In the sixteenth episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, a bizarre angel threatens Shinji’s life, and THEN EVERYTHING BECOMES PAINFUL. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of death and blood.
What the hell is this show.
I understand the opening of this episode so much better after having reached the end. “Splitting of the Breast” establishes the competitive and contentious relationship between Shinji and Asuka long before Shinji goes after the latest Angel. There might be some resentment in Asuka because Shinji never responds to her flirting, but I think it would be dismissive to say that this is the sole reason for her behavior or for Shinji. Indeed, Shinji thrives off validation, even if he’s not necessarily conscious of it. After having so little of it, it makes sense that he would crave it.
So when Misato praises him for having the highest rating in the sync tests, he lets it inflate his ego, which is right at the same time where Asuka decides she is going to goad him into a confrontation with the next Angel. It is a disaster on many fronts, especially once everyone realizes that the Angel is like… a reverse shadow? I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO DESCRIBE THIS NIGHTMARE other than using that word. It really is the scariest Angel thus far, and my reasoning for that is because of the nature of how it tried to destroy Shinji and his Evangelion.
By holding it IN AN INTERDIMENSIONAL SPACE UNTIL DEATH. It’s that waiting that really fucked me up. Okay, the point of this episode is that the endless waiting fucked up Shinji, too, SO LET’S NOT MAKE THIS ABOUT ME. There have been a lot of agonizing scenes on this show (and somehow, Shinji is screaming in all of them???), but I really think that few things have been as disturbing as Shinji shrieking in abject terror as the Angel consumed him. It’s awful on a level I can barely describe because it felt so desperate. In hindsight, it’s not made better because I know Shinji survives. If anything, I feel worse about it know what Shinji goes through. For over sixteen hours, he is utterly alone. He can communicate with no one. His battery/life support slowly wears out, and he hallucinates an existentially depressing conversation with himself. Or… maybe it’s not a hallucination at all. I can accept that.
Much like Rei’s monologue in “Weaving a Story,” Shinji questions himself relentlessly, trying to determine his purpose and his motivations. And I mean he literally questions himself, since the other entity/force here appears as a younger version of himself. It’s a brutal conversation, and the younger Shinji wastes no time accusing Shinji of being shallow and unnecessary. It’s frightening, isn’t it??? Shinji has to defend his right to do something that makes him happy, which is so goddamn sad I WANT TO EXPLODE. After having been denied happiness for so long, it’s particularly cruel that he questions whether he’s even allowed to be happy anymore. How is that fair?
So it’s fitting that he’s “saved” by an image he thinks is his mother. Hell, it could have been. It’s not out of the realm of the possibility. But given how Shinji survives this ordeal, I’m now wondering what the hell the Evangelions are and if Shinji’s Eva is responsible for what he experienced here. But what I find more important is that Shinji nearly dies because of this experience. In the end, he’s saved by his Evangelion. We still have no idea what they are, but I thought the crushing metaphor of the blood on his hands was vital. It’s ironic, if anything, because that blood should be on the hands of Shinji’s father, or Ritsuko, or any person who enabled this experiment to run as far as it did. The Evangelions are living creatures, there is no doubting that. AND ONE OF THEM RIPPED ITS WAY OUT OF THE ANGEL’S BODY, SHOWERING TOKYO-3 WITH BLOOD.
And it’s not like the writers are avoiding accountability here. I think that the violent confrontation between Ritsuko and Misato is one of the most significant scenes in the series. It demonstrates the chasm forming between them, yes. Misato is questioning whether she’s been complicit in something monstrous, and then she makes it clear that she feels that all of this wrong. That includes the detached way in which Ritsuko refers to Shinji as not being a priority in the recovery mission. No, Commander Ikari wants Unit-01 saved first. BEFORE HIS OWN SON. It’s enraging, isn’t it? Misato’s relationship with Shinji hasn’t been perfect, but it was obvious she really cared for that kid. Hell, she’s the only character in NERV who is truly affectionate with him. I imagine that Misato will be told that she was too emotional or too close to Shinji, but you know what? I respect her. I respect her standing up to Ritsuko because no one else might.
So will Asuka change her behavior? She was embarrassed at the end of “Splitting of the Breast,” so much so that she couldn’t even to in Shinji’s hospital room. Rei was there, but was characteristically subtle about how she felt. How is Shinji going to deal with this experience, too? It was so awful that I wouldn’t blame him if he chose to stop piloting his Eva.
The video for “Splitting of the Breast” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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