Shinji Ikari is a giant cockroach. Where Evangelion and Franz Kafka meet.

Way back when in the old days, I wrote a series of analyses where I tried to group mecha pilots into two categories based on how they interact with the government.

On the one hand, you have Arthurian heroes who are gifted a magic piloting robot powers and have a choice about what kind of government they want to create. Basically, they are titans who move governments to be what they want them to be. Amuro Ray is the first pilot I reach for, but Gurren Lagann is a more recent example.

Last angel hasn't been removed

On the other hand, you have citizen soldiers. These are heroes who choose what government they want to work for, even if their choice is none of them (i.e. Chirico Cuvie.) They are pawns, or perhaps knights, on a larger chessboard and their influence is limited to their ability to pilot a robot.

The problem I ran into was Evangelion and similar shows. The main character usually only has a cursory relationship with the government at all. Their journey had almost nothing to do with deciding who they would work for or what kind of government they wanted to create. It only had to do with discovering who they were and how they fit into the larger world.

I called these heroes Adams because I imagined they were like Adam getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Now all these years later, I think I picked the wrong metaphor.

I think Shinji has a lot more in common with Gregor Samsa, the main character in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, then he does with Adam.

The absurd life of Gregor Samsa

In case you’ve never read it, let me give you the really short version of the story. Gregor Samsa is a traveling salesman who wakes up and discovers that he has turned into a giant bug. (I think it’s a dung beetle, but I don’t remember if they say, and I’m not seeing in the synopsis that I’m reading.)

His family slowly becomes more destitute and resentful of him. They also hide him away. Eventually, they decide that Gregor must die, and Gregor overhearing this does so of his own will.

Keystone of human intrumentality project

I recommend everyone read this story. The callousness of his family still sticks with me all of these years later. It’s important to note that no one tries to cure Gregor. His sister makes some attempts to be kind to him, but she never goes beyond that. His other family members are no more accepting or worried for that matter. They might be disturbed by his appearance, but they never try to find a way to help him.

They just accept that this is the way life is, and try to find a way to make it through. When Gregor dies, they’re happy about it.

What is important to note is that this wasn’t Gregor’s life before he woke up at the beetle. He wasn’t happy, and he didn’t want to go to work, but he did have an acceptable place in society.

A Gospel for a New Century

I’m not sure if people noticed when I was talking about religion in my last post, I played around the with emphasis on the translation of Shinseiki Evangelion. I emphasized the “new Gospel” portion while downplaying “new century.”

What if we took a more casual approach to translating the phase and we said it was a truth for a new century. While the exact shape of that truth eludes me, I can say it’s shaped by the same philosophy that most popular culture has been in the western world — Existentialism.

One of the underlying principles of Existentialist thought is that the world is absurd. When we look at Gregor Samsa’s situation, we see someone get a rough education in exactly how absurd the world is. That sense of absurdity never leaves.

More glasses

The more I watch of Evangelion, the more I see the same absurdity, especially when it comes to the angels. When you go through their names, they don’t have any real connection with what they do in the show. Their names are a mishmash largely taken from the Book of Enoch and Islamic texts. They don’t have any real meaning in the larger story.

On top of that, some resemble Lovecraftian nightmares while others resemble some sort of sleek drone, and many exist somewhere between.

We’ve already said that the religious nature of angels doesn’t hold any real significance, but what if they’re only there as something for our heroes to face. What if they’re literally the absurdity of the world made flesh? What if we throw in the Evas too? I mean the robots aren’t really robots, they’re organic lifeforms wearing armor. And NERV? The Human Instrumentality Project? What if all of the aspects that make this a “mecha” show are just different aspects of an absurd world.

That is the interpretation that I’m learning to. This is the story of a group of people who, like Gregor Samsa, woke up to a world gone crazy and they must learn how to deal with it and each other.

This interpretation just makes the religious aspects of this show just one more layer of absurdity.

Strangely, this way of looking at it gives me the most inner peace. It means that the way through the absurdity is not to merely accept it. It isn’t to rail against it. It’s to find your self-worth.

Granted that interpretation is based on memories that are more than a decade old. We’ll see if I feel similar when I reach the end. So feel free to correct me.

A Third Way

All of that said, there is a third way to look at religion in the show. It’s the way that Anno said he looked at it. It’s cool.

For a show that appears so intentionally put together, I find this interpretation disappointing. If it’s just whim, and they don’t mean anything, then it’s a black mark on the show. I mean it’s not that big of a black mark, and the show will earn a bigger black mark.

So those are all my thoughts on the religious aspects of this show for now. What did I miss?

As always thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “Shinji Ikari is a giant cockroach. Where Evangelion and Franz Kafka meet.

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