So in my research I found two common ways of looking at the relationship between Misato and Shinji. I’m not convinced one is more textual than the other, but they both involve Misato’s sexuality.
One side says Misato is trying to find a way past Shinji’s defensiveness, and her sexuality is just another way to do that. A lot of people would say it’s a motherly type of relationship, but I would say it’s more like a big sister type of relationship.
By this interpretation, her sexuality is not a weapon. It’s not even really a tool. It’s an extension of who she is. She feels comfortable in her skin. She’s aware of her sexuality, and she is aware that others are aware, but’s not something she is ashamed of.
So when she uses it, she is just being social. It’s not manipulative. She’s not being creepy. It’s just how she relates to the world.
Another point for this interpretation is that Misato is that when she is working, the sexuality is shut off. She is really all business when it’s business time.
(I’d really like to note that some of the fan service of Misato does feel weirdly voyeuristic. As Scott would say, it takes away her agency.)
It’s kind a mirror image of the big sister interpretation, and hangs a lot off of a kiss in episode 23.
Instead of how she relates to the world, this interpretation says Misato is deeply empty inside. She doesn’t want to help Shinji, she wants him to help her. If you look at it this way, her sexuality is a weapon, and she is more than ready to use it.
She is manipulative and selfish. She doesn’t show her sexual side when they are in public because that would be inappropriate. But when they are in private she lets it all hang out.
In criminal justice circles, they call it grooming.
Now I’m not going to shrug this off as an impossibility. There are a lot of pedophiles that think exactly like that. (I’ve read enough court records.) But I might have a third way of looking at it.
Misato as Shinji
Whenever I think about Misato and Shinji, I go back to a quote from Hideaki Anno that I read in the first issue of the Evangelion manga:
“This is a world-view drenched in a vision of pessimism. A world-view where the story starts only after any traces of optimism have been removed.
And in that world, a 14-year-old boy shrinks from human contact. And he tries to live in a closed world where his behavior dooms him, and he has abandoned the attempt to understand himself. A cowardly young man who feels that his father has abandoned him, and so he has convinced himself that he is a completely unnecessary person, so much so that he cannot even commit suicide.
And there is a 29-year-old woman who lives life so lightly as to barely allow the possibility of a human touch. She protects herself by having surface level relationships, and running away.
Both are extremely afraid of being hurt. Both are unsuitable-lacking the positive attitude-for what people call heroes of an adventure. But in any case, they are the heroes of this story.”
(Note: I’ve cut the quote down. If you want to read it in it’s entirely, you can find it here.)
Anno’s quote here pretty much says Misato and Shinji are two halves of the same coin. Shinji has dealt with his abandonment by closing off the world. Much like Fred said, his depression has made him devalue himself, and, by extension, overvalue everyone else.
Except the only person he seems willing to open up to is Misato. I keep coming back to the fact that in this relationship, Shinji is really the adult and Misato is really the child. Her displays of sexuality are juvenile. Her home is a mess. All she has in her fridge is beer, and when they celebrate she buys instant noodles.
The most obvious reason for this is that she saw the beginning of the end of the world, and that impending dread means she wanted to clutch anything that makes her feel happy. Her hedonism is covering over a deep sadness, and not some gross clutch of child rape-y desires.
Her sexuality is conscious, but it’s a defense. Her outgoing personality is a defense. She is the definition of, “Fake it until you make it.”
But I do think she really cares about Shinji. In the way you care about someone when you see something of yourself reflected in them. I don’t think it’s entirely altruistic, but I also don’t think it’s entirely selfish. And I don’t think it’s creepy.
Or as Fred might put it — Shinji is broken and so is Misato.
Thank you for reading.