner in which both media and audiences understand trans women.

One could, and in fact I think to some degree must, argue that understanding Shinji in a manner that is sympathetic to trans girlhood, to bisexuality and the manner in which trans women face conflict because of the poisoning that happens to them during their upbringing as well as the important matter that trans girls, like all other girls, can be abusive and harm others, is all discussion that not only relies upon the semiotics of gender structured by modern Western and more specifically American discourses upon gender, but that one could argue that in fact this reading is an act of imposition upon the text. And I would at the very least acknowledge this, as part of a larger project of discussing Western readings of Evangelion that include the interpretation of its heavy Christian symbolism, its place within a culture of watching and interacting with anime that is at once highly contingent upon larger metacultural structures of taste and in spite of these metacultural structures reflective of the same norms in many different places. 

Furthermore, the degree to which this reading replicates homophobic and transmisogynist violence when one encounters Kaworu is itself rather important. That the dreaded presence of homosexuality has been both described and in fact attempted to be realized in the body as a presence of womanhood rather than a transgressive desire is frequently used in order to both neuter homosexuality as a transgressive flow of desire and to additionally condemn trans women as upholding that same flow, of not being women in a true sense but rather being examples of homophobia in an individualizing act that blames them for their own positioning and identity. The way in which Shinji’s desire for Kaworu, the love and moreover genuine affection between them is a highlight in the series has been unfortunately misfocused in many readings specifically because of the concentration on it as expressing a certain heteronormative look into the homosexual transgression rather than a genuine connection between Shinji and Kaworu. The desire for a character whose body is read as “male” despite fundamentally not being human (a resemblance to “human” being part of the show’s primary narrative harkening back to earlier revelation about the nature of the show’s Angels) being read as part of making Shinji a woman is itself frustrating in that it fails to consider the same possibilities for Kaworu, as well as the manner in which this collapses the genuine connection between the two into a singular acceptable flow of desire.

To talk more about desire and the transgression of homosexuality, there are ways in which rightly a number of recently popular discussions have talked about the gay undercurrents of relationships between popular characters. Misato and Ritsuko are friendly, but the specific friendship in question has a closeness to it that highly resembles that of lovers deferred, of a desire to stay close that runs so deep that becoming lovers may itself endanger it, and thus friendship is used to maintain a state of continuation. That Ritsuko’s encounters with Gendo are far more akin to self-harm and an Oedipalizing function placed upon her by NERV’s structure supports this, especially considering the disgust she feels for him at many points. This is not to mention the explicit showing of Maya’s desire for Ritsuko, confirmed in End of Evangelion and rather easily read into the series along the way. While I hesitate to refer to Rebuild in this discussion, the interactions between Mari and Asuka are unmistakably characterized by a suggestion of a relationship between the two, as are the interactions between Mari and multiple “versions” of Rei. Mari helps Rei to realize her lack-of-self in the 3rd Rebuild film in a way an ex-lover might, or at the least a friend with unmistakable elements of a lover. 

The recent discussion of the Evangelion fan in the West as a concept, and the manner in which two large parts of the Evangelion fanbase have done a disservice to the text’s interpretation by focusing upon Shinji at the detriment of women in the narrative, women who are harmed by Shinji in a way that reflects the flow of desire, the production of misogyny and violence that is in turn created by the producing-production by an Oedipal father in Gendo, the manner in which he serves to maintain the state of Tokyo-3, a city that requires spectacle without genuine harm in order to operate (the genuine harm precluded by the rather quick evacuation of citizens and retraction of the city into the Geofront, the spectacle presented by the destruction of older or supposed-unnecessary parts of the city by battles) and how despite their support, Shinji harms these women all the same, Oedipalizing them at many different turns, is certainly a disservice to the text and to interpretation thereof.

I must affirm, clearly, that I adore the women of Evangelion specifically because of their flaws, their shortcomings, the ways in which they are both imperfect and too perfect at once. Rei and Asuka most specifically must be protected in this way. Reading through the original and Rebuild one begins to see the two as necessary to one another’s expressions, the anger of Asuka and the oblivious oblivion of Rei needed to show a specific deepening of both their characters. Denying the ability to discuss Shinji’s harm towards them is not the manner in which one will bring about more meaningful discussion of their roles, specifically because of how the series often genuinely succeeds in using the depth of Rei and Asuka to make Shinji’s desire, his violence, flowing through them all the more repulsive. 

Rei and Asuka are important, they are good, they are genuine. Far too little scholarship has been done upon them, and they deserve far more than what they have been given both by fans of the original and Rebuild narratives, but even the supplementary material. One well-known piece of Evangelion artbook supplement depicts Rei and Asuka in a pose unmistakably that of lovers, one directed towards the viewer in a way which suggests a return of desire from the viewer, a heteronormative gaze. To recoup that suggestion, to use it to go back and to read Rei and Asuka as connecting genuinely, as showing themselves as vulnerable and moreover as girls to one another, is a project long left unwritten by any significant portion of the fanbase that is not simply attempting to mirror the itself-important relationship between Shinji and Kaworu or simply attempting to place machines for heterosexual desire upon the Bodies without Organs (almost Angel-like bodies, if one will) of Rei and Asuka. A turn towards interpretation of these two characters, of recognizing the ways in which Rei and Asuka are profoundly tragic, are harmed by the narrative at a very basic and defining level, and being able to look to them inspiringly all the same is a project I wish to be a part of. Rei, Asuka, Misato, Ritsuko, Maya, Hibiki, Yui; all deserve to be understood as women within Oedipal structures of violence. And this is indeed a place where fans of Evangelion have often failed. 

In short, I believe that comprehensively, a great deal of the past two decades has been spent in misreading Evangelion, in not allowing for the destruction of the narrative that Mari has brought to us, the absolute collapse represented by her and Yui in the postscript to the manga, the specific prevention of a tumbling down, has done so many characters a disservice. This indeed includes Shinji, but to not work first upon Rei and Asuka is itself a misprioritization of the readings that are most necessary given the direction of both contingent cultural structures and the narrative itself. 

(edit: In the post above, which I will leave unaltered, I did not address Misato’s predatory conduct towards Shinji in Episode 23 and End of Evangelion and how that has itself been excused and ignored by many readings of the show, in a way that must be understood as abusive and exploitative. A reading of Shinji that dismisses this trauma because of the viewer’s feelings about Misato is one rooted in notions of the body and of women in regards to sexuality that ignores men who are victimized sexually, sexually abused, and the larger structures that allow for this abuse. Just as ignoring how Shinji ends up abusing Asuka in the series is a common flaw of many readings, ignoring abuse towards Shinji is both feeding into narratives about abuse that are unhealthy and a rather bad way of understanding the characters in question.)