In Defense of Shinji Ikari
No, You Do Not Have More Balls Than Shinji Ikari
by Michael Fitz-Gibbon
Neon Genesis Evangelion. It's one of my favorite animated television series. What is it about it that I enjoy so much? The action? The intrigue? The direction of certain scenes with very interesting angles and approaches? Maybe all of these, maybe none of them. Whatever it is, I enjoy it thoroughly. Is it overrated? Yeah, probably. What used to be my favorite of all time is now merely on my top ten somewhere. It's no Legend of the Galactic Heroes.
Now, Evangelion certainly has some issues. It overcomplicates its imagery with Christian symbols that mean largely nothing, relies somewhat on you picking up secondary material, annotated guides and the like, just to understand some of the concepts that were ill-utilized (a real pet peeve of mine, just read my rant on Tenchi Muyo's third OVA), and it also suffered from little continuity errors and budget cuts.
One of the things I often hear, though, when relating to some of the show's flaws is, "Why is Shinji Ikari such a pussy?" I also hear, "Man, if I were given a chance to pilot an Eva unit, I'd just be tearing shit up, kicking ass and taking names, then I'd go fuck Asuka, Rei, Misato, Ritsuko, Maya, Hikari, then hop into a time machine to have sex with Yui."
Oh, Shinji is so "emo", they say. They say he's "weak-willed". They say he should be excited about piloting a mecha and saving the world. They say he should just punch his father in the face for being a dick.
Is Shinji Ikari spineless? Is Shinji Ikari weak-willed? Does Shinji Ikari need to persevere better in the face of unbelievable odds? Uh, yeah. Of course. Shinji, like a good number of characters in the program, are director Hideaki Anno's running commentary on the shortage of communication skills being taught to Japanese youth. Shinji can't find relief. He's constantly trying to find something to hold onto, some sort of comfort so he can prove his existence. Every single member of the cast has this same issue, even the ones who seem strong in comparison to Shinji.
Still, it's a mistake to think you're any better.
I'm getting pretty sick of reading comments on the internet about how everyone would be so much more badass than Shinji Ikari. How they'd step up, and with great enthusiasm operate a giant bio-android they've never been in or know anything about to fight an unknown menace they also know nothing about, even though every time they'd fight them they would suffer physical and mental damage, without any problems or complaints. I'm sick of hearing people commenting on the show as if they were so unbelievably confident, they'd have Asuka and Rei performing felatio on them by the end of the first day on the job and by the next day they'd be building Evangelions themselves that already had S2 engines in them, then take a break to impregnate Misato in the back of her car while humming "Cruel Angel's Thesis" and punching Gendo Ikari in the throat at the same time.
These are absurd fantasies of people who truly don't understand or sympathize with the human condition at all. They don't want Evangelion. They want Gurren Lagann. They want the whimsically empty-headed super robot protagonists of Mazinger or G Gundam. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with those shows. They're vibrant. They're fun. But you aren't supposed to expect that from Evangelion. It's not what Evangelion is about. If you prefer this, then simply say, "Oh, Evangelion isn't my thing, the social commentary makes it less fun."
But really, you think you're Kamina? You think you're Kouji Kabuto? You think you're Domon Kasshu? No, I'm sorry. Most of us, even the braver ones of us, are probably more like Shinji Ikari. And even the braver ones of us who may be closer to Kouji Kabuto likely have more sympathy for Shinji Ikari than the mouth-breathing neckbeards who sit around, too cowardly to even have their own name ("Anonymous"), and talk about what a wimp Shinji Ikari is.
Shinji Ikari is sort of a coward. Shinji Ikari is sort of self-serving. He's incapable of reaching out. He's pitiful. He has troubles. He even breaks down, gets lost, has horrible moments where he does horribly cowardly things, things he regrets, because all in all, he's not a bad person.
Even given that, look at what he can do. For whatever personal reason, he pilots an Evangelion. A thing that, just to control, causes pain. And he suffers for it. And maybe because he sticks with it to fulfill his pathetic desire to fit in is what makes him pathetic. Or maybe it's what makes him so human. Whatever the case, can you really say you can do better? And if you could, would you not still be able to sympathize with this broken child? If you can't, I doubt you really are that brave.
No, you don't have more balls than Shinji Ikari. This kid has them in spades. He saved the human race from being a puddle of orange goo because he rejected the ultimate cowardly act of Instrumentality. He accepted all the agony of existence, knowing he'd continue to feel that pain.
Because that pain is living.
- Penguin Truth