We are all Shinji Ikari. Why Hideaki Anno hates you (and himself )

A couple years ago, when I walked out of The Last Jedi, I remember being blown away. Someone had actually done the one thing I’ve wanted for ages. They subverted all of the ingrained tropes that the Star Wars franchise was based on and made a movie where no one is a hero.

I’m not surprised that nearly every Star Wars fan was upset. The Last Jedi was a horrible Star Wars movie. In one fell swoop, it said that the Skywalkers don’t matter, Yoda doesn’t matter, and the Solos don’t matter. It took more than a generation of mythos and flushed it down the toilet.

Shinji is tiny compared to the angel
Shinji is tiny when compared to the angel

It was the first truly postmodern Star Wars movie. It turned a critical eye on the series and lampooned its weaknesses, and at the same time made what is one of the best standalone movies in Star Wars. (Yes. It does have flaws, but I will stand by my statement.)

That is what Evangelion is. It’s a postmodern anime. This is a really broad issue. It covers everything from the lack of robots in a “mecha” show to “angels” being a meaningless collection of nonsense.

But I have to start somewhere, so I’ll start with —

Shinji Ikari, postmodern hero

When I was thinking about the first few episodes, one thing struck me. We don’t know anything about Shinji’s life before he came to Tokyo-3. Sure, we’re told that he had tutors, and some sort of adults paying attention to him. But did he have friends, did he have hobbies, was he actually a person before he came through those doors?

The answer seems to be a resounding, “No.”

What or who is Shinji then? If he’s not really a person before he comes to NERV, then what is he after he walks in the door?

He is Hideaki Anno’s critique of mecha pilots. Unlike Amuro Ray, Hikaru Ichijyo and others, Shinji doesn’t have any reason to pilot the Eva. He has no country to protect. No people he cares about (except for his father.) Even when he agrees to pilot for the first time it’s for the thinnest of reasons — because he wants to spare Rei.

The Eva as monster

When he does pilot, he falls flat on his face. The only reason he survives the first episode is that the “robot” did the piloting for him. We don’t even get to experience it with him. We experience it through a flashback nearly at the end of episode

Not only doesn’t he lack a cause, he also lacks competence. This is a far cry from Amuro, who learned how to pilot by intuition and an instruction book.

So what is Anno trying to critique here? Why are we given so little about him? Why is he so incompetent?

Well I have a theory, or else why would I bring up the question at all.

We are Shinji Ikari

So most of the main characters in robot shows are on, some level, wish fulfillment. Especially if we look to the shows before this.

Amuro Ray is probably the best example. He is 15 years old when he is gifted his Gundam in a time of great turmoil, and he magically knows how it works.

Even in the more fanciful super robot shows, people were meant to imagine themselves on adventures with these characters.

The main character in a mecha show, at the time, was supposed to be an audience insert character, so that means Shinji Ikari is supposed to be us.

There is some interesting framing in this shot

Well what does that say about us?

That we are cowards. When we are faced with adversity, we would rather hide. We are not the heroes. Shinji Ikari is Evangelion’s condemnation of mecha fans, anime fans and probably people in general.

Though he does give us a little bit of a break. He does say that when given the choice between looking bad and putting ourselves in danger, we will act, if only to save face.

Thanks for reading.

(Just a final note: I am basing this off of the first two episodes of the show and my dusty memory of the rest of the show. If I find something that later contradicts this, I will probably write another post.)

So what do you think? Am I off my rocker? Am I on the right track? Please leave a comment if you have an opinion.

7 thoughts on “We are all Shinji Ikari. Why Hideaki Anno hates you (and himself )

  1. Even though I’m not an EVA fan, I do appreciate your analysis of Shinji. I didn’t even think about that character being an uncomfortable self-insert as to how cowardly people really are.

    1. What got me thinking about it was the comic Watchmen. The idea there being that the “heroes” are supposed to be what would happen if normal people were comic book heroes.

      Of course, what is funny is that Alan Moore’s criticism eventually became the new norm in the 90s, which is what I think happened with mecha shows as well.

      1. Gotcha. I read the comic and watched the movie. It is interesting how that became a new standard and it certainly permeated into the 90s…the decade of the anti-hero or edgy hero. I could see that argument carrying over to mecha as well.

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