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An Analysis of a Polarizing Character

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:00AM, Aug. 10, 2015

It seems that I get into a very opinionated argument whenever the topic of discussion veers toward Neon Genesis Evangelion. Usually it is about how the Evangelion movies are awesome and how the main character is not so awesome. That being said, it has been twenty years since the mid-1990s animated series initially debuted and 2015 is a pretty significant year on the show, so I must write about Evangelion before the year ends.

I am about to take a pretty unpopular stance that has been the subject of many controversial discussions on the Internet. I do not share the same level of dislike for Shinji Ikari of many Eva fans, in fact, I find that he is one of the most relatable characters written (at least he was relatable when I originally watched the series as a teenager with a healthy level of angst).

Conversations of Evangelion usually go like this:

“Have you ever watched Neon Genesis Evangelion?”
“Yeah, I like the series but I can not stand Shinji.”
“Why not?”
“Because Shinji is a little (expletive). You know what? (Expletive) Shinji. He is so (expletive) annoying.”
"Oh, I never thought he was that bad."

Why does Shinji's character have one of the most polarizing personality types that fans either have a love ‘em or hate ’em attitude whenever his name is mentioned?

There were many scenes in Evangelion that resonated on a very positive note when I was watching the series. A few that come to mind: a scene at a train station where Shinji intentionally decides to miss his train at the last minute because he feels that he is already home; a late night train ride where he listens to the same song on repeat with his Walkman after he runs away from home and has to sleep in a movie theater; and the uncomfortable relationship dynamic that he has with his estranged father all gave him real human qualities. My favourite parts of Eva were the scenes with minimal dialogue while Shinji listened to his music with his headphones or shots of distant sunsets and telephone poles. Those scenes captured a feeling of loneliness and introspection in a way not typically addressed in animation.

It makes me wonder if I watched the same series whenever I hear negative complaints about Shinji. I can see why people do not like his character because he acts weak, has issues with not wanting to run away, he deals with severe Oedipus complex issues from his childhood, and he gets over-emotional. Still, it is the isolation and extreme expressions of sad emotions that make his character pretty relatable.

Dealing with a polarizing character can really make or break a story because viewers can base their entire opinion on a single character. I have only watched the entire series of Evangelion once in the last decade. It may have been a conscious choice because I was left distraught with an empty box of tissues the first time through. I might need to revisit it after writing this article to see if my opinion of Shinji has changed in that time.

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ozoneocean at 9:46PM, Aug. 12, 2015

Shinji is repellent because he represents our own weakness. He's a main character so we identify with him, the series is written that way; you ARE Shinji in that story. Then they make him as weak as puss... He has no resolve, no internal fortitude, no agency, he can't even follow instructions. His emotions and his executive brain function are battling to a stalemate and they're both in complete control of him, so he does nothing, and he can't get past it. Everything else around him is tightly controlled, engineered, tight, regimented, inspired, people have drive, ability, competence, and here comes Shinji to fuck it alllllllll up.

Panman at 8:42PM, Aug. 10, 2015

Depends whether you're talking about Shinji from the series or Shinji from the End Of Evangelion movie. They have the same basic personality and character flaws, but the way they are portrayed is very different. Series Shinji is a lovable loser who is forced into an unfair situation and is reluctantly doing the best he can. In the end he learns to accept his own flaws and break out of his anxiety. On the other hand, film Shinji refuses to accept his flaws and blames them on others. He objectifies most of the female characters - especially Asuka (the film starts with him masturbating over her comatose body in the hospital). He is completely oblivious to all of their feeling (particularly Asuka's trauma over the death of her abusive mother), and he blames them for his loneliness. When Asuka calls out his selfish attitude he starts strangling her. Ultimately he rejects living with others or confronting his own flaws.

lizinverse at 11:29AM, Aug. 10, 2015

Post-Evangelion syndrome is a real thing. I don't think there's (barely) a person alive who didn't leave the show feeling like their life was a lie at some point...

Zimeta at 9:54AM, Aug. 10, 2015

It was a pretty show, but I didn't like the story or any of the characters, really. Plus it was confusing as all heck to the extent you have to do readings in order to understand what you're watching. Would not recommend.

Banes at 9:51AM, Aug. 10, 2015

Polarizing characters are fascinating to study. I pore over the tv tropes articles about "Scrappy" characters, Creators Pet, and Character Shilling.

Banes at 9:48AM, Aug. 10, 2015

I haven't seen this but the beautiful image here and the discussion about it makes me want to!

Abt_Nihil at 7:39AM, Aug. 10, 2015

I think many people liked Evangelion for its aesthetics. I dig them too, but what made EVA special for me was the exploration of loneliness, desperation and depression. Shinji Ikari is the central embodiment of these themes (although certainly not the only one) - so, anyone who complains about Shinji apparently misses the point which I so love about EVA.

KimLuster at 5:20AM, Aug. 10, 2015

Well, I can say you've made me actually want to see this series... As for Polarizing characters, the Vampire Lestat was a big one for me. That obnoxious puffed-up brat prince would piss me off so much, and then would come another moment of awesome!!

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