These are my long thoughts as to why, I believe, Kaworu of You Can (Not) Redo is the most tragic of the known Kaworu’s in the Evangelion time loops.
Kaworu has always been a somewhat whimsical character, noticeably inhuman and at times, somewhat unrelatable as such.
In the Anime, he had a very plateaued range of emotions and such acted as an anchor for Shinji, perhaps even a blind fold if you will, but we were graced with the smallest hints of sadness, a taste of his humanity, but that was all. In the end, he received what he requested of Shinji.
In the Manga, we’re walloped with a very emotional Kaworu, but he is childish and awkward. He certainly evokes sympathy as his kindness is completely misconstrued and he is all but isolated from everyone. Yet even so, in the end, perhaps not exactly the way he’d intended, he received what he requested of Shinji.
And here we have Kaworu from Q. He is still as soft spoken and patient as ever, but we are exposed to a side of him unfamiliar right off the bat. We see a glimpse of determination we hadn’t really seen before. And as the story progresses, we are made more and more aware that this Kaworu is more, for lack of a better term, human.
He waits for fourteen years. He’s not the only one, of course, but for fourteen years, he is thinking of Shinji, what he can do, and how he can do it. And even after all those years had passed, he doesn’t run to Shinji’s side when he arrives, he doesn’t intercept Shinji, he does not corner him, he waits for Shinji to come to him.
And when he does, he begins to teach him. Not just about piano, not just about his past, but he begins to teach him understanding, teaches him confidence and patience and friendship. Kaworu becomes his friend.
He had never established that stage before. This is the first time that Shinji and Kaworu become friends first and foremost. And with the heavily implied notion that these are, indeed, loops, there is no way to deny Kaworu is in love with Shinji already and has been time and time again. Yet even so, he waits for Shinji.
Kaworu introduces concepts to Shinji that are completely and utterly unrelated to Eva, to NERVE, to his father, and shows him that he can find self-worth, he can find progress and talent and significance in such things as well. He teaches him to play piano, to find joy and pride in learning something new.
He also perpetually corrects Shinji’s perspective on the impossible and the amazing. We see him several times presenting what Shinji perceives as incomprehensible or impossible as something entirely within the realm of possibility, and moreover, something Shinji himself is capable of. ‘It’s easy, press the keys here.’ 'It’s only knowledge because I’ve been here longer.’ 'It’s only because I’m always thinking of you’ 'We can do it together’. He never appraises his own talent and opts to nurture Shinji’s instead.
We see him standing quietly in one scene, overlooking what once was Kaji’s patch of watermelons and I can only imagine that his thoughts were much the same. Planting a garden and watching it grow may have nothing to do with piloting EVA, but it is not something to look down upon or dismiss; in fact, it can bring more purpose in your life than any acknowledgement from some mysterious figure only biologically known as a father.
He wants to bring Shinji that sense of purpose, he wants to provide Shinji with that idea that he is meaningful outside the world of EVA and, even if he must pilot EVA again to reach that point, it is not the only thing he is good for.
Also, here is the first time we see Shinji taking the initiative for human contact. It is noted several times in the Anime, Manga and movies that Shinji fears human contact and in many cases, outright rejects it. It’s a shock to us in the Anime alone that Shinji does not pull his hand away from Kaworu when he cups it in the bath. But here, Kaworu presents his hand to Shinji, allowing him the choice and Shinji takes it, clasping his hand in Kaworu’s of his own accord.
Kaworu does not blind Shinji or redirect him, he doesn’t justify his actions or dismiss them. In fact, he introduces him to his mistakes personally. He leads Shinji, and as he took the front, he did not hold Shinji’s hand, didn’t covet him or coax him to follow. He allowed Shinji to take the steps he could take comfortably on his own and only extended his hand when Shinji finally called out for help. He feeds Shinji the raw and honest truth.
But as stated before, he loves Shinji; undoubtedly so. Doing that, he knew Shinji would recoil and draw into himself in defense. But still, even still, Kaworu encourages him. He doesn’t tell him it is all okay, he does not tell him he will take care of him, he tells him that he has the power to make a difference, and he will be beside him all the while.
Shinji doubts himself throughout but Kaworu insist, over and over, that Shinji does have the capability, he does have the talent, just as he did learning the piano.
And after all the waiting, after all of the patience and all of the love and precaution and care he has taken into making so sure that this time, “this time I will bring you happiness”, it all goes horribly wrong.
Kaworu in the life times before did not care about dying. As long as Shinji was the one to provide him such freedom, he was fine with it. This Kaworu, he begged Shinji to turn around, said something was wrong, to stop, that he had a bad feeling. And perhaps, for Shinji’s sake, even if he did not wish to, he would be okay with it, but the point still stands:
This Kaworu did not want to die.
He had given Shinji hope. He believed no matter the circumstances, hope still remained. He’d given Shinji composure and confidence and friendship, and it grew. This time, their relationship had levels that started out small and grew into something so important. I believe this Kaworu and this Shinji were more connected and more importantly, more equal than any others.
And Shinji was not given the resolve. Kaworu was not given the choice. In the Anime, in the Manga, Shinji finally clenched his fists and made the last call.
Here, until the very end, Shinji is pressing to the divider, desperately calling Kaworu’s name, trying somehow to fight the inevitable and Kaworu is resigned to defeat . He apologizes, after everything he has done, everything he has given Shinji, he apologizes even so.
His death here is the most brutal, it is the most raw, it is the most graphic and Shinji witnesses it all.