Gendo Ikari is one of the hardest characters to parse in Evangelion. Some of that is due to the fact that we simply get so little dialogue from him.
I’m sure that this is not the last time I’m going write about him, but I really want to get into how Shinji mirrors Gendo at the end of episode 6, but to do that, I really have to decide who Gendo is.
In many ways, he’s a tyrant. His rule over NERV is absolute and unquestioned. All knowledge passes through him, and he jealously guards it. He literally sits in a room decorated with the Kabbalah Tree of Life, which is meant to be a mystical road map to all of existence. (It gets borrowed in a lot of anime, and I’m not certain if Eva is the first it’s used in.)
On the other hand, he obviously cares deeply about Rei, even burning himself to free her. He shows genuine interest in the Angels and really one of the few times we see him smile is when he’s examining the remains of the angel at the beginning of Episode 5.
So other people have already pointed out that Gendo’s glasses are effectively his armor against the world, and I agree. What I wanted to point out is they have three “settings” if you will.
The mirror shades
This image of Gendo is the most iconic. His glasses are either completely colored in and his eyes are not visible. In some the glasses are just darkened, but in other shots they actually reflect light.
Literally the first time we see Gendo, and I noticed two things. The first is that his glasses are darkened and his eyes are invisible. Now this show uses eyes as a way to indicate that someone is truly communicating. We see this in episode 4, where Shinji refuses to look at Misato, and for much of the episode hides his face.
But here Gendo is not hiding his face. But his eyes seem to be willfully hidden. (Yes, I know I’m saying Gendo can change the actual refraction of light at will, but I do think his actions are intentional.)
His face is also half in frame. It seems to indicate that he is larger than the picture itself, or that he’s not interested in the outcome of this battle. His mind is on getting someone into the Eva. Both of these are true, and I’m not sure which the framing is intended to indicate.
The second time I noticed it was in episode 7, when not only are his glasses opaque, they are literally reflecting light. Again, this is when Gendo is plotting in the larger world. In this case, he’s just carried out a plan that stopped the larger government from using a manmade device to battle the Angels.
When Gendo is at his most cruel or cunning, his eyes are obscured by his glasses.
Big head Gendo and his tinted glasses
When we first see Gendo confronting the generals in episode 1, or talking to Shinji, talking to Ritsuko or even examining the heart of the Angel his glasses are tinted brown.
This is Gendo’s default state with humanity. It’s kept at a safe distance, while he attempts to complete his larger plan. When I was doing research into this post, I came across a YouTube video that is largely an invective against Yui Ikari, but hints at the idea that her presence colors the entire series.
And I don’t think it’s anywhere more obvious then with the tinted glasses. We see him talking with Kouzou Fuyutsuki in the movie, and not wearing glasses at all. I feel like the glasses were something he gained after meeting her.
For the first few episodes whenever we see him face on, he’s usually confronting Shinji. What is interesting is that his glasses remain tinted, and his head takes up the entire screen. He’s given a Godlike stature over Shinji, which isn’t surprising, but it is interesting.
In the first seven episodes, we see Gendo’s glasses become completely transparent once. It’s also the only time we see him show actual genuine emotion.
That is during the activation test for Unit 00. When Gendo is standing in the booth waiting for the activation test to start we see him put up his glasses, and they are clear. As he’s watching the test, they remain that way.
I’ve always wondered about Gendo’s relationship with Rei. It appears like he treats her like a daughter, but the more I think about it, the less I certain I become about that. At the very least, she is the daughter he chose, rather than the son forced onto him by Yui Ikari’s machinations.
Whatever else she is to him, she is important.
When everything goes to crud, and Rei is forced out of the Eva, we again see that Gendo’s glasses are clear, and we also see him yelling for her. This is the first excited outburst we see from him.
He races down there and burns his hands to free her, and along the way sheds his glasses. It could be him casting aside his emotional shield, or it could be some sort of token offering.
While I think that’s an adequate parsing for his character at this point in the show, I think Gendo is a man broken when we meet him, and his glasses are far more the glue that keeps him from falling apart, then the shield that guards him against the world.
The hard part is that I’m sure I will come back to this again, but it occurred to me that his glasses were symbolic for how he deals with the world.
Thanks for reading.