Sometimes an image seems to so perfectly sum up a character that I swear it can’t be a mistake.
The second shot we get of Asuka in Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of those images. We are introduced to the second child on the deck of an aircraft carrier in Episode 8. The first shot we get of her, Asuka is small against the deck as the plane lands.
In the second shot, Asuka is backlit by the sun, blacking out all of her features, and making her nearly a black cutout against a blue sky.
We see a hint of the skin on her arms and a bit of the white of her dress, but other than that she is completely shadowed.
Now I’m kind of cheating here. I’m making an assumption that I can not prove. It’s quite possible that this image is merely another cool shot in a show full of cool shots. This is has a perfectly reasonable storytelling reason to be there. The audience hasn’t been introduced to Asuka, and the director, script writer and artists likely wanted to build up tension.
But I’m not convinced. I did an entire post about how this show uses imagery to both evoke a mood, but also convey meaning. Again, and again and again, I’ve been surprised by just how smart the camera placement is, and how clever the artwork is and how things are hinted at even before they’re explained.
I think this picture is one of them.
See I keep coming back to another image from earlier in the series. When we see Shinji on the train platform in Episode 4, (at his Hedgehogiest) we see him in color, but we don’t see his face. He is hiding away from the world.
Asuka on the other hand is full face to the world, but she is empty. She is a mirror image of Shinji, She is constantly looking out because she needs others to make her whole.
Right now, I’m through episode 10, and I keep coming back to a thought about Asuka’s and Shinji’s relationship. They are mirror images of each other. Asuka is damaged in a very similar way to Shinji, which is important, but her reaction is to paper over this with bravado.
I know this isn’t a particularly big revelation, but I kind of wanted to step through all of the ways I’ve seen this reflected in the show.
The only romance partner
Yes, I know I did an entire post that explored people’s take on Misato being a pedophile. The more I watch this show, the less I become convinced that it’s supported by the show.
The big reason is this. The only character that Shinji shows any sexual feelings for is Asuka. Even when he gets a handful of Rei in Episode 5, Shinji embarassed, but he is not turned on. It’s strange that a character that up until now has been asexual suddenly stares at Asuka’s breasts.
Then there is the scene where she sleep walks into Shinji’s bed. As she is laying there, his music player rewinds pretty violently as he moves closer to kiss her. Basically his shield against the world withdraws as he is face to face with the object of his desire.
It’s such a drastic character shift that I’m surprised I never noticed it before.
On the other hand, Asuka deliberately tries to impress the adults in the room. She has two college degrees at the age of 14. She hangs off of Kaji and constantly professes her love for him. Even when she is shown up by Rei in the dancing episode (It’s episode 9), it’s because of her ego.
Yet, when she gets the swimsuit, she shows it off to Shinji. This is important, because she gets Kaji to buy it for her, but the swimsuit isn’t for Kaji. The more I see their interactions, the more I become convinced that Asuka doesn’t really love Kaji, as much as she thinks that she is supposed to love him.
Her interactions with Shinji lack the theater that she puts on for the adults, especially in Episode 10 (It’s the episode where they’re trying to fish out the baby Angel out of the volcano.) At the end of the episode she defeats the angel, but in response her tether is cut and she is about to descend to her death
When Shinji races in to rescue her, she just faintly smiles. She doesn’t chide him for rescuing her because she didn’t need him to.
I know later on, especially in the movie, their relationship becomes far more explicit, but it’s worth noting that in the entire show this is the only actual romantic relationship that I’ve seen.
The dinner table shots
So if the fact that this is the only romantic relationship doesn’t show that their damage is similar. Then the show shows you several times.
There’s the fact that they’re dressed in the same workout outfit in Episode 9, or the fact that in the same episodes we see them framed by the boxes that show pictures of their Evangelions.
The most obvious representation of this happens when they are sitting at the dining room table across from Misato. They are framed by the doorway, which creates this effect that it seems like the two are mirror images of each other.
I’m pretty convinced that this is not a mistake because we see it happen in two different episodes under two different contexts.
Again, I’m still not sure how I was this obtuse when I watched this show before.
A final note
I’m not the first person to notice this relationship between Asuka and Shinji. Like I said, the creators didn’t really try to hide it. I came across this post on evageeks.org that talks about some similar points.
In a show where everyone is damaged somehow (except for Kaji), it’s interesting that Asuka is the character that is set up as Shinji’s equal and opposite. I’m not entirely sure what that means in the context of Anno’s larger point. If we are all Shinji, is Asuka somehow the closest to being him, or is she the furthest away? What does her relationship mean with Shinji in the larger picture?
Is she just a critique of female characters in robot shows, who seem to be largely forgettable?
I’m not certain. What do you think?
Thanks for reading.