In the fourth episode of Neon Genesis Evangelion, WOW, THIS SHOW GOT SAD REAL FAST. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Trigger Warning: For trauma and PTSD.
I can’t say I’ve seen a whole lot of the mecha genre, but I think it’s possible that Neon Genesis is meant to comment on the nature of these kind of stories. Even without any real knowledge about the genre’s tropes or stereotypes, I was still shocked at how willing this show was to address the psychological ramifications of piloting an EVA at fourteen. Fourteen. After the horrifying experience Shinji went through in the last episode, it made a lot of sense to me that he wouldn’t just bounce back immediately. Indeed, NGE takes him a step further than that.
What if he wanted to stop?
Shinji drifts throughout this episode, largely not talking at all, except when he is spoken to. His attitude after the last fight is callous and detached, and that was a sign of what was to come. His relationship with Misato is flawed and thorny, and both characters are unable to come to any sort of agreement or express affection for one another. Until they’re alone, that is. There are a couple of scene where Misato quietly peeks in on Shinji’s room, initially to discover that he’s run away. But when she does it again? She is expecting his return. No, she craves it. She knows that her relationship with him is difficult and argumentative, and yet she still misses him. And this can’t have been the first time this has happened within NERV, right? First of all, we haven’t even met the Second pilot. (Or Second Child, I think. Not sure of the terminology yet.) But did Rei succeed the first time she piloted an EVA? I got the sense from Misato and Ritsuko that they expected their pilots to fail at some point. How many have they gone through? A lot, I imagine. These pilots are FOURTEEN. Fourteen-year-olds are not emotionally equipped to handle the kind of horrors these pilots are being asked to experience.
I dunno, I feel like there’s a lot of contextual information here to support the idea that NERV expects their pilots to be traumatized by this experience. Even if there isn’t, I believe that this episode gives us a chance to peer inside Shinji’s head and empathize with what he’s going through. As sad as this is, it’s also the most overtly beautiful episode, too. Shinji travels around Japan, initially sitting on the train that loops around Tokyo-3. In a haunting sequence, he does not move. Students and businessmen gather and crowd around him, all slowly disappearing as they get off, headed to their destinations, and Shinji is static. The world passes him by, and he does nothing at all. It’s heartbreaking to watch because Shinji can’t just continue living as a normal citizen of Tokyo-3. Hell, his life will never be simple again. Even if he’d chosen to leave town, he would have been haunted by all of this for the rest of his life. He’s haunted by it all in the theater, isn’t it?
So he gets off the train, and he wanders. I thought that where he chose to wander was significant. Fields of wild flowers. The edge of the city. Mountains. He went out and sought things that were real, that were beautiful, that were natural. It was like his heart needed something pure and native, to help ground him, to remind him that he still stood on Earth and that this was his home.
Yet even then, he later speaks to Kensuke about how the world has been reclaimed by plants and insects. It rebuilt. That’s an incredible little moment because I wonder if it meant that Shinji was subconsciously aware of the fact that he could rebuild himself, too. What if it was a manifestation of his fear that the world would be forever tainted (or at least defined) by the Angels? There are so many ways to read the scene, and I adore that!
In the end, though, Shinji is consumed with guilt. It’s probably the strongest emotion that he expresses throughout this episode. Even after Toji insists that he won’t let anyone bad mouth Shinji for leaving, Shinji still can’t help but feel like he’s a coward. Look, I appreciate SO MUCH that the writers are willing to take Shinji through so many emotions. He’s numb; terrified; detached; filled with shame. He reacts exactly as a fourteen-year-old probably would. He’s been given an unbelievable responsibility, and the show validates the fact that he reacts as he does.
Which is why it’s important that he’s the one to choose to stay. After everything he’s gone through, he decides to stay and face the horrors that await for him. I do not think this will be easy for him in any sense, and it’s only a matter of time before he faces his next challenge. But in that final scene, he definitively states: “I am home.” And Misato is there waiting for him, and she welcomes him home. For now, this is where he belongs.
The video for “Rain, and After Running Away / Hedgehog’s Dilemma” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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